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How soon is it OK to arrive before a restaurant closes?

This thread is inspired by a post I read about a couple who arrived at a restaurant at 8:58--the restaurant's posted closing time was 9:00, and they were treated rudely by the host, who refused to seat them. Who was out of line? What does "closing time" mean to you?

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  1. I've never worke in a restaurant, but as I diner I take it to mean that you are finished with your meal and out the door at the stated time. I guess you could find out by calling a restaurant and asking them what time they close, and what time is their latest reservation.

    3 Replies
    1. re: pikawicca

      I've always taken 'close' to mean the time at which the door closes. With the widely varying times it might take to serve and eat a meal, I don't see how it's logical to expect people to figure backwards from a closing time to arrive at the last seating. The door closes to stop people from entering, but they can always let you out if you're already in.

      I was once rudely told that ""the restaurant was closing and we'd have to leave" at a national upscale fish/steak house. It was just at the posted closing'' time. We'd had a reservation for an hour and half earlier and were in the middle of dessert and coffee. No apology, no explanation, no cleaning up tables near us (and we weren't the last table either; ther were 3 others). The bearer of these tidings turned out to be the manager. Several days and phone calls later, I had profuse apologies from the CEO and the Regional Manager, plus $175 in gift certificates. Never used them...... the only location near us was where that manager worked.

      1. re: Midlife

        Is that how much the meal cost? $175? To be pushed out the door after spending two C notes? Unbelievable.

        This only happened to me once with the explanation that the floors were going to be waxed. Sure enough exactly at 10pm the front doors were flung open, furniture moved and several men started stripping the floors all within 5 minutes. The smell of chemicals permeated the place and expedited our departure.

        1. re: tom porc

          The meal was more like $120 or so. The $175 was what they sent in certs. I'd've been upset no matter what the meal cost.

    2. As an office worker I can tell you that by 4:59 everyone is ready to go home. The computers are turned off and the files are locked. And if here comes someone with a question that may take you another 10 minutes to answer, no one would be too happy about that.

      2 Replies
      1. re: PeterL

        good point. If you get to the bank at 4pm and they close at 4 then they are closed. Ditto for the supermarket. You don't show up at your local market at 5 minutes to closing time expecting to spend 25 minutes doing your weekly shop.

        1. re: smartie

          that's not true at all, at least it wasn't when I worked in a grocery store. We routinely had people come in 10 minutes before closing and shop for half an hour.

      2. There's clearly a loack of a standard, but I would like to think that "closing time" would mean last reservation. The restaurant is there for your comfort and enjoyment, not for you to eat on a schedule. Even if you time your arrival properly, you can't anticipate how busy the kitchen is, whether a member of the wait staff failed to show up, or any other of a bunch of possible delays. These things are under the control of the establishment, not you.,

        1. During my one brief stint at a fine dining restaurant, closing time was 9pm, which meant last seated or last reservation. Actually, I'm not sure they took reservations for 9pm, but we did occasionally have someone come in and be seated around then. On a Saturday, we'd be done about 11pm, although that included cleanup and reset of the dining room and such. Certain things like vacuuming we couldn't do until every last diner was out of each room.

          This can't be compared to an office, where it may close at 5pm as well as everyone leaving at that time. At another retail establishment of any size, or restaurant, at least some workers are scheduled for beyond the closing time. In a large store, there is "recovery" that may have some people in there for an hour or more after close. Banks don't close at 4pm just because they can; they have numerous tasks to finish that can't all be finished while they're open for customers. And restaurants always have at least a few things that can't be finished while customers are still inside.

          If a restaurant has table service, there are really too many variables to make closing time the time when all customers get out. But the best thing to do would be check with them first. (Even then it can work out badly, as some stories told here can attest, but it's safer than not checking.) I would think the rule of thumb would be early closing time of 9pm or thereabouts equals last seating time, where a later closing time would equal please be out of there by that time. But it's not likely to be universal.

