Ask Tom: To leave, or not to leave?


(Illustration by Edwin Fotheringham)

Earlier this year, the Loudoun County reader and her husband dined at a “very busy”  Palio Ristorante Italiano in Leesburg, where she says they were seated promptly for their 6:30 reservation. “We had a cocktail, lovely meal and coffee,” after which “the waiter came to the table and asked us to leave, as he needed the table for another reservation. It was 8:45 p.m. To say we were astonished is an understatement. We made no fuss and left. We did not see anyone waiting to take the table.”

Saffell asks, “Is this normal? Is this acceptable?? Is this what we should expect in the future? We would not have sat more than another 15 minutes, but that is not the issue.”

A mini-survey of local restaurateurs shows that they budget between 1-3/4 and 2-1/2 hours for tables for two. The day of the week and the occasion account for the range of times; for weekends and celebrations, more time generally is allotted.

Most restaurateurs are loath to ask seated customers to free up their tables. “It’s not my style,” says Antonio Pino, the co-owner of Palio. He says the server in question is no longer employed there.

In my opinion, the Saffells — who sat at Palio for 2-1/4 hours — were hardly being pushed out the door. As a former restaurateur told me, “the table is a rental, not a purchase.”

Read more from Tom Sietsema’s roundup of diners’ dilemmas in in the April 3 Washington Post magazine.

Weaned on a beige buffet a la “Fargo” in Minnesota, Tom Sietsema is the food critic for The Washington Post. This is his second tour of duty at the Post. Sietsema got his first taste in the ‘80s, when he was hired by his predecessor to answer phones, write some, and test the bulk of the Food section’s recipes. That’s how he learned to clean squid, bake colonial cakes and distinguish between nutmeg and mace.

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