Point CounterPoint: Should Dallas Restaurants Have a Time Limit?

"Hello, beautiful lady. My name is Jason. I'll be your waiter tonight. You'll have 2 hours to complete your meal. And your time starts ... NOW"

[Ed. note: George poses this, in my opinion, stupid question. I am challenging him with, in my opinion, a smarter one.]

George: A couple of weeks ago, a Zagat survey reported that 60% of dinners in New York supported a time limit which allows the restaurant to boot you from your table so they can seat another party.  But we’re not New York.  So let’s ask the question to Dishers.  Would you mind a time limit?

Nancy: George, you ignorant cluck. You are right on one point: we are not New York. I hate rushed service. Take MiCocina (beat, beat). Those waiters aren’t servers they’re animal trainers. They can turn a table of six in 40 minutes. It drives me nuts. I get the same vibe at Houston’s. Every time you sit down you can feel the beat: water, menus, drinks, order, eat, dessert, BOOM. Maybe, just maybe, we are eating out to have a conversation that doesn’t fit into the restaurant’s time frame. I think no time limit is best for the customer.

George: You can’t have a conversation in under 2 hours?  Are you sitting with your fork in one hand and Blackberry in the other?  Talk, talk, tap, tap.  Assuming your waiter greets you in a timely manner, takes your order, and serves you your drinks and food, you really can’t finish in 2 hours? If not, move to the bar. I think it’s good for business.

Who is right?

46 comments on “Point CounterPoint: Should Dallas Restaurants Have a Time Limit?

  1. Hate the idea. One of the pleasures of an expensive meal is great conversation. If I’m rushed I won’t be back, that said, seldom stay 2 hours. My wife will look up and say, look, we tip good, we’re going to stay a bit.

  2. You’re both right. If you can’t enjoy dinner in two hours, you’re beyond help. That said, I hate restaurants that try to race you out in under an hour–if I wanted fast food, I would get fast food. Under normal circumstances, uless you’re ordering after dinner drinks (thereby well justifying the continued use of the table), I have no trouble with a restaurant encouraging people to wrap things up or move to the bar after 90 minutes or so.

  3. Wow,I guess I have too much of an European sentiment when it comes to dining, but I find the suggestion offensive.
    I go to eat to enjoy the experience and the food. It’s not just a human need for sustenance, it’s almost also an experience for the soul.

    Now, if I just go out to eat with my wife and kids, we usually are done quickly (a necessity with kids), but in a bigger group or in a romantic setting with a multi-course meal, it SHOULD take more than 2 hours.

  4. Two hours is enough for most sized parties. The problem is never how long it takes to order, get served etc.The problem begins when your presented with the check, pay and then sit their for another 30 minutes either playing on your phone or not paying attention to the people waiting for a table. If want to linger make a reservation for 8:00 or later. I know of some restaurants won’t take a 7:00 reservation on the weekends
    because they risk getting only one turn in a evening

  5. I don’t know how the two-hour limit got tossed in there but I’m talking about the spots that push you in less time. Guess it depends on the type of place. But if I’m at the French Room with a date (OH IT COULD HAPPEN!) I don’t want anybody telling me when to get up. well, maybe the guy.

  6. @Nancy

    I assume the 2 hour time limit comes from the caption under the picture next to the article. :)

  7. @Lionel

    “The problem begins when your presented with the check, pay and then sit …”

    And here comes one of my pet peeves about service. Oftentimes I am presented with a check right after the main course without them even asking if I might want something else (desert, coffee, a drink, etc.).

  8. The two hours comes from a reference in the Zagat article that says: “Socarrat in Chelsea tries to keep things to a two hour maximum”.

    Martin has identified one of my pet peeves …. slapping the faux leather bill down before I’ve asked for it. And as Martin has pointed out, it’s frequently done before coffee or my sweet dessert.

