How do you politely tell someone with a computer to move to the soft seating? We just wait it out, or sometimes offer to buy them a drink if they would move. It's a real issue on busy nights!
– Leslie, Owner/Director of Development, Lovin’ Cup Bistro and Brews, Rochester, NY
We want guests to be comfortable—it is the essence of hospitality. But you are in business to make money and you certainly can’t run a business when seats needed to generate revenue are occupied by people spending the day on their laptops or lingering at the table, oblivious to the line outside the door. There is a tricky balancing act here so that guests feel welcome but not ready to move in.
As in any relationship, communication is key. If guests know that the soft seating is the designated computer area, for example, through signage, power outlets, and server/host communication, they will likely be fine to move. A lot of guests are polite and willing to play by the rules—just oblivious. Similarly, on busy nights let guests know for how long they have the table (perhaps one music set). As long as you fulfill your end of the deal by delivering the food, beverage and check within that timeframe, your guests should be understanding.
You might also consider some key design and operations elements to move things along. Table service rather than counter service helps to send the message that the guest is not in a coffee house where lingering is the norm. Consider eliminating the soft seating altogether—even if people aren’t sitting there it sends the message that, like in a living room, guests are welcome to settle in. Make sure guests waiting for a table are visible to give a sense of urgency to your dining room.
Abby Billek Singh, Owner-Operator of Canteen 900 in Forty Fort, PA, seems to have this down. She has a café concept and during a lunch rush when I visited, tables were turning and no one settled in with a laptop, even though wi-fi is available. She says, “I wouldn't be offering to buy people drinks to leave the table - wasting money all around. I would suggest maybe making a designated computer section in their soft seating section, finding ways to make it a win/win for everyone such as electrical outlets and free coffee refills. You can train servers to help relocate and find guests a seat in the computer section - all about good customer service!”