The Tasting Panel magazine

December 2015

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4  /  the tasting panel  /  december 2015 LETTER FROM THE EDITOR IN CHIEF Breaking Camp You've seen them, as you wait, perhaps impatiently, for your 9 o'clock reservation at 9:30. Heads bowed in rapt conversation as they slowly sip their decaf macchiatos while fingering, but not paying the check, which has been lying on their table for at least 20 minutes. They are "campers," as they are known to the res- taurant industry. They take possession of a table and proceed to set up camp—slowly and inexorably they peruse the menu. They have long conversations among themselves about their choices, then they submit the poor server to a third degree, double-checking their choices and changing their minds repeatedly. When the food comes, they spend a while styling their place setting and then they take multiple pictures of their dish (so it can eventually find its way onto the internet where it can join hundreds of other pictures of the same dish). Then they take pictures of their com- panions' food. Then they start to eat (wondering why their food is cold). When they're done, after going through the same ceremonious process to order and consume dessert, the coffee ritual begins. This, as you notice from your vantage point, shoved up against the coat rack, can seem interminable. The restaurant is aware of the situation, but there is little that they can do short of asking the people to vacate the table. Most restaurant people are afraid of confrontation and would rather not cause a scene. The question is who would you rather piss off—the people whose table it is or the people who are camping there? In London, a number of restaurants have taken to setting time limits on reservations. They politely say on the menu that guests are expected to vacate the table after two hours. Some diners take umbrage at this. A subtler way to enforce time limits is to offer reservations in "seatings." Sometimes this practice is restrictive, offering choices that are either too early or too late. I'm in favor of a flexible policy where intelligent staff makes decisions on a per-case basis. This way many factors can be taken into consideration. And there's always, "Would you like to finish your coffee at the bar?" —Anthony Dias Blue

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