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Meal dilemma: "We all need places to go'

What you want isn't always what you get at one fast-food restaurant.

Older patrons at a restaurant in this Boston suburb say they have been harassed for being too slow with their fast food.

The manager of a McDonald's, exasperated with lingering diners, even imposed a 20-minute limit on how long they could remain seated after finishing their meals.

After six months and many howls of protest from older customers, that policy was abandoned.

The situation points to a larger problem, experts say. Senior citizens who have time on their hands don't always have someplace to spend it.

The town, which is home to about 55,000 people, has about 10,000 residents over the age of 60, said Ruthann Dobek, staff coordinator for the Brookline Council on Aging.

But there is no center for older people. And the area doesn't have as many coffee shops as it once did, said Michael Merrill, chairman of the Board of Selectmen.

"We all need places to go," said gerontologist Eric Kingson of Boston College. "There's a certain irony here. Usually, we think of young people loitering. Here we have a group of older people making use of the time-honored tradition of sitting around and having a nice chat in a pleasant place to be."

In any case, the treatment is hard to swallow.

"I've been in a lot of McDonald's, but I've never seen anything like this," said Thomas Vocase, 66.

Jane Hulbert, a spokeswoman for McDonald's Corp. at its Oak Brook, Ill., headquarters, said she knew of no McDonald's that put a time limit on customers. And she said the company strives to include senior citizens, both as customers and employees.

In Delray Beach in Florida, a McDonald's in a neighborhood where the average age is 65 is replacing its children's swings and monkey bars with shuffleboard courts.