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Dec 22, 2007 10:00 AM

After business hours dining.

I know many of us have done this at some point in our lives, but why does the public feel it is ok to stay WELL beyond closing time. What I mean is, a group of 4-5 people come in 30 minutes before closing--no problem. We close the restaurant, and begin cleaning, and I make sure my staff is respectful, and does not put chairs up nor do any cleaning within remote distance of their table. 20 minutes after close, 30, 40 minutes after close, they pull out a large folder of pictures , and start perusing though them. That is when it starts to bother me. At that point, I turned up the lights that were dimmed for dinner, and turned off the TV. When they left, they came to me and said they did not appreciate feeling rushed!! I apologized and simply said that I have high school kids working here, and I try to get them home at a reasonable hour so their parents do not get upset.
2 things here. First, folks if you are out in a restaurant after closing, be prepared for the restaurant to do things to get closed. (As long as they are respectful of you.) We have lives also. Whether it is family at home, or a school night for kids, I believe it is thoughtless and rude to stay in a restaurant 40-45 minutes after closing, and THEN pull out pictures, then also to complain about it. What would happen if I came to your office, or place of business and stayed that long....? I think you might actually ASK me to leave at that point, which for some reason is taboo for me to do even professionally.
Any one have any thoughts on this?

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  1. Once seated you should expect that a customer will stay as long as any other customer no matter what time they come into the restaurant. You seated them 30 minutes before closing. I find it hard to believe that a group of 4 people would, on average, spend just 30 minutes your restaurant. Maybe you shouldn't seat people so late. I know this really isn't an option but the customer has the right to expect to be allowed to linger whether they come in 30 minutes after the restaurant opens or 30 minutes before the restaurant closes

    You did rush them and them and that is your prerogative but don't expect the customer to like it.

    22 Replies
    1. re: KTinNYC

      I'm going to disagree here . . .if I'm hitting a restaurant that late, I know the staff wants to leave, and though I won't rush my meal, I don't expect them to stick around for anything other than my meal. The customers should have retired to someone's apt to look at pictures . . .to me, it seems a bit (ahem) self-centered and, quite frankly, classist, to expect an entire restaurant staff to stick around for you, when that staff isn't even being paid at that point to do so.

      1. re: bebevonbernstein

        Why does the whole staff have to stay? The manager can send everyone home and lock up himself.

        1. re: KTinNYC

          Not if the place has to be set for the next day, they can't . . .

          1. re: KTinNYC

            And i wasn't calling you classist. Most people I know or have ever dined with are uncomfortable being the last table in the restaurant and do what they can to get out in an expedient manner. It's the group that struck me as classist, as they expected folks to wait around until they had finished doing whatever it was that they were doing which had nothing to do with the meal they were eating.

            1. re: KTinNYC

              Guess you are not in the industry. Whether it is kitchen or front of house staff, if you are scheduled to close, you close as a team, not send someone home--and someone else stay. Unless they decide that amongst themselves. And sending everyone home....thanks.....it is not just locking up. As I said in my original post, we did not clean any part of the dining room near them so as to not interrupt. So it doesn't matter how late I am here because I am the manager? Talk about classist.

              1. re: Rob83

                I’m not sure how expecting people to do their jobs is classist. I would be willing to bet that everyone who has ever worked has had to log extra hours on occasion. Do I like it when I have to spend extra hours in the office? No. But unexpected problems happen and the work has to get done.

                If you don’t like it then you should tell your late seating customers when they walk in the door that you are closing soon and let them know they have to be out of the restaurant by x time. By not doing this then they have an expectation that they can be in the restaurant as long as the usually would despite the time.

                1. re: KTinNYC

                  I have been doing that for quite sometime now. Guests that come in anywhere from 10 minutes to close--till close, I politely tell them they are more than welcome to stay as long as they want, but we will be closing soon, and will be doing some cleaning throughout the restaurant. And that I don't want them to think our cleaning is trying to push them out the door. But in reality it is...now the guest has it in their mind what is going on. I just never thought I would have to do that 30 minutes before close. I think I would offend people doing it to that extreme, but I'll give it a go.

                2. re: Rob83

                  The best and only good way to handle such a situation is to go speak to the customers. Explain that it's past closing and proceed just as you do when someone comes in just a few minutes before closing (which sounds eminently reasonable to me). Let them know they're welcome to stay until you're done but that the staff will be cleaning up. Bottom line is, you do want to push them out the door because you want to finish up and go home and so does your staff. Unless you say something to them, how can you be sure they know you're closed...or that they care. It may be that not cleaning anywhere near them leaves them thinking "well, they're still working on getting the place cleaned up, so we can stay a bit longer." You've got a whole inner monologue and dialog going, but unless you communicate it, there's no way to know what's actually going on.

                  1. re: ccbweb

                    Very valid viewpoint there...ty

                3. re: KTinNYC

                  There are also safety concerns- the later the restuarant is open, the higher likelihood for trouble (robbery, assault, bad things in the parking lot, etc.). There's safety in numbers. Having the normal number of staff present until all patrons have left and then making sure everyone gets on the road to home safely seems to be a good policy on the part of management.

                  Even with a high end restaurant in a nice neighborhood, it can be a concern.

                4. re: bebevonbernstein

                  And by the way...they are hourly employees, so they are getting paid till they walk out the door.

                  1. re: Rob83

                    yes, those servers are earning their $2.13/hr for each hour the table lingers.

                5. re: KTinNYC

                  How did I rush them? My staff and myself never went near the area the were dining, what i finally did was turn the lights all the way up, and turn off background music and TV. If anything, the lights have to be up to clean more efficiently. I just call it being self-absorbed, not thoughtful in any way, which I guess is a long lost trait in some.

                  1. re: Rob83

                    In my book turning up the lights and turning off the music is rushing. You made it clear that they were no longer welcome by making their environment less than optimal. I've been a bartender and I've done the same thing to rush people out of the bar. Like I said, it's your prerogative but don't expect your customers to like it.

                    1. re: KTinNYC

                      Your right, they don't. My point in bringing things like this to light in a place like this...is so people be aware of it. I believe in a fully- trained staff, i also believe in training guests...to a point. They should understand a restaurant (That they frequent's) quality, timeliness, good service, understand the ordering process after awhile, so that when things are not such, they can give feedback. This group now knows that approx. 45 minutes to an hour, they should probably think about leaving. As a bartender, I am not sure I understand how you do NOT think it is presumptuous for people to think they can stay THAT long, THEN pull out pictures, and think that that is not selfish.
                      BTW, what is amusing about this, is that same group has been back. They left about 10-15 minutes after closing. (came in about the same time as before.) Guess they are trained now.

                      1. re: Rob83

                        That's an awful lot of expectation to put on someone who is paying for the food and beverages and service already. It's not a partnership, they're buying things from you.

                        A very straightforward way to handle this is to have the timing on your signs keyed to "last order" and "closed" in which "closed" means, everyone out.

                    2. re: Rob83

                      Flip the coin Rob & the same could be said for the restaurant employees.

                      I would have felt rushed & not have liked it. Unlikely I would return, unless you were serving something I absolutely could not do without.

                      That said, in my business, I see customers one on one. I ask them upfront if they have any time constraints. Then I tell them mine. We agree on a comfortable ending time with a little leeway. I never, ever rush my customers.
                      They are the reason I am in business in the first place.

                      1. re: Isabella

                        Wait...I think I asked that of the general public already..flip the coin....it is about being thoughtful of others, which as i said before, is a long lost value in this day and age.

                        1. re: Rob83

                          I agree, but a part of that responsibility is yours as well. Go and speak to the customers directly but politely. It's always a two way street.

                          1. re: ccbweb

                            Bingo! There are 2 sides to every coin!
                            In my business, I always defer to the customer.

                    3. re: KTinNYC

                      The OP clearly didn't expect them to spend only 30 minutes in the restaurant. If you read the post, the party had been seated for 70 minutes. I'm sure 70 minutes was a reasonable amount of time for them to comfortably finish their meal. At that point, common sense and good manners dictate its time to go.

                      1. re: KTinNYC


                        I think you're way off here. First of all, the OP didn't expect them to leave AT 10. Second, no, people who arrive right before closing shouldn't expect to stay as long as people who arrive at opening. That's why businesses have hours of operation, so that people arrive and depart during certain hours of the day. If one arrives right before closing, I think it's reasonable to expect them to move along a little more quickly as they decided to arrive late, knowing that they'll be in the business AFTER closing. Where else does one get away with staying in the business 1,2, or 3 hours after the closed sign is put up for the night?

                      2. One additional question for this. Why is it okay for bars or bar/grills to do this.....turn on lights, turn off music, tvs, etc. But not restaurants.

                        6 Replies
                        1. re: Rob83

                          One last thought on this thread: in many places its because bar closing times are set by the local alcoholic beverage control laws. For instance, in Charlottesville, VA, bars close at 2am. Period. There's no wiggle room (except for one place that got itself classified as a private club) for the bars, they simply have to shut down then. It's also why "last call" is a reasonable thing in bars.

                          1. re: ccbweb

                            yeah but when many bars start doing that and turning up lights at 12-30 thats extreme.

                            1. re: Rob83

                              The dining party should have concluded their meal and then gone to a coffee shop for their chit chat and photo perusal. It's the little things like manners and common courtesies that go a long way.

                              1. re: Rob83

                                Can't argue with that, but at that point I don't think it's "OK" for the bars, either. As a customer, I tend to pay attention to closing time (in a bar or a restaurant or wherever) and if someone starts rushing me out or doing such things well before close, I'm simply unlikely to return. If closing snuck up on me, I can live with it but I'd prefer if someone said something to me first.

                                1. re: ccbweb

                                  First, I want to say how much I've agreed with all ccbweb's posts here. I think that approaching the customers and explaining the situation is the best way to deal with the 'feeling' of being rushed. It could have been that they lost track of time (which is what people in leisure circumstances often do). It also doesn't hurt: I know that you're frustrated-- I've been in the situation as well-- but explaining would have put them on the side of your trying to finish up the evening, rather than what did happen, which tacitly put them in opposition to you.

                                  As for bars, hard to say, People definitely get drunk in bars so groups linger without thinking. Bars are also longterm evenings, unlike dinners which tend to have a pretty set timeline (albeit depending on the type of restaurant). Lights up is the way to let people know it's time to leave. I've never been offended by this.

                                  Don't know that I'd feel offended in a restaurant either. Most likely I'd apologise for having overstayed my welcome. But while I get apologetic when I feel this way, some might feel resentful for this.

                                  I have just peaked below and see something about 'rights' here. I don't know how I feel about using a language of rights to discuss the activity of going out to eat.

                            2. re: Rob83

                              good point, Rob, or for stores to announce that they will be closing in x number of minutes and that people should take their purchases to the checkout?

                            3. There is a fine line between customers enjoying a leisurely meal after the doors have been closed and customers taking advantage of a "no kicking out" policy most restaurants employ. I've had a lot of time to think about this while waiting for lingering customers to leave.

                              I fully believe that any customer that comes in before the doors close has an unalienable right to an unrushed, leisurely meal, regardless of the fact that there may not be any other people in the restaurant. It is truly not their problem that it may have been a slow night or that the server was hoping to get out early that night.

                              There is a point, however, when they are enjoying their third cup of coffee and everyone, including the dishwasher has gone home, and remember, the server doesn't make much more than $3.00 per hour, and the staff is simply waiting for them to move on, at this point I start to take issue. I would never do anything to rush them, but it is at times like this that I begin to wonder why people think it is fine to hold someone up like that. Yes, it is my job to serve customers. I do that happily. Anyone who has worked in the business knows that we never really know what time we will be getting out. It is entirely up to the customers. But there is definitely a point where you have to wonder, "do they even care that I am a person who would like to go home?" I sometimes feel that people really have the impression that people who work in customer service are not allowed any humanity. We just have to suck it up and take any crap that come our way. in some sense, this is true, but there is alway an extreme where we are being used rather than utilized.

                              Again, I'm not talking about people who enjoy their meal, have their coffee and dessert, a little conversation. I'm talking about the ones that linger after dessert for long periods of time in an empty restaurant while everybody has finished up their business.

                              Restaurant work under very different rules than any other business. I could go on about that, but maybe in another post. Relevant to this post, we are not supposed to kick people out. Which is kind of strange, if you think about it. If a party decided to stay 3 hours after closing, are we allowed to tell them to leave? Many would say no. But the fact is that they are just taking advantage of that goodwill and using the restaurant as their coffee table at the expense of the workers.