          1. Having worked in many restaurants over the years, I would say that the time (say 9pm) is when they prefer to serve their last meal, but that they will serve you if you are seated at that time. I always inform the waiter (if I arrive at closing) of what I want right away, and that he/she can bring the bill as soon as the food is served. I think it is harder to deal with people who assume it is okay to still take a standard amount of time to eat (say two hours) instead of being aware of what is going on in the diningroom, and not rushing, but being a bit more expedient in ordering and eating.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Missmoo

              perfectly put! It's rude to come into a restaurant 1 minute before closing and expect to have a 3 course or 2 hour dinner....

            2. generally speaking, "closing time" is when the kitchen "closes", meaning all orders should be in by then.

              so- if the restaurant "closes" at 10, last customers should come in no later than 945 and should order by 10. at 10 the kitchen starts cleaning up and putting everything away. if the restaurant is "closed" customers, while they should not be rushed, should not take their good ol' time.

              1. I think closing time is the time you expect to be able to lock the front door, not the time you expect to be out of there. We post "open until t and seating/reservations until t-1 hour", so it (hopefully) gives the impression to people who arrive at t-1hour that they're expected to leave approximately at t. It also gives flexibility to seat people who arrive slightly later, if you're going to stay for 1 table you may as well stay for 4. It's all judgement, you don't want to incur lots of extra labour expense due to people who are lingering and finished spending, but the manager who told diners to get out at the posted closing time is likely in the wrong business.

                1. I'm in the business and this is my take on it.....we are open until 10:00pm which means we seat until 10:00pm. If a guest arrives at 9:45 they should expect the same menu options and service that one would receive at 7:00. Yes the kitchen begins breaking down but they don't have to put it back together, they can wait till the order is in and fire as necessary. Is it smart to call? Absolutely-it gives a heads up, but to ever ask a guest to leave or hurry up is unacceptable unless its a licensing issue (say you can only serve liquor till 2:00am for example). Is it nice to acknowledge to the server that you promise to hurry up and he can bring the bill as soon as the food is out, yes, but any decent restaurant would let you dine at your leisure and present the bill at the conclusion of your meal. Because you choose to come at the end of the night versus the beginning should have no bearing on the service. Its called the "hospitality" industry for a reason.

                  1. if i was to dine in a restaurant, i normally go at least 45 mins before closing so that i do not feel rush. i wouldnt want the servers to be waiting for me. because i know how it is to have to wait till the last customer leaves before leaving to go home.

                    but for our restaurant, we stop taking dine in orders at 10 mins till closing but will still do take out orders if customers want them. we have an open hibachi grill, so we can not take the risk of accidentally spraying customers when we are cleaning let it be the chemicals that we use to clean our entire grill system or just water that we clean the chemicals off with.

                    1. often times, restaurant clocks are purposely set ahead. that hosts's clock might have been showing 9:10 or even 9:15. personally, i wouldn't go into a place 2 minutes till close. i don't want to feel rushed or like i'm keeping an entire house on payroll while i lollygag with my pasta.

                      regardless of closing time, the host should NOT have been rude. you want them to come back again another time, ya know?

                      1. Here's a link to a restaurant industry site and a number of responses to this subject from professionals. There is consistent agreement that guests should be given full treatment if they arrive by the posted closing time, even though that can be somewhat difficult if the traffic slows prior to that hour. The biggest point I take from most of these comments is that this issue is one on which management must take a definite position and staff needs to understand that closing for them is really when the last seated guestsare done.


                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Midlife

                          Thank you for sharing the link - seems like those in the industry who really value their customers and their business knows what the right thing to do is. I don't own or work in the restaurant but have many years of retail experience. I also don't believe that employees should show any attitude when the customers walk in 1 minute before closing. I used to work at Nordstrom, and customers are in the stores WAY AFTER the last announcement has been made. I organize the stock, wipe down the windows, etc., but I stay to help them until they leave my department without treating them any different... sometimes they want to see something from the display case or try something on... and minutes later, they walk away w/o a purchase. They all get service with a smle.

                        2. I view the closing time as when you should have your orders into the kitchen (with the exception of dessert).

                          1. The question 'who was out of line?' can't be determined in the situation you've described. If the host was indeed rude and not simply perceived as rude for telling the couple to find a meal elsewhere, then he was out of line for being rude. Was he rude if he were suggesting elsewhere? No. I know there are differing opinions and treatments of the posted closing time, so I am usually pretty open to having a host tell me the resto is not seating any more if I arrive at 8.58pm and the posted closing is 9.00pm. And frankly. I wouldn't ever come so close to closing (unless it were to take away) since it's hardly going to be a pleasurable experience at that time.

                            I also understand that the closing time/last seating thing may be kept uncertain. If the day is absolutely dead, it may not be in the best interest to stay open just for that couple who arrive at 8.58pm. Yes, restaurants do need to serve and keep in mind that word of mouth is important, but there are times a cost benefits analysis doesn't will out. It may be that people have already been sent home, grills started to be scrubbed, etc. Of course, it is in bad form if a restaurant cannot maintain consistent hours, but if I were to read an outraged post by the couple sent away at 8.58pm, I'd take their assessment of the restaurant with a grain of salt.

                            1. As someone noted above, the key is to figure out the position so everyone in the restaurant (staff, that is) knows it. When I managed a restaurant for a couple of years, my position was that we were open to new tables until the time on the door. I did it that way because I figured there wasn't a reasonable alternative for drawing a line. If 5 minutes before "closing" was too close, what about 10? The whole staff knew this and knew that in breaking down and getting ready to close they needed to keep things together enough to deal with a table that came in just a couple of minutes before close. A few staff did complain to the owner that my policy resulted in having to "stay late." My response was "well, then let's close earlier." Which is pretty much what I think restaurants should do rather than turn people away. If its that important to get out of there at the end of the night (and heck, it might be) then list your closing time 15 or 30 minutes earlier than you have it listed now.

                              I felt like it was an important part of the service to stick to what the signs say. I know, personally, there was a terrific sushi bar that was "open late" but on two occasions on which we went between 20 and 30 minutes before close, they said they were no longer serving. They weren't rude, just not serving. Point being, we stopped going back because we didn't know if we'd get served. Conversely, in the restaurant I managed, we gained a handful of regulars because they were so happy to walk into a place at 9:55 and get a full meal without being rushed.

                              1. Without our customers, we are out of business. And there is no room for rude from either the custo or the staff.

                                That being said jfood believes that if the sign on the door says 10, then it's open for business and new custos until 10. How would you feel if your flight was due to leave at 10 and you arrived at the gate at 9:50 and the gate attendent told you that the flight left early? 10 means 10.

                                That being said jfood also believes that if a custo arrives at the last minute and is seated there should be some consideration in the ordering process. Please do not take 20 minutes to look at the menu and then order, try to be considerate as well in ordering.And if the server has an issue with it, that's the server's issue and like any other server bad attitude issue, the tip is the determining factor at the end of the meal.

                                To the servers who do not wan tto "work late", jfood is sorry, but when one of jfood's custos want to discuss items "after hours" jfood agrees and works around the custo's schedule..In this post Ozzie and Harriet world, there is no such thing as a 9-5 job.

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: jfood

                                  For flights the door to the planes do close before the scheduled leave time. So if they flight is scheduled to leave at 10 and you show up at 9:50, you won't get in.

                                  1. re: PeterL

                                    i agree, the airplane scenario isn't a good example because the airline gives you a minimum amount of time to check in before the flight and also a boarding time. if you check in and don't board they try paging you and if you still don't show up they remove your luggage from the plane. the flight time is when the plane actually pulls away from the gate so it makes sense they'd close the doors a few minutes before. i've heard the airline gets fined for each minute a plane remains at a gate after it's scheduled departure time.

                                    i think it's up to the individual restaurant to decide it's policy on this. there are alot of different meanings for "closing time", ie: no more orders/no more customers/everyone out etc. and the restaurant should communicate it's policy politely to all customers. they have the right to operate their business how they want and customers have the choice to respect the policy or take their business elsewhere.

                                  2. re: jfood

                                    I think closing time may be a regional thing as well.

                                    Here in NY where we live, restaurants have a posted closing time, and will close at that time.

                                    You might walk over and ask "are you still serving"? if it is close to serving time.

