New Travel Rule: No Table Butting!


You’re in a self-service cafe or restaurant. It’s busy. There’s only a free table or two, and five or six groups in line before you. You do the damning math. Even if half are taking their bagels to go, you’re out of luck if you want a seat unless another table leaves. Do you have a friend claim the table before you order? Or wait it out and see what it happens?

Of course you do the latter. Because it’s the right thing to do.

Yet this simple, obvious courtesy may be the most routinely broken travel ethic on this side of complaining about ice-less Cokes in France. Many places in the world — NOT all — understand simple line etiquette that allows the people who queue up first get their train tickets or burgers first. But the exploited gray area is when groups divvy and conquer to get their bottoms a seat. One or two stays in line to order for all, while the rest sit at empty tables, a bit nervously on occasion, thus pushing more respectful customers ahead of them in line to eat their carrot cupcakes in the freezing sleet outside.

This, like world starvation, must change.

Recently I was in San Francisco and wandered to the ferry building facing the Bay Bridge for an egg sandwich and ice tea. And saw two groups behind me cleave and stake flags (ie a purse or jacket on the table) into the two long tables (see photo above).

Guys, we see what you’re doing. You know it’s kinda wrong. You know that we know you know it. And never mind that folks like me and my seven-month-old daughter were left to stand. Yes, for now, you are playing fair and square. Enjoy that flaky, oven-warm croissant.

But in the same spirit I WILL REPORT YOU until the order-then-sit ‘table etiquette’ is more commonly accepted.

About Robert Reid

Robert Reid is a travel writer (Lonely Planet, New York Times, ESPN), travel expert (Today Show, CNN's Headline News), travel videographer (76-Second Travel Show) and travel artist (don't ask).
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6 Responses to New Travel Rule: No Table Butting!

  1. We like to travel in order to learn about different cultures – and there you have it: There are many places in the world where people just can’t deal with waiting in line.

  2. Robert Reid says:

    Definitely agree. I always accept it when locals in foreign cultures butt in line in front of me. I don’t always like it internally, but I NEVER complain.

    The table thing is more directed to the US, where I think people who wouldn’t consider themselves a line-butter are essentially table-butting… Hmm, that’s a better way of putting it. Drat.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I always love France for the public civility the French have, but line butting is an exception — aside from the boulangerie, they will walk right in front of you as if you never existed.

  4. dave925 says:

    True and quite funny the way you are calling people out on the behavior!

    As alluded to in the comments, I think your concern would be lost on a a billion or two people in India and China though.

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  6. Pingback: reidontravel | How to end “table-butting” for good

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