Skip to Content

What is Camping in Restaurant Terms (and Why It’s Bad)

If you’ve ever worked at a restaurant, you may be familiar with the concept of camping. It describes a kind of customer that presses certain boundaries.

But you may be unaware of another meaning of the term. While it happens outside the business, it can still be just as rude if you do it wrong.

Today we’ll go over the etiquette of eating out and discover what lotdocking is all about.

Let’s dive in!

A photo of an angry chef with his arms crossed. Restaurant camping can upset the staff working there.
Restaurant camping isn’t cool, but parking your RV overnight might be okay

What is Restaurant Camping?

When you order food, eat it, and then sit at your table without buying anything else, restaurant staff call this camping. Since servers make most of their money on tips, this act can cut into their wages and hit the business’s profit margins.

A Texas Roadhouse employee took to social media to express how much this hurts people in the service industry. She mentioned a time when someone was hogging a table for five hours.

Many people commented that it makes other customers wait longer and creates a stressful environment to work in. 

It’s understandable to enjoy yourself if you’re there to eat and hang out with friends. But at a certain point, it becomes rude. This is especially true for small parties that don’t order much and aren’t going to tip to make up for the inconvenience.

Beyond eating into their hourly wages, you may also prevent them from leaving. When you’re there during shift changes or near closing, your server might be unable to leave until you do. If you’re looking for a way to kill some time, the restaurant table isn’t the place. 

Can You Camp In an RV at a Restaurant?

Long drives in an RV can be daunting, especially when you feel cramped with the family. Restaurants are great for a breather, but that doesn’t mean you should try camping out at a table for hours. 

However, you may be able to try a less intrusive option. Lotdocking can be a good alternative that doesn’t cut into a server’s tips. 

RVers use this term to describe spending the night in a parking space. It’s a good solution when you’re looking to save money on reservations or need to stay somewhere in a pinch. 

Several chain restaurants will let you enjoy a hot meal and then use their lot to camp overnight. However, be sure you get permission from management before settling down.

If you can’t get to your fridge with your slides in, put food and drinks in a cooler like this Lanedo 34-Can Soft-Sided Collapsible Cooler while you’re lotdocking.

RVers are generally welcome at Cracker Barrel. You’ll often find they have specific spots set aside for motorhomes. This road trip-friendly chain with delicious country cooking also offers snacks and games to keep you stocked between destinations. 

Golden Corral’s all-you-can-eat model is perfect for recharging after a long drive. Their restaurants are often okay with people camping in the lots. 

However, because rules vary from city to city, you’ll want to call ahead and check. If they say no, you’ll have to figure out an alternative plan to get some rest. 

Other restaurants may allow overnight parking, and many RVers crash overnight at gyms, big box stores, or truck stops. But the same rules apply to all these places. Get permission and spend some money on supplies while you’re there.

Here’s another spot you might be able to park your RV: Can You Park Overnight at Waffle House? 

How Can I Find Places that Allow Lotdocking?

Lotdocking is a great way to save money on the road. While it doesn’t offer all the amenities of a campground, it’s the perfect way to recharge on long-distance treks. Here are some tools we use to plan our pitstops. 

Free or Paid Apps

Fulltimers rarely hit the road without a plan. Luckily, several phone apps are available to help you find the nearest RV-friendly location with a quick search. 

AllStays has a huge database of hotels, campgrounds, and lotdocking space across the country. You can also read about other people’s experiences and leave your own review to help out the next person down the road. This free app gives you everything you need to plan your itinerary. 

Overnight RV Parking requires a membership to use the platform, but the extra cost is well worth it. You’ll find endless tips for affordable places to pull in for the night. All the entries are reviewed for accuracy, and you’ll get precise GPS coordinates for every listing.

iOverlander is a non-profit global directory. The app runs on donations, but don’t let that fool you. It offers precise information on various free places to stay, including campgrounds and parking lots. Use the filter to narrow your search to find your desired experience. 


Relying on restaurant camping can be stressful. To ensure access to safe places for overnight stays, you can pay for memberships that unlock spots nationwide. 

Boondockers Welcome is a service connecting you to thousands of hosts that welcome RVers on their private property. The small annual fee gives you access to spots unavailable to the general public. 

Harvest Hosts has a similar model, but the difference is where you get to set up camp. Businesses like breweries, wineries, farms, and museums offer excellent stops for subscribers. You’ll have much nicer views than the average parking lot. 

The two memberships combined are cheaper than a night at many hotels. And you’ll likely find ideal stops along your route using both programs. 

An Applebee's and its parking lot. Don't restaurant camp here, but you might be able to park your RV overnight.
Call ahead and ask a manager if their restaurant allows overnight RV parking

How to Make Sure the Police Don’t Knock on Your RV Door

Lotdocking may seem harmless, but many cities have a zero-tolerance policy on sleeping in vehicles. If you want to avoid unpleasant interactions with the police, getting permission to stay in a parking lot is a good idea.

Try calling ahead, if possible, to plan your overnight stop. But you should still ask the manager if you’re popping in at the last minute. If they refuse, thank them and stay polite to avoid causing trouble for others. If they say yes, show gratitude by spending money with them while you’re there. 

It’s also important that you follow good etiquette. Keep your space clean, and don’t pull out your slides. Since you’re not at a campground, don’t set up your gear or take up more than one parking spot. 

As with camping at a restaurant table, you don’t want to overstay your welcome when lotdocking. Keep it to one night and clear out before the morning rush arrives. 

Dig deeper into lotdocking etiquette: The Don’ts of Cracker Barrel RV Camping.

Is Restaurant Camping Worth It?

Restaurant camping is just not a good idea. Technically, it’s loitering. However, lotdocking is an excellent way to get a break after a long ride. You may not have all the hookups and perks of an RV park, but the price is right. Plus, you can get a good meal before resting for the night.

Just keep your stay to a minimum and pick up after yourself. When one person from the nomad community is inconsiderate, it can give the rest of us a bad name!

Discover the Best Free Camping Across the USA

To be honest with you, we hate paying for camping. There are so many free campsites in America (with complete privacy).

You should give it a try!

As a matter of fact, these free campsites are yours. Every time you pay federal taxes, you’re contributing to these lands.

Become a FREE CAMPING INSIDER and join the 100,000 campers who love to score the best site! 

We’ll send you the 50 Best Free Campsites in the USA (one per state). Access the list by submitting your email below: