The Etiquette of Saving Seats for Others
September 23, 2019 2:43 PM   Subscribe

What's an acceptable thing to say to someone who is saving multiple seats for people who come in later in crowded venues with open seating like music clubs, movies, etc. in the US.

I usually arrive very early to movies, lectures, and music venues with open seating to get decent seat. If I'm meeting a few people I meet them early outside so we can sit together and not have to save seats. (If I'm meeting one person, then I'll save a single seat for a bit.) However, I'm often frustrated when I get someplace really early, and a "scout" is already there holding multiple open seats for several people (who often scoot in at the last minute). I mean, I'm there, right, early enough to claim a good seat but the good ones are all being saved? I usually slink off to an inferior seat because I don't want to make a scene/ Is there some non-snarky, non embarrassing thing to say so that I can take a good seat, or does the earlier bird get priority to claim multiple seats? (I'm not including beach, picnic, or parade spots, but mainly movies, lecture halls, and music clubs where a decent seat enhances the experience.)
posted by Elsie to Human Relations (22 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
many venues have a policy that non reserved seats can only be saved for a certain amount of time before the show starts; otherwise it's 1st come,1st served.
posted by brujita at 2:53 PM on September 23, 2019

Early bird gets priority unless there are rules against it, in which case you either decide to live and let live or go seek out an employee enforcer (rather than enforce the rule yourself, which can go wrong).

Places where this is likely to happen in extremes (like outdoor concert venues) try to engineer the rules to limit it, for example by not opening the gate until a set time that’s somewhat reasonable. But if you want the best spots, even then, you have to be the earliest bird.

I will say I notice more and more places with assigned seating (movie theaters especially) or at least a mix of assigned and unassigned, so if you dislike the early bird rule you may be happier in the future.
posted by sallybrown at 3:00 PM on September 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

They have no priority to the better seats but as they're there they will feel entitled to it and anything you do to call that entitlement into question will end poorly for someone. I would take a worse seat unless the place was already fairly full in which case I'd take the seat but be quite apologetic about it.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 3:43 PM on September 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

In my experience (Bostonian by birth, New Yorker for the last 20 years) saving seats is so common and so accepted a practice that the only real arguments I've heard concerning it have to do with the specifics of etiquette -- how many seats an individual person can save, whether they can be saved after the movie or whatnot has started, etc. If this practice frustrates you, I'd recommend doing what other posters have suggested and stick to movies and shows with assigned seating, or else go to movie showings which are less likely to be crowded.

FWIW, if I was saving seats for a couple of friends at a movie theater and someone sat down in one of those seats despite my saying I was saving them, that person might technically be right in terms of theater policy, but I would think they were a huge asshole. So personally, I wouldn't recommend this route. You might get the seat but you'll have someone seething next to you for the rest of the show.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 4:15 PM on September 23, 2019 [10 favorites]

Honestly, there’s no magic words you can say that can force someone to give up a seat that they’re saving for someone. You’ll ask, they’ll tell you, sorry, it’s saved..and then what? You sit there anyway and cause a scene? You refuse to move and force their friend to sit up the back and have to sit next to someone shooting daggers at you all evening? If there’s an early bird system and they got in there first then unfortunately the answer is to get in earlier next time. I agree, it’s not a great system but that’s what you’re working with and like you said, you save seats yourself too sometimes, so...
posted by Jubey at 4:16 PM on September 23, 2019 [4 favorites]

This is something I've witnessed increasingly on Southwest flights -- one person buys Early Bird and then saves like, two entire rows at the front of the plane for their extended family. That's incredibly rude, but I'm not going to have a confrontation. However, I have ABSOLUTELY seen other people choose the confrontation, especially in egregious cases (no one really cares if you save a seat or two, but once you start talking about 6 seats or 12 -- yes I have really seen that happen -- it's another story).

In those situations, New Arrival usually just like, sits in one of the seats without asking, moving a jacket or whatever if necessary. Early Bird turns around and snarls, "Someone is sitting there."

NA: "Oh, I didn't see anyone. Where are they?"

EB: ...

And then the onus is on Early Bird to call a flight attendant if they want those seats back, and the flight attendant is just not going to intervene here. This has always worked for New Arrival and I feel like it would work in other circumstances too, although others are right that you'll get a death glare for the rest of the flight/event.

I feel like the ratio does have to be egregious for this to not be a dick thing, though. I feel like the maximum is in the neighborhood of 1 present person : 3 absent people? If you're one dude saving seats for 4+ folks then you're the problem.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 4:29 PM on September 23, 2019 [15 favorites]

It strikes me that an obvious solution would be for you to also claim seats inside instead of waiting outside for your friends to all show up. I doubt that you'll ever defeat the lone-person-saving-multiple-seats people, so maybe fighting fire with fire is the way to go.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:43 PM on September 23, 2019 [4 favorites]

For the record, Southwest's policy is that's A-OK, and the attendants won't intervene, which is infuriating when you've paid to have a shot at those seats.
posted by Candleman at 4:48 PM on September 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

I tried that once on a Southwest flight (two coworkers were way behind in boarding) and due to the amount of vitriol I received from others, I won’t do it again.
posted by hijinx at 4:50 PM on September 23, 2019 [3 favorites]

People are horrible. Anyone who tries to save more than a couple seats is insane. Just imagine that there are real butts in those seats and move on with your life.
posted by amanda at 5:37 PM on September 23, 2019 [7 favorites]

“I’ll move when they get here” sometimes works for me when I’m solo, in that the people who later show up usually have enough sense to say “oh ok we’ll find somewhere else to sit.”
posted by STFUDonnie at 5:54 PM on September 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

save one — routine
save two — iffy, but you're likely gonna have to sit next to them, so they're probably going to keep them
save three or more — fuuuuck that guy.