  9. The only problem I’ve seen with this in Dallas involves patio seating on a nice evening. Take MiCo West Village for example — some people will arrive around 5pm on a Friday, get a 4-top outside and order drinks, then still be there 4 hours later. You’ll see them texting and various friends will drop by to chit-chat (and don’t order anything). They end up ordering minimal food, 2 or 3 rounds of drinks over several hours, and eat a ton of chips and salsa while numerous people wait a LONG for an outside table because they’re not turning over in a reasonable amount of time. (rant complete)

  10. I agree with @Martin. A lot of times a check is put down before you’re even finished with your dinner plate.

    If a party is holding a table for an extended time after the tab is closed, I see no reason why a host or hostess shouldn’t smoothly ask the table if they wouldn’t mind moving to the bar. Higher end restaurants (where a lost table could be $300+) could even tempt with a free drink. If the restaurant is extremely busy, holding a table to chat once you’re paid and the table is cleared is inconsiderate to diners waiting. Put yourself in the shoes of the waiting party.

    That said, as long as the table is continuing to order drinks, there is no reason why they can’t linger and talk beyond a set time limit. By all means let the customers enjoy their time at your restaurant. Plain and simple, happy dining experiences equals returning customers.

  11. No, they shouldn’t. If you are going to serve people and take their money, you shouldn’t treat them like cattle that are to be shoved out the door so the next group to the slaughter can be herded in.

    I guess I am more European than New Yorker. The turn the table mentality of New York has always driven me crazy. I rarely take two hours to eat or even longer than one hour, but if I am having a great time with people who maybe I haven’t seen in years, I don’t want anyone suggesting I overstayed my welcome.

  12. Fernando’s is the worst about rushing you out, and I’m talking about a quick lunch of 25-30 minutes. It’s ridiculous.Otherwise, food and service are great.

  13. I think it is an industry standard that fast food has “customers” and treat them as such. Restaurants, however, have “guests” and treat them as such.

  14. I think a time limit is an absurd idea as well. My pet peeve is having my entree arrive before or just after my party has finished their appetizers. This is so bad in some places that I refuse to order entrees until after we have finished appetizers. I realize that lots of places hate this but it is their fault for not pacing appropriately. Having said all that, I believe that diners must be considerate, as well. The restaurant business is a tough one. A party that lingers on and on when there are many patrons waiting on a table can severely damage that restaurant’s business. Word of mouth about “bad service”, especially from “reviewers” who are not sophisticated about what is going on behind the scenes, can spread quickly. I refuse to be rushed but I also refuse to allow my party to linger an unreasonable amount of time when it is obvious the restaurant needs to turn the table. There are exceptions to every rule of course but if everyone uses common sense it works out. If you KNOW you are going to want the table a long time (a graduation or birthday celebration, for example) let the restaurant know in advance. It helps everyone.

  15. @Emily
    Restaurants, Doctors, Attorneys… all work within a time limit. Try telling your Doctor, on your next visit, that 30 minutes is not enough and that you deserve an hour if not more. I know of attorneys, in Dallas, that will have a staffer walk into the office after a certain time has passed to bring a client meeting to an end. If you need more than two hours to visit with your friends that you haven’t seen in years, take it to a bar or your living room.

  16. how about a time limit w/ the option to request extra time when you make the reservation if you know it’s going to be a long event.

    it’s inconsiderate to hog valuable space in a restaurant and make others wait so that you can chat a little extra about something totally meaningless… especially when that chat can take place somewhere else (the bar, a coffeeshop, your home, the telephone..)

  17. @allison

    I agree, once you have paid, you shouldn’t linger at the table.
    However, as long as I am ordering drinks etc. I shouldn’t be made to feel like a burden.

    @Honcho, that ticks me off as well. I’ve even had it a few times that the appetizers arrived WITH the entree!

