How can I keep diners from lingering too long?

diners in restaurant
If the problem is with the guest, try honesty. | Photo: Shutterstock


We are a tiny BYOB with no waiting area or bar. I plan on two hours per turn but still get backed up. Any advice for getting guests off their phones and up and out after their meal? It’s particularly a problem when the weather is bad since guests have to wait outside.

– General Manager


Like so many of the problems I address in this column, this question is all about managing expectations and communicating them. Your expectation is that the guests will eat and leave so that you can turn the table, accommodate hungry guests and maximize revenue. Your guests’ expectation is to have a relaxing meal with no rush to leave. How do you reconcile the two?

First, be sure you are treating the problem and not the symptom. Last week, I was at a very long meal. I could tell that the host was getting antsy to turn our table and walked by frequently with her tablet and death stare. We would have been happy to leave but were still waiting for dessert and the check. Be sure that the system is working on your end to get guests served promptly to determine that the problem truly lies with the guest.

If the problem is with the guest, try honesty. Subtle cues like touching the table after the check is dropped to ask if anything else is needed or clearing every possible item from the table may only be effective with savvy diners or those who want to leave anyway. Try a simple explanation that you are really busy and promised another guest this table. In my experience, guests are generally understanding, and if they aren’t, you can always offer them a drink or appetizer for their return visit to apologize for the inconvenience.

Like many cases of misaligned expectations, my overall advice is to be transparent from the outset: “We are so happy you are dining with us. Just so you are aware, we have another reservation at this table at 8:00.” While it won’t work in every case, guests who know your expectations from the start are more likely to abide by them. You can’t fault a guest for not being able to read your mind or know your turn times.

More on camping guests here.