While fast food literally made its name advertising speed and efficiency, not everyone wants to zoom through the drive-thru and scarf down their Big Mac. Some customers may want to linger a bit longer over their combo meals—in which case, they might want to do that somewhere other than the McDonald’s in Little Falls, New York.
This particular McDonald’s location set off a wave of social media discussion this week when a customer posted on Facebook that a manager asked her and her friends to leave the restaurant because they’d been eating for longer than 30 minutes. Her post—since deleted, after it was reportedly shared more than 1,300 times—also included a photo of a sign that read “Please-No loitering. Time limit: 30 minutes while consuming food.” The woman told Syracuse.com her group had been eating for 34 minutes when they were asked to leave; she adds that the restaurant was not crowded. McDonald’s has not yet responded regarding the controversy.
Neither the policy nor the sign are unusual; other McDonald’s have enacted 30-minute policies as well. Such time limits have ruffled feathers in the past, but one McDonald’s manager in Wisconsin said in 2016 they’re necessary to keep panhandlers from loitering and prevent people from sleeping inside the restaurant. Reddit commenters report spotting 30-minute signs at McDonald’s locations near high schools, too.
Such policies highlight a tension felt not just by McDonald’s, but by other fast-food restaurants and coffee shops, to say nothing of public libraries. These spaces have a relatively low barrier to entry: Spend just a dollar on a coffee or burger, and you have access to a relatively safe, climate-controlled room with (hopefully) clean bathrooms. Becoming a welcoming “third place” for the community can have its benefits for restaurants, as customers know they can reliably spend time there using wifi or just taking a breather from work and home. But businesses must also balance that with their desire to keep the dining area welcoming, safe, and tidy. Plus, everyone knows table turnover is the soul of restaurant profit.