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I own a small gelato juice bar with a piddling number of seats for customers. I'm working alone right now; my employees returned to school and I haven't hired yet.

Too frequently, after buying and eating, very long-time customers loiter and don't leave! Call them VIPs. I want them to leave because

  • they're occupying my piddling seats. It's worse if they stand, occupy my store's teeny space, and block customer flow.

  • they love to jabber and blether to me, which hamstrings me serving other customers.

I'm too scared of offending these VIPs, and to try to ask them to leave! Their loitering is so bad that I think some of them have learning or mental disorders. I can't believe they are just that selfish! They can't pick up my verbal hints to leave.

I say:

Sorry. I need to go to a restaurant [near my store] to order take-out. I haven't eaten all day!

VIP replies:

No problem! I'll man your counter while you're out. I wouldn't want you to lose business!

I reply:

But I don't know for how long. I may need to use the bathroom, or go to the pharmacy or the supermarket...

VIP replies:

Don't worry! I have all day.

  1. Now what do I try?

  2. It's a waste of time for me to repeat this every time these VIPs show up to maunder! What are some polite psychological tricks that can quickly get them to leave, without me having to talk endlessly?

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    1. is it just bothering you because they stay too long? or 2. do you need the tables for someone's else (like another customer)? – OldPadawan Sep 8 at 17:09
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    Important question: Are you trying to get rid of these people because they are occupying tables, or do you really need to go somewhere to eat? – DJClayworth Sep 9 at 15:43
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    Would you be OK with them staying if they stopped talking to you so much? – user3067860 Sep 9 at 18:23
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    what exactly is selfish about what they are doing? Are you actually losing business? Like - do people come in, see occupied tables, and leave without buying anything? Or is it just annoying? – NKCampbell Sep 10 at 17:47
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    @bubbleking "Piddling" is quite common in my US dialect. – Azor Ahai Sep 12 at 0:22
128

Pester them with service

Continuously come up to them and ask them if they need anything else. You'll either make more sales (good!) or (hopefully) they'll get the hint that your space and tables are for active customers. You will also come off as friendly and a good host if you do this well.

It's mostly an observation on what I see happen where I live. I have found this works on me, and I can tell it's often employed in busy cafés in my experience. I think it works as it subtly reminds people that the service they paid for is over

  • 4
    Not bad, but what about for customers who don't take the hint (as seems to be the case here)? – JBentley Sep 10 at 14:37
  • @JBentley You're not going to be able to cover 100% of usage cases, but if you can get a few more out than before, you're already accomplishing your goal, at least in part. – Anoplexian - Reinstate Monica Sep 10 at 14:51
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    @Anoplexian Yes but in this case the question is specifically about customers who don't take subtle hints (see e.g. "They can't pick up my verbal hints to want them leave"). – JBentley Sep 10 at 15:37
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    @JBentley if they don't take the hint, that's not covered by the question. The question is asking how to politely hint customers to leave. If that can't done then the question can't be answered. – Budd Sep 11 at 2:39
56

Politeness makes it hard to tell them to do anything. However, brains are weird, and you may have far better success regretting to inform them of something you have to do, and the consequences for them of that obligation. However, the thing you have to do must be chosen carefully. Not that you need to leave for a moment, or that you need to go and do a thing. As you've seen, they can offer you alternative suggestions to achieve that goal without making them leave. Instead:

Sorry everyone it's time for me to lock up -- I have to ask you to move on.

or the famous

You don't have to go home, folks, but you can't stay here, I need to lock up in 5 minutes.

You don't explain why you need to lock up. You don't say it's closing time, because they can point to your sign and argue that you don't close for another 3 hours. You don't say it's been a slow day and if you're not bringing in revenue you might as well go home and get some sleep. There is nothing to argue with in "I need to lock up". They might ask why, but you don't need to answer. You can laugh to keep things light, while not answering them. Look forward to seeing them next time. Thank them for coming in and for being regulars, "my favourite customers!" Urge them to enjoy the rest of their day and hope to see them again soon.

