November 1, 2003
Q: I recently visited a nice restaurant with a friend. As we neared the end of our meal, the waiter hounded us with the check, as if to rush us out the door. We paid the check, and as we chatted, the manager informed us that he needed the table and asked us to leave. Is this legal? What’s my recourse?
A: Unfortunately, the incident you describe is not illegal, but there are ways for a restaurant to appropriately handle such a situation. “Usually, if a restaurant is pressed for space, it’ll ask patrons if they’d like to move over to the bar and offer to buy them a drink,” says Tom Foulkes, manager of media relations for the National Restaurant Association in Washington, D.C. It may be that the manager was trying to open the space for a large party expected later in the evening. However, in a $426 billion industry where hospitality and service is king, the treatment you received is deplorable.
The best recourse is to speak to a manager, alerting him or her of your displeasure with the treatment. If the manager cares about your business, he or she may offer to move you to another table, move you to the bar for a complimentary round of drinks and/or dessert, or provide you with meal vouchers to use at a later time. You can even write the owner of the restaurant, and if it’s a chain, send an e-mail via the company Website, voicing your concerns and expectations.The industry buzz is that such practices may be common among lower-end establishments, but asking a patron to move (or leave), according to some upscale restauranteurs, is downright shameful. According to Foulkes, “You can vote with your feet if you’re not getting the service you deserve.”