Saturday, February 24, 2024

Decoding The Subtle Cues Of Restaurants

It’s getting late and you and your friends are lingering around the table, relishing in the pure bliss that emanates from the glow of a satisfying meal at a great restaurant. You’ve had more than enough to drink and now you’re just hanging out, enjoying the euphoric haze that hovers in that sweet spot somewhere between “I probably drank too much” and “I definitely ate too much.” There comes a time during the evening when we become putative owners of our table and nothing is going to get us to move. Except maybe the person who owns the restaurant.

I’ve had some really eye-opening conversations with restaurateurs lately, specifically about diners and the tricks used to drive them away when necessary. Here are some of the  most common cues decoded. Because we all want to be gracious guests, right?

Interrupting: This seems to be a popular trick. When lingering parties are camping out well after they’ve had dinner and are no longer ordering, servers will clear everything off the table, including candles. One restaurant owner says his go-to is over-service. If he wants a party to leave, he’ll swing by their table —  often —  and constantly refill their water glasses in order to interrupt their conversation.

Uprooting: Another way restaurant owners will get customers to leave a table (that they likely need for waiting guests) is to ask them to move to the bar. The proprietors who are really good at their job will treat the diner to a glass of sparkling wine or some other drink as a “thank you” for their trouble. This usually works best for single diners and couples, for obvious reasons.

Menu assistance: If people are taking too long to order, servers will often stop by the table and ask questions, like, “Can I answer any questions about our menu?” and “Can I get you started on something while you decide?”

Dropping the check early: You weren’t ready to pay but your server dropped the check anyway? Either you were rude and they want you to leave, or you’ve overstayed your welcome. Either way, this is the penultimate chapter of your dining experience. I hope you enjoyed it. Now, move along.

Interest in your evening plans: “What are y’all doing the rest of the night?” If it’s late and you and your friends have become rapacious table tenants, chances are your server is not the least bit interested in anything you have going on post-dinner, other than leaving the restaurant. (This is also an effective tactic for getting out of a bad conversation. “So, what’s the rest of your day look like?” Works like a charm).

The “brush up”: Servers keep bumping into you? How annoying! No, not the servers. You. This is a common trick restaurant staff use to get large parties to take a seat. Whether you booked the entire restaurant or the large communal table, you’re not entitled to hover around for prolonged periods of time blocking traffic. Sit down, please.

Cranking the music (and lights) up: This one’s a little more obvious and well-known. Besides cranking up the lights, bad music is a huge push out the front door. Not all restaurants and bars will ease you into lullaBYE with Semisonic’s “Closing Time.” I once realized it was time to leave an upscale restaurant when I heard Crazy Town’s “Butterfly” erupt over the speakers. A small departure from the Sinatra they were playing earlier. Some cues aren’t so subtle.


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