                                  3. This was an issue last night for us. Our favorite cajun restaurant(Rons Cajun Connection, the best cajun spot in the Chicago area), is only open until 5 p.m. on Sundays. We thought about going, and by the time we had the baby ready to go we wouldnt have gotten there until about 4:45. Unacceptable in my eyes, so we went to plan "B".

                                    When I was a lowly line cook I know we hated the last minute diners who would come in 5 mins before closing. Typically we had already begun breaking down our stations, were already cleaning, and were in a race to get out the door & go home after a long, hot, hard day of work.

                                    I dont go into restaurants near closing time remembering how I felt back in the day. Im not saying my way is the right or wrong way to go, just a personal preference.

                                    1. From being in the hospitality world for quite some time, and my DH now a chef I have formed a rather rigid opinion on this subject.

                                      When I was a server this use to drive me nuts because for the most part all of the restaurants I worked for (3) had the rule that patrons are welcome up to the last minute, therefore, depending on the food expecting them to be there 45-1.5 hours after closing. I have always harshly disagreed with this rule. If the restaurant closes at 9..then they close at 9.. I believe the patrons that have their food and are finishing up are certainly allowed to stay until they are done.

                                      I think it is obscene to continue to accept customers even a half hour before closing. Unless you work in a diner, there is no way to politely turn and burn a table like that. I was always concerned what sort of patron I would be dealing with as well.Their character usually carried over into the table, most individuals that came thru the door 15 min before closing and still decided to sit down were abnoxious, rude, cheap and all around a waste of time. Not ALL, but a large percentage.

                                      I personally wont go into a restaurant an hour before closing b/c I know Im going to be there up until the last minute, and I dont find that polite on my part. If Im THAT hungry, I can make myself a sandwich at home.

                                      1. I never worked in a "real" restaurant, but in my time working the counter at a bagel shop, the sign on the door said we close at 7PM, but the shift on the closers' schedule ended at 9PM. We locked the door and started breaking down at 7, but no one was under the false impression that they would get to go home right at 7!

                                        In fact, I used to begin putting plastic wrap over the less-used cream cheese containers around 6:30. If the rare customer that wanted berry cream cheese for dinner came in, it was easy enough to unwrap it. The management asked me to stop doing this on the grounds that we don't want to make any customer that comes in before 7:00 to feel unwelcome in any way.

                                        So I've always took the "closing time" on the door to be the last time a guest can come in and presumably the employees know that it's not yet quitting time for them. I definitely agree that if you do come in last minute, you should definitely keep a brisk pace and don't linger too long as a courtesy.

                                        If they want guests to stop coming in sooner, they should either move the Closing Time up or specify a Last Seating time.

                                        1. there does seem to be some concensus. a "considerate" customer would plan to arrive in time to at least have an order in to the kitchen by closing time. a considerate customer would not dilly dally over their meal when arriving that late.

                                          sometimes we don't have the luxury of being "considerate". we got out of work late, the baby sitter was late, auntie 'Em couldn't find her purse... whatever. sometimes it means people have to work late - honestly I don't know of any business where you don't have to work late occasinally and unexpectedly.

                                          Seems to me a restaurant should be planning on having at least a minimum staff available for at least an hour after the posting closing time just to finish cleaning up even if every patron were out by closing. If the restaurant is making people stay past the time they expected to go home every night of the week, then clearly the restaurant needs to re-evaluate it's schedule.

                                          1. To the first question I'd agree with the other poster who says there's no way to tell - if the "rudeness" was simply telling them they wouldn't be seated, that's not rude at all. It seems unlikely that someone would go out of their way to be affirmatively rude in telling them so, but that would certainly be uncalled for.

                                            As for closing time, for walk-ins, it's pretty much whenever they say it is as long as it's not unreasonable IMHO. Obviously reservations couldn't have been involved in this case in which case personally, I always ask if they're willing to seat me any time during their last half hour or so. Walking in at 8:58pm for a 9pm closing is arguably "rude" itself in my book, and seriously complaining about a refusal to seat is silly (to be kind.)

                                            As for closing times in general, frankly, if it mattered, I'd probably inquire. myself. Last seating and kitchen closing are obvious, anything else is not. Ignoring of course that I'd never ever intentionally go to a restaurant that soon before closing anyway except in desperation when I wouldn't care that I was getting the dregs - in most places - or at best half attention paid to getting my order together unless it's a burger in a diner....

