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First Bite: Brewer's Table at Surly Brewing
By: | Posted: 01/19/2009
Just because you are cheap, and local beaneries and watering
holes are slashing prices to get your business, doesn’t mean you can steal from
them. Times are tough, but there is a line where frugality
becomes downright obnoxious, and a lot of Minnesotans seem to be willfully
ignorant of it. It’s the restaurant equivalent of moping in the passing lane,
something that’s veritably inbred in these parts. Two recent examples:
I was at Blue Door Pub in the fall one Friday night. I arrived about 5 p.m. The small place was packed,
and tables weren’t turning. A half-price-beer happy hour was in full force. A
group of probably twelve to fifteen customers celebrating something had pulled tables
together and were nursing a pitcher and a couple baskets of tater tots.
They sat there for probably two hours, until nearly 7 p.m.,
through the entire after-work bar rush. I can’t imagine the table spent $50 or more
than approximately $3 to $4 per person. The server likely cleared about an $8 tip. Maybe
$5, based on the look of the crowd. The pub was full of people hunched over $2
beers in deep conversation with nothing but time.
My kids and I sat down after waiting nearly an hour. We each
ordered a sandwich, wings, or a burger, some cheese curds, and non-alcoholic
beverages. We sat for forty-five minutes and left a 25 percent tip ($10; I felt sorry for
them). The server likely made more money off our table than off any of the
folks who sat through the happy hour. Throughout the period, dozens of
prospective diners came in, gauged the scene, and left. Blue Door missed out on
hundreds of dollars in revenue that night.
Fast forward to Kincaid’s in Bloomington
this last Saturday night. We were looking for a table in the bar for a quick
dinner. The place was full and seating is unregulated, so prospective diners
hovered, trying to position themselves near a table that was nearly finished.
When I arrived, three fashionably dressed women were paying
the bill at their four-top table. They had each ordered a $4 happy hour glass
of red wine, which were largely drained. They had been there about an hour,
said a server. They stayed another hour after that, chatting over empty
glasses, in a bar dining room jammed to the gills with folks hovering for
tables. The server at their table was lucky to clear $3.
We stayed not quite as long (the kitchen was very slow, or we
would have been out in an hour), spent more than $100, and our server cleared approximately
It’s one thing to camp out at a table in a restaurant that
is mostly empty and spend and tip next to nothing. But it is
beyond self-centered to take advantage of a bar/restaurant’s “deals” to the
exclusion of other customers and the detriment of your server.
Happy hour lingerers need to open your eyes and gauge how
many people are waiting and then spend more and tip generously. Or get up and
give someone else the opportunity.
Restaurants’ irritating habit of refusing to seat partial
parties is rooted in an aversion to inactive diners at a table for long
stretches of time. It hurts their bottom line and their employees’. But they can't kick you out when you've become a squatter, so they deal with it on the front end.
At both restaurants, management could have dealt with the problem more effectively, through more judicious use of promotions or limits on when they run, which benefits everyone except the cheapskates. When cheapskates become squatters, they ruin everyone’s night except their own.
Stephanie March is Mpls.St.Paul Magazine’s food and dining editor. See bio
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