This works great if you actually want to lock up and call it a day, or go do some errands or pick up some takeout. You're not lying and you're not giving them any choices. It doesn't work if you are thinking to yourself "look, I don't get any money for listening to your blither blather so if you're not going to order anything can you go move along and host this little party somewhere else." If that's your thought, don't lock your store up and leave. Try asking them if you can get them anything else. That's a very strong social signal that you are in a place of business. While it can be argued that having people in the store attracts more people to come in, that doesn't mean you need to welcome them to stay all day after buying a single item and long since finishing it.

If you are not locking up but just want them to go, you've asked once or twice "can I get anyone anything else", the store is otherwise empty, then you could try asking them how much longer they think they will be. Something like

How much longer are you planning to stay here today?

Resist the urge to tell them why you need to know. Whether they tell you an absolute time (3:30) or a duration (about another hour), look firmly at a clock or your watch or your phone. This makes it clear that you are using their answer. You can even do the math and say "so 30 minutes" if they told you a time or "so till 5pm" if they told you a duration. Something that gets them thinking about what time it is and how long they've been there. You don't need to say "ok" or "that's great" or "sure sure no problem" or anything else. Maybe just "thanks" like you would if you asked someone what time it is. Just as asking if they want to order more items reminds them this is a business, asking when they will leave reminds them they've been here some time already and will eventually need to leave.

As you say, they've got all day. They like the atmosphere in your place. That's great. But you are the one who runs your business and you are the one who makes the decisions. In fact any time someone offers to watch your till, or asks you questions that are at a business-owner level, a good response is to say "don't worry, it's my business to run my business, I've got this."


I am drawing on several sets of background for this. One is university lecturer, where students would not leave the room after class and I couldn't leave them alone in the room. I just told them "I have to lock up now" - things I had been saying before had not worked. The other is when I've been with a large group in a restaurant and we've stayed in a place until they literally started putting chairs on the tables. In hindsight you go "oh, all those times they came and asked if we wanted anything else when we had already said no twice... I get it now."

And as a small business owner people were always giving me unsolicited advice that was rarely useful. They meant well, but explaining why they were wrong didn't work for me. When I started using the "it's my business" line (a pun) I was in a lot less arguments, and seemed to get more respect as well.

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    "How much longer are you planning to stay here today?" seems pretty rude to me... – eirikdaude Sep 9 at 7:48
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    It is not the world's most polite question, but it is less rude than "I need you to go away even though we are not closing, you've bought nothing for hours and I am sick of listening to you" which is where the OP's head is by this time. Remember they've been asked several times "can I get you anything" already if the OP is following my advice. You can flowery it up with "excuse me, if you don't mind, I was curious to know how much more time I can expect to have the pleasure of your company today" if the straight up question feels too rude. – Kate Gregory Sep 9 at 11:42
10

You specifically ask if there are psychological techniques you can use to move them on 'without pretending to need leave store myself'.

If that is the avenue you want to pursue rather than having a straight conversation with them, then you should try to identify the qualities of your gelateria which currently make them feel comfortable to stay for so long. Then change them.

  • Do they like the music? Change it.
  • Do they like that there isn't music? Start playing some.
  • Do they like chatting with you? Give them the cold shoulder.
  • Do they like the fact that you leave them alone to chat? Pull up a chair and join them, make sure to ask lots of invasive questions. Or once they have finished their gelato, go over and make a show of wiping down the table for the next customer.
  • Do they trust you not to gossip about anything you overhear? Arrange for a friend to come in and stage a good gossip session, make sure they know you are talking about the customers.
  • Do they not understand the demands on the piddling amount of seating? Could you arrange for a few friends/family, local book club whatever to pitch up with enough people for all your seats and use that as a springboard for asking them to leave if they are finished?

You will find similar recommendations (though assuming a larger staff) at this business website.

My own view is that a direct and non-tricky approach is better. I appreciate that you are seeking to avoid confrontation, which is why I would suggest trying to frame it as posing the problem to them and asking for their help in solving it. Choose a day and when they come in make a point of saying something along the lines of:

Your gelato are on me today boys, but I need to have a serious chat with you. I'm very happy that you like my gelateria so much and I feel the compliment that you want to spend so much time here. But I just can't afford for you to occupy these seats for hours after you have finished. Your compliment is killing my business.