(In a music venue in Toronto a few years back, I witnessed the perfect busting of a seat-hog. Guy is trying to keep like 5 seats around him, when an older chap comes in, deep in conversation with his partner. Older chap + partner start to sit in the hog guy's seats 4 & 5, who raises a loud and indignant “I'm saving those for my friends!”. Without pause, older chap turns to seat hog and says “Thanks, friend!” and goes back to his conversation. Nothing more is said. The friends, who turn up for a couple of minutes after the main act has come on when the place is packed sit elsewhere.)
posted by scruss at 7:17 PM on September 23, 2019 [34 favorites]

Saving one seems completely reasonable: Like the person they are saving for could be in the washroom or went for snacks/smoke or something (I mean, they probably aren't there yet, but they could be).
posted by Mitheral at 9:01 PM on September 23, 2019

I was boarding a city-destination bus with kids and someone was laying across the back seat, pretending to sleep. I was That Person who gently insisted that if they would choose one seat, we could sit together with a few left over. We all boarded together so it was a case of 5 minutes, max.
posted by childofTethys at 9:48 PM on September 23, 2019

I routinely help out with commencement/graduation, and the ushers help out with people holding too many seats. They have general admission tickets, so it’s that sort of set-up.
posted by childofTethys at 9:53 PM on September 23, 2019

In my experience (Bostonian by birth, New Yorker for the last 20 years)

Is this regional? I feel like saving a seat for people who are there but went to the bathroom or the bar or something is perfectly legit, but saving seats for people who aren't even there is not cool. I hardly ever see the latter thing.

I probably wouldn't insist on sitting but you better believe I would make the person tell me, give them a "you're doing what?" look, then make them feel very conspicuous and uncomfortable while they were waiting. (Which doesn't work on assholes, but whattayagonnado? Maybe next time they'll make another plan.)
posted by ctmf at 10:35 PM on September 23, 2019

Also I don't fly Southwest, but I don't think I'd have a problem there with scoffing "saved? It's Southwest, there ARE no assigned seats. You sit where you want, that's how it works" without missing a beat and plopping down. Somehow if feels different from the theater.
posted by ctmf at 10:41 PM on September 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

Three or more people who haven't even arrived (ie, they're not in the toilet, and they're not at the snack bar) and they get 'yeah, pity about that' and me sitting down anyway.
posted by some little punk in a rocket at 10:56 PM on September 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

Is this regional? I feel like saving a seat for people who are there but went to the bathroom or the bar or something is perfectly legit, but saving seats for people who aren't even there is not cool. I hardly ever see the latter thing.

You know, I think it might be? In NYC, especially, it's common to meet friends at a theater, and frequently folks are coming from all over the place via public transit. It's not uncommon for bad train luck to eat up all the extra time you left yourself to get to the theater, so that may be part of it? We've all been there, and as long as your pal arrives before the show starts, no one really cares. I don't think I've ever had someone give me a hard time about seat saving, or even a dirty look, in the entire time I've lived here.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 11:06 PM on September 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

Also, come to think of it, I wonder if the general crowdedness-level of theaters has something to do with it. In NYC -- especially Manhattan -- movies are likely to be sold out and theaters fill up entirely well before the trailers start. Seat saving is the only way you're ever going to get to sit with your pals if you aren't all arriving together at least twenty minutes early. And for newer movies, there's frequently a line well ahead of the showtime, in which case you have line-spot-saving etiquette issues as well.

So to bring this back around to the OP's actual question, it apparently depends on where you live, at least in part, and possibly also the general difficulty of getting a seat that isn't directly in front of the screen.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 11:13 PM on September 23, 2019

the only real imax in the city (lincoln square) used to be a crazed free for all of unassigned first come first served seating and you had to get there at least 3h early for a big release's opening day if you wanted to get a decent seat. there were times when individual fools tried to save multiple (like 6 or more) seats and in response to that reprehensible practice there were many many shoutings, near brawls, and actual brawls about it. people saving single seats or one on each side of them got away with it more often than not, and there was also usually a fairly strong sense of "the trailers have started and that one asshole friend of ours still isn't here so yeah, you can have it, stranger" but it was still mostly pretty terrible and toxic for everyone involved. they have since switched to assigned seating and it's fucking bliss.

tl;dr holding more than 2 additional seats max as 1 person is a crime, both as the person doing the holding, and as the shitty group of friends forcing 1 person to do it for them.
posted by poffin boffin at 12:31 AM on September 24, 2019 [12 favorites]

It's annoying, but do you really want to pick a fight over this? Is it worth it? It won't end well.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:58 PM on September 24, 2019

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