Tacoma Urbanist

Apr. 10, 2008 at 12:02am

Restaurant Patron Eliminator: Premature Chair Stacking

The survival and failure of restaurants has been a frequent topic in Tacoma in the last few weeks.  Everyone has pet peeves.  Many restaurant dysfunctions are forgiven.

What restaurant activity of restaurants consistently drives off business?

Some are obvious such as terrible food.  Yet, many are more subtle yet happen time and time again driving away regular patrons from a restaurant often without knowledge of the owner until its too late.  Here's one I see:

Premature chair stacking is a universal signal to restaurant patrons to leave.




Here, three hours before this Tacoma restaurant closes, half of the tables are stacked with chairs.  Does this feel welcoming?  Given the vacancies, apparently not.

Theoretically, placing a chair on a table is the standard action to clear the floor so that it can be cleaned.

However, restaurant workers often use it an a non-verbal cue to restaurant patrons that they should be getting on their way.

Appropriate Times for Placing Chairs on Tables

It's past closing time.  The customers have had plenty of time to eat their ordered meal but have lost track of time.  The first step should be to tell customers when they are closed.  Placing chairs on tables should be used as a last resort or well past closing time.   "Time to go home, its over."

Giving the Customer The Early Boot


I am reluctant to enter a restaurant the last hour they are open as some less professional ones start going into loud "closing mode" an hour or more before the stated closing time.

An inquiry as whether they are still open can be replied with a flat tone "yeah, we're open to 10:00."  Translation: "we were all hoping to leave at 9:00 p.m but our boss forces us to stay open if there is anyone left so please don't come in."

Early Chair Stacking : The Slow Torture And Fleecing of Restaurant Patrons


From general observation and having some candid conversation with restaurant owners, servers and managers, the goals sought to be accomplished by stacking chairs or tables early include:

1) Limit the number of areas patrons or potential patrons can sit at so they don't dirty other tables and require more clean up time.

2) Signal to current restaurant customers "Time to Wrap It Up."  Although, interestingly, I have heard servers exclaim while stacking chairs on tables around customers : "stay as long as you want, we are just stacking chairs."  (Yeah right).

3) Signal to potential restaurant patrons walking by the restaurant not to come in.  If it was closing time, this could be accomplished by locking the door.  However, since the restaurant is officially "open," this is not an option.

4) Expel all restaurant customers from the restaurant early so that the truthful statement to the owner or manager later that "no one was there at 9:00 so we closed early" can be made truthfully.

The Damage To Restaurants Of Early Chair Stacking


My observation is that early chair stacking on tables rarely occurs when the owner is around.  Most owners are aware that such actions diminish the value of the meal the patron paid full price for.

Patrons rightfully feel slighted because they have been slighted.  Much of the value of a restaurant meal was the anticipated "atmosphere" which the restaurant unilaterally took away from the patron once they made their order and now find themselves uncomfortable but obligated to pay for.

Patrons have every right to feel mad but are unlikely to complain.  They usually just pay up (full price) and keep to themselves vowing not to come back for a long time and often don't. 

Before long, the number of patrons with bad experiences are enough to cause the business to lose significant business and the hours are cut back further, the best servers leave and the restaurant starts entering a death spiral of sorts.

Final Comment


Restaurants each need to decide how late to stay open and be consistent with the posted hours, especially if there are people still eating within posted hours.  Meeting or exceeding patron expectations whether it be the Acme Grub Cage or the El Gaucho is the key.

What are other Tacoma Restaurant Pet Peeves that are flying under the radar until it is too late?

comments [20]  |  posted under tacoma

Comments

by intacoma on 4/10/2008 @ 6:07am
ugly waitresses













(kidding) I hate it when I'm served a dirty plate, I'll never go back to the Antique Sandwich Shop because I was given my food with some foreign goo on the plate

by KevinFreitas on 4/10/2008 @ 6:37am
I've been to Cascade Bagel (pictured above) many, many times but not in the afternoon when I'd notice this. I understand the impression but, at least there, I wouldn't be too deterred hence why I'm naming names. They serve up some really tasty bagels with all kinds of options to make a meal of it like that sundried tomato basil cream cheese, the stacked BLTs, or their breakfast bagel sandwiches.

With that kind of location they run usually a staff of only one or two so I imagine this is just a training thing for them. They probably figure by getting some stacking done early they're being more efficient and can leave sooner after closing. I'm sure if the owners mentioned the impression this gives even if only a few patrons stop by in the afternoon they'd shape up.