                              8 Replies
                              1. re: hilltowner

                                Since I'm already on this thread, I'll play a bit of devil's advocate. We don't know where those customers came from or what their day was like. I think we tend to presume, when we're thinking through issues like this, that the customers who are there late have just strolled in from a nice night out, perhaps a show or something. It seems to me that there are often (or at least potentially) many circumstances that play in. Perhaps someone took up all of their time at work that day and they've finally gotten loose and are just trying to relax a bit and are unaware of the late hour or the restaurant staff's desire to go home. I used to work in restaurants very near a major hospital and we'd occasionally get folks who had rushed out to grab some dinner after their loved one had gone to sleep for the night (or, in some cases, lunch when the restaurant was only open for lunch...doesn't always happen late at night). These folks barely knew what time it was, much less that anyone wanted to be going home.

                                My main point is one I've made another post on this thread: we have to talk to each other. People, I mean. We start from a presumption that everyone knows what time closing is or that everyone can read "the signals" in a restaurant. If they're focused on their companions and just trying to unwind, they may have no clue. As I've learned on this site, many people have no idea what wait staff or kitchen staff make in terms of salary. Most people don't think about such things as they go about their day, actually, regardless of the setting. I think it's hard to define that as rude, necessarily but I also think it's OK and reasonable to go point out to the customers that the restaurant is closed. Offer dessert to go, or if they're done with dessert, let them know it's closing time and politely urge them on. I think once they're done with their meal, it's entirely OK to tell them to leave.

                                Last thing, restaurant work isn't really all that different from many other businesses: hospitals, schools etc....at some point, people have to stay until the job is done and the "job" gets changed sometimes. Someone calls in sick at a hospital, someone else has to stay to make sure staff ratios stay within limits.....someone doesn't pick their kid up after school, someone else stays until that child is picked up...and so on. It all works better if we communicate with each other about it.

                                1. re: ccbweb

                                  It does seem to be a constant on these boards that people are scared to speak up -- and in my book, "speaking up" doesn't have to lead to confrontation. Two parties can disagree and still have a perfectly civil conversation.

                                  And yes, I have to stay till my job is done -- but I make a hell of a lot more than the $3 per hour that waitstaff do, particularly when there's no one in the restaurant. At the end of the day, to me this falls under the golden rule: Do unto others as you would want others to do unto you.

                                  1. re: ccbweb

                                    ccbweb, I don't disagree with anything you've written in this thread. As I said in my first post it was Rob's prerogative to rush the group out of the restaurant but the customers had a legitimate gripe. 70 minutes is not an unreasonable amount of time to spend at any restaurant and when you seat them with just 30 minutes before closing the risk you take is that you will have to stay late.

                                    How do we even know that the group knew the closing time? The thing to do is, as you say, is to communicate with them the fact that the restaurant will be closing soon as you are seating them. As I keep saying, you know that a group of 4 is going to spend more than 30 minutes in a restaurant. If you fail to warn them prior to seating them than something as simple as approaching the table at closing and saying, "The kitchen is shutting down would you like anything else before it closes," indirectly tells your customer that you are closing and actually provides useful information.

                                    Turning off the music and turning up the lights is a passive aggressive way to communicate you are closing and as I've said I've done the same thing as a bartender in the past. But in my case this is with groups that have stayed for well after "last call". They were given fair warning they were not going to be served, the equivalent of "The kitchen is closing".

                                    1. re: KTinNYC

                                      I've been reading this thread with interest, even though I can't really say I have a firm opinion one way or the other. At least not yet.

                                      I do, however, want to point out that per this thread: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/471394 Rob83's restaurant is a quick serve concept, without servers, and with, presumably, customers getting their orders from a counter. I'm curious if this data changes the responses to the time spent by customers lingering over a meal, as the setting is, I assume, very different from the table service restaurant at which we may want to linger, and I am assuming, no staff is getting an extra gratuity for after-hours dining.

                                      What say?


                                      1. re: cayjohan

                                        Cay, I think the quick-service factor is important here. There was no menu perusal, no cocktails and wine, no coffee with dessert; it was ordering at a counter and eating the food. Thirty to forty minutes is a generous amount of time to eat said food; seventy minutes is really bordering on rude.

