I am at a crowded food court, food stalls all have a 20 minutes queue, and not a single seat is available. Eating outside of the food court is not an easy option either.

But then there is this 4 people table with nothing but a small bag put at the middle of it.

I can only suppose that a person or group of persons has put it to "reserve" the table before going to the food stalls. I don't know how long ago they put it.

I am just one person, so I could eat on the corner of the table without touching the bag, and possibly be finished before they even come back. I could also simply wait for a seat to become free, which should take no more than 10 minutes.

  • Question 1: In this situation, is such "reservation" an acceptable behavior?
  • Question 2: What would you do in my case?

(Spin off from What is the best way to deal with "reserved" seats at place like a hotel pool?)


3 Answers 3


A food court is no place to reserve seating. They are designed specifically to have a very high throughput. This is disruptive of that. You may take the seat.

If you're confronted, and it seems plausible, common ways to handle this are:

  • Suggesting the group eat with you. (make sure there's enough seats, and be friendly and open!)
  • Humor them and tell them you're guarding their bag to make sure it wasn't stolen.
  • Explain that you'll be done quickly, and that it's a mild inconvenience. (make sure it's the truth)
  • Move. It's no sign of weakness to move when prompted. Be respectful. 4 > 1.
  • If the group is particularly rough, and I wouldn't give up a seat for them on a train, I would hold my ground. Very rarely would one not think it necessary to give up a single seat to make 4 more. Those occasions do arise, though.
  • What does 4 > 1 mean?... Other than "four is greater than one" Are you saying four people win out over a single person?
    – Catija
    Jul 5, 2017 at 21:29
  • @catija yes, exactly.
    – user20
    Jul 5, 2017 at 21:37
  • 1
    @Catija: The numbers 4 and 1 come from my question.
    – nic
    Jul 6, 2017 at 2:38
  • 1
    @Catija: Thanks for pointing that out, I edited my question to make it clear that I was alone. As for the "reservers", at the point where I asked myself the question above I have no idea how many they are, t is only my guess that they are probably 4 since the item is ostensibly put right in the middle.
    – nic
    Jul 6, 2017 at 2:48
  • 1
    @Catija i'm a mobile user. answers are as long as I can make them in a reasonable time.
    – user20
    Jul 6, 2017 at 3:01

"Hit and run,"(the latter if necessary) seems like the way to go. For several reasons.

  1. Someone may have left their bag behind, and the table is not really "reserved."
  2. You may be finished before the people get back. In which case, you are within your rights.
  3. You may finish shortly after the people get back. If that's the case, the slight inconvenience to them is outweighed by the savings to you. If it is less than one fourth of your time, this will be true even you multiply their inconvenience by four.
  4. They come back shortly after you sit down, and demand their table back. Then, you might want to move and wait ten minutes for another spot. But in the other three scenarios, it's not necessary.

Reserving seats in a place with high and fast throughput is rude because it works against the concept of the restaurant. So keep in mind that the seat reservers are being rude, not you.

An easy way out is treating the bag, since it's a single one, as lost luggage.

  1. Sit down and eat your meal.
  2. Take the lost luggage to the counter to report it.

Should you be interrupted between 1 and 2 by the owner of the bag, hand them their luggage after verifying that it's indeed theirs, for instance by checking that the bag indeed contains what they say it does.

This puts the onus on them to admit that they sought to reserve the seats, to which you can answer "how rude" if you want to drive that point home.

If they become rude and insist on you vacating the seats, get the staff involved. The whole concept of a fast-food restaurant is fast throughput, which "reserving" seats works against since it prevents other customers from eating.

  • Interesting! There is a risk of being considered a thief at the beginning of step 2. Maybe reporting the bag to security rather than touching it might alleviate this problem? For the "interrupted" case, I think identity verification would be better left to security.
    – nic
    Aug 7, 2017 at 10:18

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