We are a small restaurant with an attractive beer garden for the summer months serving rustic, sometimes somewhat creative country fare made from locally produced/reared products. We're located in a rural setting in the heart of a village that is a tourist destination for hikers and day trippers. As a restaurant, we are without competition in the village; aside from us, there are only two basic cafés, two fast food joints and a pub/restaurant that serves cheap, industrially produced rubbish.
That's the situation, here's the problem: We often seem to attract cheapskate customers who come in only for drinks and buy, say, a single starter between two, four or six of them, essentially to buy time at one of our tables. Sometimes, these customers outstay their welcome by waiting for their train when we would otherwise close the restaurant for the afternoon or for the night, other times, they hog tables which we could otherwise fill with customers wishing to eat proper meals. And sometimes it simply pisses me off that they share a starter which at most restaurants round here are 'cross-subsidised' through the main courses, because they tend to be a hard sell. (Many people expect a large main course and will not order starters or desserts. In order to boost starter sales, I offer interesting and often rather expensive items such as smoked trout or organic goat's cheese at attractive prices. This has proved rather successful, but still, only about 20% of our customers order starters.)
In order to counteract the 'cheapskate' problem, I've started adding a one-euro surcharge to all starters ordered singularly, and it clearly states that on the menu. In this way, at least I get a little additional profit on these low-margin items. It angers some customers, others accept it, because ours is the nicest place in town.
You could argue the customer's point - they're thinking 'the restaurant owner should thank us on his bended knees for spending our hard-earned cash at his place rather than frequenting the ugly, smelly burger joint around the corner'. My argument is: 'This is a f***ing restaurant with all the associated overheads, staff, gas, power, you name it, and not a greasy spoon serving budget food to budget customers. If you want great service, outstanding food and clean toilets, order a bloody main course or go somewhere else!'
You could also say 'Yes, but these customers may come back for a proper meal because they liked the place.' Nah, they won't, because cheapskates will be cheapskates. They're the type of customer that will not spend a great deal on food while they're out and about. I know this from experience.
While I'm at it, what about this: Customers call in for a reservation, we squeeze them in because we're almost booked out, and they arrive 20 minutes late. Or 45 minutes early. Happens all the bloody time. For crying out loud, reservations are made not exclusively for the benefit of the customer, but also to avoid mayhem in the kitchen!!! So, if they don't let you know they're running late - how long do you wait before you give their table to someone else????
Or what about this: A couple books a table by phone, the last one available. In the evening, they walk in, are led to their table and start lamenting that they don't like it, they want that six-top over there (which has been reserved by a party of six for the same time, but they haven't arrived yet...). They are told in a friendly, yet firm, manner that this is impossible, so they walk out on us. We could have filled the table several times over by phone before they 'played up', but it remained empty, because we didn't see any more walk-in customers that evening.
Now, I'm aware that some things cannot be avoided. There's nothing you can do about bad manners (no notification if someone's running late or arriving early) or unreasonable requests. But how far would you go in accommodating customers with things that really don't sit well with you? Is it your restaurant and your rules, or do you allow customers to walk all over you, simply because they spend their money at your place and not somebody else's?
I'd be interested in how you guys deal with situations like these.