  18. Communicating your expectations helps solve most of these problems. If I am in a time crunch at lunch I will tell my server when I sit down that I am in a rush and request that my bill be brought with my food. Also, there have been times when I REALLY want to eat at a place (when traveling for example) and I have cajoled my way into a reservation with the provision from the reservationist that they must have the table back by “X” time. That doesn’t offend me at all–they are doing me a favor. If I am out with friends I haven’t seen in a while I tell the reservationist on the phone or the host/hostess at the front of the house and my server that my party is not going to be in a hurry, would like to have drinks before seeing a menu, etc. The establishment appreciates that heads up–it helps them plan for what is to come with other patrons later. It also certainly never hurts to tip a little extra when you have lingered longer than normal and it is just good manners to express your appreciation to the staff for indulging your party. Finally, realize that every restaurant has to deal with all sorts of unexpected problems, including guests who do not have the manners of those who read this blog, and most are genuinely trying to do their best. It really annoys me to see posts on Chowhound or elsewhere where the poster is ranting about a place they have been to only one time and will never go back to because of some perceived slight or problem, usually on Valentine’s Day or the Friday night before the Texas-OU game!

  19. As long as I’m spending money at a restaurant, I feel that I should be able to stay as long as I would like. If I’m at MiCos sitting at a 4-top and everybody in the party is sucking down $10 mambo taxis, we’re generating $40/hour (plus tax & tip) for the restaurant with minimal work for the wait staff and kitchen staff. Given the mark-up on drinks, it seems that would be behavior that a good business person would want to encourage.

  20. Hate the idea of a time limit! The reason I go out to eat is to enjoy the experience and the food. And I agree with @Martin – I HATE when waiters present me with a check directly after main courses are finished. What if I want dessert or another glass of wine? I generally hate feeling rushed, and if I’m paying for a meal, I don’t want to be booted out when I’m not ready to leave.

  21. @BE – if you have a point, I can’t tell what it is. The restaurant business has little or nothing to do with the professional services business. (Not to mention, if attorneys are paid by the hour, I’m quite sure they’ll sit there with you all day if you like. And I’m pretty sure no one is dying to spend more time than absolutely necessary with either their doctor OR their lawyer).

    My point is simply that if you are in the customer service business, treating your customers as if they are not welcome is bad for your business. I don’t linger unnecessarily and as I said, I rarely spend a great deal of time at a restaurant table. But on the rare occasions that a meal does take a while, I am a paying customer and I don’t expect to be shown the door, or I’ll find somewhere else to eat next time. It’s a basic principle of treating people as if they are welcome, rather than treating them as if they are a hindrance and a bother.

    This is not an issue anywhere but the U.S. Why is it that European restaurants can stay in business without shoving their customers out the door, but the ones here cannot?

  22. You’re all idiots. Order the food – eat the food – talk to your friends – pay the bill – GTFO. End of discussion.

  23. The rushing drives me nuts….Uncle Julio’s is the worst! I find myself sitting down and saying to hubby….”I don’t want to be rushed”, because I know it will happen.

    If a restaurant owner doesn’t want their customers to enjoy the ambience and want to be there, perhaps they need open a drive thru.

  24. Agree with Dallas Banker!

    Restaurant – a place you go to eat.
    Bar – a place to go to drink.

    If you have stopped eating, and are just drinking, go to the bar! Because the people who have been waiting for your table have been patiently waiting there!

  25. Well, I used to have the same attitude as the majority of you until I started working in a restaurant. People stay too long. Especially if there is an hour wait and you are an 8 top using two 4 tops and your dessert has been eaten and you haven’t ordered anything for an hour and the only thing on the table are water glasses and gum wrappers and the kids at your table are milling around because they are bored. MOVE ALONG!

  26. Question for all of you who discuss those who’ve been waiting oh so patiently….what if there is no wait? Does your opinion change?

    Then it becomes a question of manners, not restaurant policy.

  27. I agree that once you finish your meal, you should leave the table. However, I do not agree that the minute your fork is resting on your plate, the server “swoop” in and drop the check. We might want desert or coffee. Even if we don’t, give us 10 – 15 minutes to swallow our food.