                                            1. I think the closest time to arrive at a restaurant before "closing time" would be a half hour beforehand. While the meal may not occur within a half hour's time, the majority of it probably will.

                                              1. Obviously, closing times and restaurants vary from one establishment to another. In answer to the OP, I think the restaurant was within their rights but I see no reason rudeness should be invovled. A simple sorry we are too close to closing time to offer you our best service would have sufficed. I would much prefer to be informed of the "closing time" than to be rushed through a dinner or served with an attitude.

                                                1. There's a very good sandwich shop in Riverside, CA called Simple Simon (yes, this is a plug, completely unsolicited!) that has attacked this question head-on in what I think is an honest and friendly manner: they post both the time the restaurant closes and the time (half an hour earlier) when they stop taking orders. Not only does this eliminate any we're-about-to-close crabbiness on the part of the staff, but it gives customers adequate time to get their food and eat it without feeling unduly rushed.

                                                  1. don't most food delivery places stop taking delivery orders 30 minutes before "closing"?

                                                    1. I think the time you have to be there is before the kitchen closes. A quick phone call will get you that information.

                                                      The posted closing time refers to the time they close the door, but they will not usually throw you out if they close at 11 and your are still in the middle of your dinner.

                                                      1. I agree with those who indicate that the restaurant should post two times--last order and closing the doors. Those who are inside at "closing the doors" time should expect to be presented with the check. And the customer who decides to go to the restaurant should respect the posted times or go to another place whose schedule more suits their liking.

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: kathinmadrid

                                                          I think the real question is how late they will be willing to accept a dinner order and allow the guests enough time to enjoy it fully. In many restaurants that could be a two hour time frame (+ or -). For other guests at the same place it might be only an hour so. Either way, the restaurant needs to be willing to continue service past the 'door closing' time as a posted two hour+ gap between last seating and close is not going to work to their advantage. Getting the check exactly at closing time would be a signal that they'd like you to finish up and I would be be very much put off by that.

                                                        2. When I worked in my dad's cafeteria we closed at 7:30. The elderly woman who ran the local movie theater would come in every night at 7:25. The people working the floor said she often arrived considerably before that and waited in her car until 7:25.

                                                          The good thing was that she ordered the exact same thing every single night. So we could start putting some of the stuff away, and usually when she appeared the line servers were in the back doing that, so I would come around and serve her.

                                                          After she went through the line we closed down the line and started cleaning it up. I could close out my cash register and run my reports, because she'd already paid. And everyone on the floor could go except one person who would make sure Pearl's coffee cup stayed full until she was finished with her lemon pie. We locked the front door, though, in case folks would come up, see the lights still on, and assume we were still open. She usually lingered until considerably after 8. We just did what we needed to do and found things to keep ourselves busy--like rolling silverware, which was going to have to be done either then or in the morning anyway.

                                                          I eventually decided that rather than going home mad every night because Pearl came in every night right at closing time and expected star treatment (they say in her younger days she and her husband hobnobbed with actual stars; at this point she was probably in her 70s and still did her hair and makeup and dressed exactly as she must have done 40 years before, albeit with considerably less alluring results), I would make a game out of it, see how much I could butter her up. It worked. One night she pressed a $20 bill into my hand as she left the line, AFTER she had paid. (For all she was a bit eccentric and sometimes difficult, if she liked you she could be incredibly generous.)

                                                          1. I think it all revolves around everybody being on the same page... The restaurant needs to let the customer know clearly how late is too late and take full care of people who arrive before that time. If the restaurant has posted hours they need to stick to them, busy or not. Cut staff if you need to, but "advertising" you're open 'til 10 means you should be open 'til 10 barring some very unusual circumstances. Everybody who has been through the door has seen those hours and may count on them in the future. This is a pet peeve of mine. I'll do all I can to avoid a business that closes early on me.

                                                            If the restaurant makes it clear when they serve and honor those hours consistently, nobody's feelings will get hurt. They may not get food made with the greatest of care however.