                                      2. re: KTinNYC

                                        I have to agree with KTinNYC. Plus, if none of the party has ever worked in the restaurant industry, they really may not realize the imposition. In that case, it is the restaurant's duty to communicate it. I also think that it should be expected that a table seated 30 mins before closing might well stay for an hour and a half. Perhaps the restaurant should adjust it's closing time to accomodate this.

                                        1. re: diablo

                                          When you're the last table in the place, it's usually pretty obvious that everyone is waiting around for you to leave so they can go home. It could be communicated by management, yes, but it doesn't take a rocket scientist to really figure it out.

                                          1. re: bebevonbernstein

                                            You are correct bebevonbernstein, but, playing devil's advocate, don't assume regarding the intelligence of the general public. The average newspaper is geared to a 6th grade reading level. Need I say more?

                                  2. I don't feel as though turning on the lights and off with the music/tv is rude, per se. Let's say you were content with letting these chatty folks stay as long as they'd like, but you're going to carry on with closing duties. Most restaurants need to turn the lights on fully to clean the place properly. Maybe the TV/stereo needs to be cleaned as well.
                                    So, what do you do if that's the case, ask the patrons for their permission to turn the lights on?
                                    I simply don't like the idea that because you let them in 30 minutes before closing, they should be able to stay as long as an average diner. If I want into Banana Republic 30 minutes before they close, should they wait on me for the two hours it typically takes me to shop there? I have seen other quick service restaurants with signs saying that they are open til 9, but it's only to go orders from 8:30-on. I assume it's for this same reason. Of course, they weren't a large chain that would probably never allow that.

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: Azizeh Barjesteh

                                      I'll speak as a small business owner (not a restaurant) and as a customer. As a customer I personally feel awkward making people stick around just for me. I've had jobs in high school in college where people cared less about us the employees and I didn't like when people did that to me so I prefer not to do that to other people.

                                      As a business owner I have no problem sticking around another hour or two to wait for a customer, just so long as it's within reason. We close at 3:00 pm on Saturday and just this past Sat. I have a great example. One gentelman wanted to come in at 3:30 and we stayed open for him. We also had another lady call and she wanted to come in at 8:00 that evening, we declined and set up an appointment for Wednesday. Now I know that you can't set up an appointment for a later date in your situation but assuming you own the restaurant I think it just comes along with owning a business. Running a business isn't easy work and the hours certainly aren't ideal. Just realize that some people think their time is more important that yours but also accept the fact that it's those people that contribute to your bottom line. You can't make all the people happy all the time, including yourself.

                                      Maybe in the future with late arriving guests politely inform them that you have leave this evening at 10:30 and subsequently must close the restaurant by then and make sure they're ok with it. Give them an extra half hour or so past closing but also letting them know they can't linger too long. If they don't like it, they don't dine and you won't be mad at them for making you stay and they won't be mad at you for making them leave. Not sure if this is a viable option or not?

                                      1. re: Rick

                                        "Maybe in the future with late arriving guests politely inform them that you have leave this evening at 10:30 and subsequently must close the restaurant by then and make sure they're ok with it. Give them an extra half hour or so past closing but also letting them know they can't linger too long. If they don't like it, they don't dine and you won't be mad at them for making you stay and they won't be mad at you for making them leave."

                                        Rick... what a brilliant idea!!! As a restaurant manger I would have no problem saying that to a guest and as a customer it woukdn't bother me in the least to hear it.

                                        1. re: kimmer1850

                                          Rick, this was my point exactly. Communication.

                                          Last night I called one of my regular haunts 35 min before closing (8:25p). The owner always tells me that he will seat us up to closing time, that it is not a problem. He says they are always there til 11pm anyway.

                                          I spoke to our regular waiter & told him we would like to come in, we were 5 min away & that I was willing to give him our order over the phone if that would help. But that the real reason I was calling was to see if it was okay for this particular night.

                                          He hemmed & hawed with me for about 5 minutes. He absolutely would not give me a straight answer even tho I asked him to please tell me the truth.

                                          While I would have preferred to have dined there, we opted for another restaurant which closes an hour later. Not my favorite, but still ok. We walked in and there is no one dining in the restaurant! We were cordially greeted & seated. Our regular waitress was not there that night, but the young gentleman handled us with ease.

                                          I always say . . . it always trickles down from the top. If people are properly trained to do their job, it makes it much easier on everyone else.