Submitted By Simon Hardy Butler, November 9, 2016

I’m a big fan of long, leisurely dinners.

At many high-end restaurants, such repasts are the norm. You can’t get out before three hours are up unless you let the staff know you’re going to the theater, trying to catch a plane, seeking a spot on the line at Shake Shack and so on. Full meals shouldn’t be cut short when it comes to special occasions. Taking your time is encouraged. And lingering is a fact of life.

But is there such a thing as staying too long at the table? When is enough enough?

I recently enjoyed an extraordinary supper at luxurious New American eatery Gramercy Tavern that lasted, all told, about four hours. My wife and I sampled a tasting menu coupled with wine pairings, as well as an additional cheese course, so a lengthy feast was expected; our server even asked us at the start if we had somewhere to go afterward—presumably (and courteously) in an effort to determine the pace of the experience. As we didn’t have any other plans that evening, a quick nosh-and-run was not in order. We were there for the duration.

The question is, though, should we have been? At the end of our gorge-a-thon, we were both quite tired, and while we had a great deal of fun, we did have some minor quibbles vis-à-vis the time it took between courses—a couple of which were preceded by amuse-bouches. Those and other factors helped to extend the evening, which could have been a lot shorter.

I realize cooking and preparation are necessary ingredients in all of this. I understand that restaurants of Gramercy Tavern’s caliber are attuned to the desires of their customers and take great care to accommodate their needs. Yet a more concerted attention to the rate of diners’ consumption, along with an eye toward expeditiousness, would be welcome in the arena. Observing how long customers take to devour their selections and gauging their readiness for the next ones is critical, and further scrutiny of such behavior is a good idea. If someone is done munching on his or her salad, wouldn’t it make sense to bring the steak right afterward … without too much hesitation?

Bear in mind I’m not trying to single out Gramercy Tavern as some kind of epicurean dillydallier. This is a pervasive issue that affects restaurants as a whole, and I think it gets short shrift—even though it forms a sizable part of the dining-experience package. Plus, it’s not just a phenomenon that occurs at fancy establishments; as the saying goes, everything is relative, and duration may be proportional at casual places, too. If you’re waiting 30 minutes for your Buffalo wings at Irving’s Burger Shed, doesn’t this problem come into play as well? Time should be interactive, not one-note. It should excite, not frustrate, when one is eating out.

Everybody in the restaurant industry should be aware of this.

Here’s my feeling: No meal warrants spending a sixth part of the day in one’s seat, and even the greatest Lucullan temples serving the most elaborate banquets should keep that in mind. For we can relish our victuals more when the window of enjoyment isn’t kept open; it gives us the chance to be satisfied while piquing our interest in further expeditions. That’s got to be a goal for all people—vendors and customers alike.

Will this be addressed immediately? Not sure, but hurrying the process might be sensible. The sooner meals can be shorn down to more manageable lengths, the more comfortable diners will be. As a longtime, frequent diner myself, I’d support such a change.

Is the issue likely to be tackled at all? Heck, I don’t know. Yet I can’t say it won’t be welcome if the sector decides to confront it. And you can bet I’ll be super patient while standing by for any developments.

I’ve got all the time in the world to wait.

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