From then you could go on to suggest if there are days it is more convenient for them to hang out, or if there is a busy time for customers that you need them to clear out for. Appeal to their loyalty as your devoted customers in helping you maximise your business.

And if that doesn't work, it may be time to wield the ban-hammer.

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    I understand the need to have seat turnover, as well as needing people to leave while the store is not staffed, but this Answer goes to the point of making loyal customers unwelcome, therefore losing repeat business. Business is hard enough to get, but getting loyal customers is even harder, and once you get them, they are your best advertisers and those cheapest to advertise to. Once you turn these same people away, they become your worst nightmare, turning people away, and you won't even know it. – computercarguy Sep 10 at 22:17
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    @computercarguy a person who spends all day keeping a chair warm but never buys anything isn't a "loyal customer." This isn't a day center for people with social problems, it's a commercial operation. – alephzero Sep 11 at 16:11
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    @alephzero, if they never buy anything, sure, but the OP said they do buy and eat at first, then don't leave, so they are customers. Yes, they become bumpkins afterwards, but exactly at what quantifiable point does that happen? Is it 5 min, 10, 15, or 7m23s? There's another aspect, too, where people are more comfortable with entering an already used shop than an empty one. An empty one suggests unpopular, not good, or simply the staff will converge on the new person. Having butts in seats actually makes the place more approachable. – computercarguy Sep 11 at 16:16
6

I've been the person on the other end of your question. Loyal customers patronize a store like yours because they see you (rightly or wrongly) as a friend. If they lose that friendly feeling, they may leave and not come back. With that said, most of them will also understand that you are running a business and are at work. So you need to identify the main business problem they are causing you.

Is it:

  • You need the seats, and they aren't moving along: Post a sign: "Dear Customers, We LOVE You, But Our Seating Is Very Limited. If You Are Done, Please Free Up Your Seat." I know one very popular local mom & pop restaurant where everyone feels like family, but where there's also a very clear standard that you eat, pay, and leave. Otherwise everyone would be there all night. All the regulars have internalized this ethic, and don't mind enforcing it with each other.

  • You can't accomplish your work because they're talking to you: This one is really on you. I suspect you're unintentionally encouraging people to extend their conversations by being too accommodating. Don't stop what you're doing to chat, that's not a reasonable expectation on your customers' part. Keep on doing whatever you need to do, and if that doesn't work, say "Oh, I'm so sorry, but I need to [fill this order / check on a table / do prep work]." Be polite, but firm.

If you are bothered by these conversations, but NOT because they are causing you business difficulties, then you may be in the wrong line of work. Gelato is a luxury product. People probably aren't patronizing you solely because they're gelato fiends. It's hard to know how much of your business is driven by these VIPs and the love they have for you. If they sour on you, they might take all their friends with them too.

0

These are sort of a "left field" kind of thoughts that might work for the right person or situation, or they may fail miserably. This is a bit of a frame challenge, since it's suggesting you to look at this from completely different directions.

Hire them

They've offered to watch the store for you. In that same conversation they said they don't have anything else to do all day. You also mentioned that you are short staffed and need to hire people. That comment about not having anywhere else to be might be a clumsy way of asking you to hire them.

This all depends on their demeanor, sometimes age, and whether they will actually close their mouths and work. When I say "age", I mean are they retired and don't want to work anymore, are they a teen and don't have any summer job? Summer should be over by now, so teens are likely in school and early 20-somethings might be in college. And just because they talk a lot, it doesn't mean they can't work while they talk or won't be a good waitstaff, since they'll be good communicators. If they just blabber on all the time about anything and never get anything accomplished, then yeah, don't bother.

This at least temporarily solves the issue of them taking up your "piddling number of seats". Maybe they become a great asset, or maybe you fire them 2 weeks later.

Who better to become an employee than someone who actually likes the product and the business? What better way to spend the day than to be where you want to be and get paid for it? You can teach someone how to run a cash register, clean tables, or dip ice cream/gelato, but you can't teach loyalty. Companies are being shown that employees who are loyal to the company actually make better customer service, so why not start out with people who are already loyal?

https://talentculture.com/turn-employees-into-advocates-3-lessons-from-referral-marketing/

This is entirely a judgement call on your part, mostly due to whether you can stand being around them for a full shift or if they are reliable and trustworthy.