  28. I think there are a couple issues at hand here. A restaurant rushing your meal is rude, period. I don’t think that was the spirit of the question, though. I think what he was asking is “if you are finished dining and others are waiting to dine, should a restaurant be able to ask (force) you to leave?” To this question, the answer is definitely “yes”. There is a difference between what you are entitled to do and being considerate. Sitting at a table for an hour after you’ve finished eating when others are waiting is no more considerate than standing on a treadmill at the gym for an hour after you are done working out when others are waiting. A restaurant is a place where you go to eat. Once your meal is over, they’ve fulfilled their part of the bargain. Now it’s time to pay the bill and leave.

  29. Wow…if i’m done eating, there is no way i am lingering at the table while people are waiting. If no one is waiting, fine, but you people seriously have no problem lingering at the table as long as you like when you know other people would also like to have a meal. You know, other people have reservatiosn as well, right? Next time you have a reservation and aren’t seated at your requested reservation time, it’s probably people like you that got the whole thing off kilter. And you can say it is up to the restaurant to manage reservation properly but with people who want to linger as loooooooooooong as they like, how do they manage that, hmmm?

  30. This has already happened to me in Dallas. After a great dinner and desert, we were finishing our second bottle of wine at Lucia when we were asked to leave. We were about 5 minutes from getting up when we were told thanks for your business but we need your table. Will I ever go back to Lucia, no way in hell! I will go to another restaurant that appreciates my 350.00 tab for dinner!

  31. If a restaurant wants to risk their own business by putting a time limit on their guests, then I say they should go for it. That’s their risk. But they have to keep in mind that a restaurant goes to certain heights to create a specific atmosphere that loyal customers expect when they return repeatedly, and the reasons that guests return for the atmosphere is to linger in it.

  32. @JK-Don’t expect to much from the patrons of MiCo in West Village. The Millenial DB’s are in full force over there.

  33. Agreed on Lucia. Felt rushed big time and our reservation was early. 5 tables were free. The food was okay, but there is an unhappy vibe there.

  34. As far as Europe vs. US goes, I want to make one important point. In Europe, for one, the dining culture is different. A meal is a whole experience and rushing that would ruin it.
    But more importantly, there are no free refills of drinks and I know from friends who own a restaurant in Germany, they make their money off the drinks, not the food. So, they will LOVE for you to linger, order some more drinks and chat, because you are earning them more money with minimal work.

  35. I’m with Emily…why do European restaurants..ALL over Europe not have that issue and we here in the US do???Because almost on every level in our “culture” it has little to do with people comforts etc and ALL about…right THE MONEY!PERIOD!!Does that pretty much say it all about everything in this country now????

  36. To all of those who think it’s okay to sit as long as you like………..next time you show up for your reservation and your table isn’t available…remember what you said

  37. people… no one here thinks its ok to be rushed at a dinner table. the question is whether there is a time limit to enforce policy upon those diners who are inconsiderate to the business and other patrons.

    And clearly, if there is no wait at the restaurant, a restaurant is never going to ask you to leave unless you are lingering far past closing time.

    While you never want to piss off a customer, if your business is good enough to have a wait and be in a situation to need to make that request, you can probably do without that rude customer who is costing you money.

  38. Free market. If a restaurant institutes this rule, you as a patron have the right to decide whether or not you want to go. It could hurt their business or it could help their business.

  39. I don’t want a restaurant to tell me, I’m finished with my dinner. Now, vacate the space. However, if a restaurant is busy and I’ve been there for two hours and we’re done with our meal, I’ll vacate the table out of respect for the next diner whose waiting to sit down and enjoy their dinner.

  40. Here’s how it should work: If I am waiting for a table there should be a time limit. If I am sitting at a table there should not be a time table. Let’s get on that, restaurants.

  41. Fernando is an ex-MiCo employee so he has a similar M.O. Expecting people to adhere to a set time limit there is almost as absurd as charging $8-$10 for a house margarita.