Lonely Planet Writer

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. These are often people who would never consider themselves a 'line butter' but are doing the same with tables.

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 (in the form of a purse or jacket on the table top). 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, sorry, in the same spirit I WILL HAVE TO REPORT YOU until the order-then-sit 'table etiquette' is more commonly accepted.