Become friends

This takes some time and some effort, but if you can get to know them and maybe trust them, you can leave the shop to them for a few minutes while you run a few errands. Also, this way they become people you want to see, instead of adversaries that need to leave when you're done using them for revenue. That's putting it a little harshly, but that's how many businesses are run even when not a restaurant. Building a real relationship with your customers makes a lot of things easier, including asking them to vacate when you are busy. They may even take more notice of your other customers and voluntarily leave if they think they are in your way, because they have become invested in your success, not just involved.

I actually liked parts of Spagirl's Answer, except for where the point was to become annoying so they'd want to leave and possibly never come back. Pulling up a chair and joining their conversation isn't a bad idea, if your intention is to actually get to know them. You may find out something that changes your mind about them being in your shop. Maybe you realize they are avoiding something at home, maybe they think you're cute, maybe they love the smell of only your shop, maybe you aren't an ass and forcing them out like other shops, maybe your shop reminds them of their childhood, or maybe they just didn't realize they were in the way. There are 1000's of other things that could explain them staying, including them being SOBs that just don't care or are waiting around for a good time to rob you. You won't know until you get to know them.

https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/76734

Let them be

As I mentioned in a comment on another Answer, people are more comfortable with entering a shop that has people in it than an empty one. An empty one suggests unpopular, not good, or simply the staff will converge on the new person. Having butts in seats actually makes the place more approachable. Also, being empty can give the vibe that you aren't open, even if you have an "Open" sign.

This link is all about getting people into your store, because people being in your store actually brings even more people to your business. People being in your store acts as immediate advertising, because people will want to know "why are there so many people in your store". If your store draws a crowd, it must be good, right?

https://smallbiztrends.com/2017/02/how-to-get-more-customers.html

As a manager of a small computer repair store, who was also the only computer tech, I had people say they had come by the shop but didn't see anyone inside, so they kept walking. They didn't come in until they saw me at the front desk talking to another customer. My store was set up so that the repair area was in back and I was the only employee, so the shop looked empty most of the time. It's true that many people came in anyway, and we had a door chime to let me know about it, but I'm sure there were people that never came in due to the emptiness. I had one customer specifically ask if I was open, since there weren't any other customers in the shop.

Conclusion

Again, all this depends on you and them. Are you willing and able to spend the time and effort to do any of this? Are they? That's something only you can know. No judgement here. Running a business takes a lot of time, effort, and concentration. My suggestions take all three of those, so it's totally understandable if you decide not to try my suggestions.

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    I'm puzzled. A frame-challenge can be a good way to twist around and cope with the problem, but in this case, "hiring" them?! Becoming friends might achieve the exact opposite goal for OP, but why not... But hiring someone because you want to get rid of them? (very weird look here ^^). Do you really think this will work? – OldPadawan Sep 12 at 7:27
  • @OldPadawan, when all of the "in the box" solutions don't work, try something else. I'm definitely not saying this will work 100% of the time, but there's a chance it will. I don't even know what kind of chance, I'm just brainstorming ideas. Isn't that what this site is for? – computercarguy Sep 12 at 15:47
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    "I'm just brainstorming ideas." = that's the problem :) - "Isn't that what this site is for" = the exact opposite, actually. I won't link all meta post about what's expected on IPS, but I can quickly say what's not: "thoughts / ideas / try this". The community decided that answers must be backed up by data/science/experience. And explain why's and how's. – OldPadawan Sep 12 at 16:11
  • @OldPadawan, if people want to believe the same old BS that doesn't work for others, that's their business. I've added links to support my suggestions, because this is the "new" way to do business, even if it's not very popular with current businesses yet, due to them ignoring the psychology of what actually makes people do what they do. – computercarguy Sep 12 at 17:05
  • I really like the suggestion to hire them. Some times when you have two problems they actually cancel out. (OP mentioned she needed to hire people). Of course it could also blow up, but it's sure worth considering. – AlexDev Sep 16 at 12:09

protected by OldPadawan Sep 10 at 6:37

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