Thanks for the perspective though Urbanist 'cause that really can be a mood killer in a restaurant. My peeve is when the stacking happens somewhere while I'm someplace eating and it's close to, but not, closing time. I came, I spent money, let me eat my stuff in peace without you doing your house cleaning.

by Ron on 4/10/2008 @ 7:33am
I find it rude and unpleasant when a restaurant vacuums while I'm still eating.

by Steph DeRosa on 4/10/2008 @ 8:03am
I waited tables and bartended from 16-26 years old. I can tell you everything those servers are thinking.

Tacoma Urbanist is 100% correct in his analysis.

An establishment with any sort of somewhat 'professional' manager (read: out of high school) would never let their employees stack chairs like that before it's closed.

I could see if they wanted to close the section, but it would have to be a larger restaurant with apparent "sections". Also, if they want to close a section in that small area, there needs to be an accompanying sign that says "section closed".

The chair stacking is a sign of laziness. They don't want to have to clean more tables and sweep that area later. Given the size of that place, it doesn't look like they are having to sweep up the Tacoma Dome or anything.

Sidenote: I worked at a restaurant where we were allowed to be rude to the guests, and they loved it.

If we wanted them to leave we had a huge lantern we would place on their table and ask them if they'd like to camp out. It was also fun to tell them we'd start charging rent if they didn't vacate the seat soon. I loved working there.

by two9seven on 4/10/2008 @ 8:10am
Uncomfortable chairs. Too tall ones
too short ones.
ones that lean back to much
arm rests to high
Wobbly tables
Overpriced menu

by joel413 on 4/10/2008 @ 8:38am
I've waited many tables, and I can think of situations where we stacked early, and charged "rent" for people staying late. But if your hours are X-10:00pm you should accept people until 10:00pm... not want them out the door at 10:00pm. That's customer service. Or... when posting your hours say "Last seating at 9:30) or something.

by izenmania on 4/10/2008 @ 9:01am
Sidenote: I worked at a restaurant where we were allowed to be rude to the guests, and they loved it.

I've definitely been to places where that's worked because it is the established nature of the restaurant. It can create quite an amusing atmosphere.

Out of two9seven's gripes, wobbly tables are high on my list. Wobbly chairs are mildly irksome, but wobbly tables spill drinks (I'm looking at you, Indochine).

Speaking of... seating without backs. Uncool.

(they also suffered from the overpriced/not very tasty menu issues. hence why I've been there once and am done)

by NineInchNachos on 4/10/2008 @ 9:02am
my list:
- un-comfy ikea chairs
- blank walls
- wait staff who try and 'upsell' you on crap
- loud annoying "fat beats" you have to shout over


by AP on 4/10/2008 @ 10:02am
Yup, it's all about not wanting to wipe down the tables and sweep the floor in that area -- which in my mind, is worse than the "please go home" angle. If somebody else is off work and I'm holding them up from getting out of there, I can respect that. I don't like people keeping me at work longer than I had planned being there.

Shouting to the world "we don't want to spend an extra 2.4 minutes cleaning these 3 tables later, so f'n sit somewhere else" is not a good message.

I've worked in restaurants in the past, so I can overlook just about anything from rude service to a loud kitchen, and anything in between. Laziness, for some reason, sticks out as the glaring exception. After all, it is still a job that requires work -- get over it, worker person!

by Erik on 4/10/2008 @ 10:46am
I find it rude and unpleasant when a restaurant vacuums while I'm still eating.

Yes, Ron. Early vacuuming is pretty much in the same category as pre-mature chair stacking to force (intentionally or not) an early closing.

Sometimes, there is some cleaning that needs to be done during the day such as spills and such.

Yet, unnecessary sweeping and vacuuming by a table pretty much destroys whatever atmosphere there was. The first rule should be "do no harm."

My peeve is when the stacking happens somewhere while I'm someplace eating and it's close to, but not, closing time.

Agreed, it's all in the timing. If you are a holdover customer, you deserve to have the chairs stacked next to you and the "get out" signal is appropriate.

Sidenote: I worked at a restaurant where we were allowed to be rude to the guests, and they loved it.

Funny. There was actually a place in San Francisco I heard of and tried to go to once where they made sport of being rude to customers. They would intentionally give you something you didn't order and throw you food at you. People paid for the punishment.

I suppose it was a kind of a dinner theater of sorts. Yet, it met expectations so I guess it "works" in that way.

Some of Tacoma's old diners used to pride themselves in having long term waitresses who were belligerent with customers.

You pretty much had to take it if you wanted to eat there until you became a regular. I don't see that much anymore though with the increased competition in the Tacoma restaurant business.

by jenyum on 4/10/2008 @ 10:56am
In total agreement with two9seven on the too-tall chairs issue. News flash: Not all of your patrons are 6 feet tall! I don't want to eat my meal whilst attempting remain at the top of your uncomfortable stools.

by Erik on 4/10/2008 @ 11:00am
Speaking of... seating without backs. Uncool.

