(Blogger’s Note: This is the first in a two-part series on how to deal with customers who loiter.)
Cafe Society has long been the acceptable art of sitting, sipping, conversing, thinking, daydreaming and pondering the minutes, hours, and days ahead.
Hemmingway was known for his love of the Parisian Cafe, noting the surroundings and jotting as he Pernoded his way through the days of future chapters. For restaurant owners caf? Society is a nightmare. It translates in the dictionary of profit and loss to loitering.
Mariska Tomlinson is faced with the perplexing problem that contradicts the fundamentals of hospitality: Loitering is the art of ordering a minimal amount of food and beverage and nursing it for hours.
How do we deal with customers who take up valuable real estate, order a coffee and in Mariska’s case, a honey bun, and spend hours reminiscing about how wonderful last weekend’s honey bun really was?
Mariska owns St. Dave’s Diner in Lindsay, Ontario and when she is busy, she needs the tables. It is a frustrating problem watching as people enjoy themselves while others impatiently wait for a seat. How do you get those good customers, albeit not big spenders to leave?
This question has been, can be, and will be debated for the next thousand decades. And there is no set answer. I am writing this column at my neighborhood Starbuck’s and by all accounts have been loitering. I am using the free WiFi, taking up a table and two chairs and have spent $2.65. I’ll be here for another hour and will spend another 50 cents for a refill. I am loitering. If I would have attempted this in one of my restaurants, I would have been politely- at first- asked to leave. But Starbucks has built their reputation and business on the society of their cafe’s.
Let’s face it-when restaurants are empty, owners love lollygagging customers who sit at a table for hours, especially in the window. However, two days later when that restaurant is full, the same owner wants the same customer to leave after a reasonable amount of time.
So, there are many factors involved in how to deal with customers hording table time.
I divide my restaurants into three categories: Creativity, real estate and sales.
Creative is the ambiance, food presentation, menu selection, waitstaff, uniforms and the overall personality of the atmosphere.
Real estate consists of the tables and chairs. I need to generate revenue for every chair in the place.
And third is the business partnership I have with my waitstaff. They are my rental agents, working on commission and need to be trained in table turning techniques if we are both going to be profitable.
It may be an awkward way to look at restaurants, but it simply is what it is. We can’t take out the hospitality factor, or the service, or the extra components that separate the winners from the losers, but we need to look at the fundamentals when it comes to turning seats.
I developed this concept the week before Christmas in1993. Kranston and I owned Chez Foley in
On this particular day there was a lengthy line at the door. The winter chill was whipping across
Oops, I have to go. I have been at Starbuck’s for over an hour, WiFi is running out and let’s finish this tomorrow.
Tomorrow: Ten Tips on coaxing guests to leave, and return.