I'm not a server or in the business, but feel for all of you who are, and love all your blogs. I'm not sure how to say this right, but please don't hate all of us "campers" before you've even had a chance to find out whether we'll leave a generous tip or not. There are times on my job when I have to wait out storms and don't like to do it in my truck, and am not allowed to go shopping. I usually will find a restaurant, order food and wait out the rain reading a book. I ALWAYS ALWAYS tip at least 100 percent and usually more for taking up someones table for so long even if I get the stink-eye from my server for "camping". I usually try to explain that I might be there a while, but I've never found a way to ensure the server that I'll compensate them well. How should I do that so they aren't so upset with me before I even get my bill? Maybe you could post a blog to let customers know how to go about this.
First, I think it's great that you even care--most people are just utterly oblivious, or they think "I'm the customer, I have a right to stay here as long as I want!" And the thing with campers is that it's all about context. I don't hate all of them, and I've been known to go to a restaurant for several hours too--but never during the prime hours.
(I'm going to use "you" throughout this, but I mean it in the general sense, not the personal.)
There are a couple of situations where you're going to be pissing someone off regardless. If it's prime rush time, say 11-2 or 5-8ish, you're significantly cutting into a server's profits if you're there more than fifteen minutes after you finish your food. Also, if you stay more than fifteen minutes after closing time, every employee in the place is pretty much thinking you're a douchebag.
Mitigating circumstances: a single person at a two-seater table who's polite and friendly is not going to be nearly as upsetting as a single person who's rude and bitchy, taking up a table that could seat four or more. After closing time, if there are multiple tables, we're going to be annoyed in general instead of at you in particular.
If you are going to be there during the dinner rush, ask for a closer's section. They have a lot more time to make money, so they'll be less annoyed. Don't take up a table bigger than you need unless there's a reason (like the chairs hurt your back but the booths are okay). During later hours, and if you see lots of open tables, it's not such a big deal. I don't care if somebody camps out at a booth the entire time from second cuts to close, generally speaking.
In general, be polite; and instead of trying to tell your server you'll be generous at the beginning, pay your bill promptly and let them take the credit slip/change right away. If you're worried about them ignoring you after that, just politely tell them you'll probably want a refill and to please check back. This also allows your sever to leave if they're supposed to be off the clock, instead of having to wait around making $2 an hour waiting to pick up your credit slip. They'll ask another server to keep an eye on you if that's the case.
We don't automatically hate all campers; a lot of it is about attitude. For example if the people who made me so angry on Tuesday would've sat at the bar for the first 2.5 hours they were waiting for the rest of their party, I could've run three groups of customers through that table and made some money. Instead, they took up my table and were rude to me to boot. The people having the meeting showed up during the dinner rush, knowing they weren't going to eat--so why go to a restaurant? It was also the combination of both of them sitting there at the same time that made me so mad, so some of it was just bad luck.
Any additional suggestions from fellow servers?