The famous "chair of pain" used to be the one at Starbucks with the a "back" of the chair that was about 6 inches high and made of a steel bar. It seemed like it designed to cause physical pain after 5 minutes and move customers on their way.

by RonSwarner on 4/10/2008 @ 11:02am
I agree Erik. Spillage occurs. Cleaning it up immediately is a must. What bothers me is a 1 to 2 p.m. clean the entire floor routine. Even the non-motorized vacuum freaks me out. Not a huge fan of dust around food (although my car care/drive while eating habit says otherwise).

by thriceallamerican on 4/10/2008 @ 11:24am
Funny. There was actually a place in San Francisco I heard of and tried to go to once where they made sport of being rude to customers...I suppose it was a kind of a dinner theater of sorts.

That reminds me of something I heard about...I think in Minnesota??? Anywhere, somewhere where a smoking ban had been implemented... Apparently one of the loopholes of their smoking ban was that smoking was allowed for casts in theatrical performances, so as to not prohibit smoking in plays. Bars promptly started advertising "shows" in which the "cast" was made up of the clientèle of the bar, allowing people to choose to attend bars that essentially were specifically offering a "smoking night" (just not in so many words).

by AP on 4/10/2008 @ 11:33am
Loopholes are good.

by andrew.austin on 4/10/2008 @ 11:42am
Erik-great post and conversation that followed.
I agree with the general sentiment, the premature stacking is sure tell sign of undetrained/underappreciated/unprofessional staff. I used to work at freaking Taco Del Mar in high school, even there we did not start the stacking until the last costumer was out...or 20+ minutes after closing time (which was late 9pm!).

"Funny. There was actually a place in San Francisco I heard of and tried to go to once where they made sport of being rude to customers. They would intentionally give you something you didn't order and throw you food at you. People paid for the punishment."

A few weeks ago I was in Vegas. There is an overprices burger joint on the strip in Excalbur that does exactly this. Although they had lots of funny gimics like writting mean things on giant paper hats and putting in on folks heads. Then again...anything works in Vegas because that place is crazy, not the case in Tacoma.

by Erik on 4/10/2008 @ 12:14pm
I used to work at freaking Taco Del Mar in high school, even there we did not start the stacking until the last costumer was out...or 20 minutes after closing time (which was late 9pm!).

Unfortunately, I have seen premature chair stacking and other closing activities most commonly in smaller locally owned restaurants as they are more likely to have more unpredictable closing times.

One of the ways corporate restaurants seem to often have an edge on small restaurants is their predictability in closing times. You rarely see them close early even if no one is there. There are number of very injurious signals that are given off by restaurants who close before the stated time.

I suspect early closings and activities in relation to it, as many have discussed above, hurts the reputation and brand of the smaller independent restaurant far more than the owners may be aware of.

by fredo on 4/10/2008 @ 8:02pm
I had never thought too much about this premature chair stacking, but have been annoyed by waitresses taking the plates off the table while people were still eating.

The owners of small businesses must be ever vigilant against slacker employees. This means showing up frequently, and at unexpected hours to see what's going on. Or the owner can hire a shopping service to provide discrete supervision. I don't think restaurants are any worse than other small businesses with respect to customer service, however.

by Jake on 4/10/2008 @ 8:51pm
"One of the ways corporate restaurants seem to often have an edge on small restaurants is their predictability in closing times. You rarely see them close early even if no one is there. There are number of very injurious signals that are given off by restaurants who close before the stated time. "

There is a certain pizza joint that I love love love and on numerous occasion I have tried to stop by for pizza during posted hours and they were closed. Others have mentioned this happening as well.
I hate that!

by Erik on 4/10/2008 @ 11:49pm
There is a certain pizza joint that I love love love and on numerous occasion I have tried to stop by for pizza during posted hours and they were closed. Others have mentioned this happening as well.
I hate that!


Me too. Doesn't everyone?

IMO Closing earlier than stated hours is a bad practice I think for any restaurant.

The theory behind having a "flexible" closing time is to save costs from having paid staff sitting around with no money coming it. It is made as a cost saving measure.

However, it send off a number of bad messages to would be customers who are left to guess whether one or more of the below are true:

1) The restaurant closed early because no one was around. Bad because people generally avoid failing restaurants.

2) The restaurant closed early because it is going out of business or entering a "restaurant death spiral." (That's a subject for another post)

3) The restaurant closed early because it is simply, for whatever reason, unreliable. Flaky. The the potential customer may not try again.

Either way, the restaurant has shown itself undependable. I think early closing is bad for restaurants and the short term cost savings are not worth the long term loss of reputation.

Better to cut back on stated hours being opened and then stay fully open for that time.