“We’ll seat you now at this table but you have to promise to be out in two hours.” Those words of a hostess in a trendy downtown Los Angeles restaurant were addressed to our group of three who had arrived just at the time of our reservation.
The greeting was surprising but not a unique experience. Restaurants in the US want to turn their tables multiple times during an evening. Not all are so direct but no matter, the message is clear. Please come, eat, but don’t stay too long. But to know what’s “too long”?
Travel+Liesure (www.travelandleisure.com) recently had a short article that attempted to answer that question. How Long is Too Long to Linger at a table? Their response: In a good restaurant in the US 1 hour 45 minutes to 2 hours is the limit. . Then it’s time to go. Don’t linger and talk, the restaurant needs to give the table to someone else.
Trained as we to this mealtime timing, it’s surprising and awkward to arrive in other countries and discover no limit even hinted at. The table is yours for the evening. (Although I did overhear a lunchtime conversation in a French café telling two ladies they’d have to relocate if all they wanted was something to drink. To sit in the best spot on the terrace one had to order food. Concern here too for the revenue side of the business – but whether you ordered food and received a prime table or simply a drink and were at a lesser spot – the table was yours for the afternoon.)
In countries where sharing meals is considered an essential part of life – whether it is professional or personal - tables come without time limits. How can we know if it takes two hours or twenty minutes to have that important conversation?
My suggestion: Watch the clock if you’re in New York, Dallas or Chicago. In Rome, Paris or Buenos Aires, or any number of places you’ll visit – hide the watch and enjoy your stay.