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Oct 21, 2008 10:02 PM

Restaurants closing early when business is slow

I wanted some thai food to go tonight and had a good restaurant in mind. My class got out early and I arrived at the place at twenty two minutes before nine to order some take out on the way home. They closed at nine so I figured no problem. Well the door was locked and the employees unlocked it to leave as I was standing there puzzled. They told me that they had had no customers in a long time so they were closing early. I shrugged and drove two minutes down the road to another thai restaurant that I don't usually go to hoping I could score some food. Well I was in luck, they were open til nine thirty and had one table eating and another couple just entering to eat in. So I got my thai and I'm happy, I feel really lucky to have so many choices here in Bluebell, Pa. It's no biggie but I was wondering what other people thought of this. I've worked in restaurants when it's been slow and it is very frustrating to wait around all night and then have people come close to closing. I feel their pain. And loss of profits. But on the other hand, they are somewhat punishing the customers they do have. Next time I will probably drive right past the first place and not bother to see if they felt like staying open. The problem is that I like Pho Thai Nam, the people are really nice and I hope they stay in business. But Thai Orchid came through for me. I was wondering what chowhounds think? Especially former or present owners of small businesses. I mean five of nine is one thing but twenty two of? And the way the place was all closed I'm pretty sure if I had come ten minutes earlier I still might have been turned away. Am I being silly to feel slightly annoyed and also concerned for them?

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  1. No, I think you have every reason to feel annoyed. Businesses run on set hours, unless the owner puts up a sign that clearly states "Opening and Closing times at our discretion". I know of a couple of odd-ball owners (not restaurants) who run their businesses that way, but everyone knows its a lottery going to those places. For the rest, customers have a right to be served if they turn up within business hours, with a caveat that last orders are at a certain time. It is not acceptable to close early because its a slow day, and as you indicate, is just going to lead to more slow days.
    I have never owned a restaurant, but have been a consultant to businesses around Asia for more than a dozen years, and I can tell you the best run businesses always put the needs of the customer first - "We exist because of our customers".


    1. this is a viscious cycle. Restaurant notices no business between 8 and 9p on certain nights. Restaurant calculates cost per hour to remain open. Restaurant makes an executive decision to close early to save $x per hour x the number of quiet nights to make savings. Fewer customers come in because they become unsure about the opening hours.

      The resto should post it's revised hours on the door while the economy is quiet and tell their staff that on the offchance a large table comes in near the new closing time they will remain open.

      1. pretty silly to get annoyed over something so minor. I would have just moved on as you did, but I would have not given it a second thought. I worked in restaurants where we would close early for the same reason. Not that uncommon.

        2 Replies
        1. re: swsidejim

          I disagree. I, too, would be annoyed by this. If that had happened to me (and it has) I would call the owner (or stop by in person if possible) and calmly explain what happened in detail and express my disappointment. The times I have done it the manager/owner has been appreciative of the information. At least in my case the management was unaware this happened. Though not my intent, I also scored a restaurant credit to entice me to return.

          1. re: al b. darned

            If it's very slow at restaurant at night then they won't take anymore customer until tomorrow because it takes 30 min for them to put the plate in right place and they have to clean the floor

          1. It's an independent business and of course they can deviate from the posted hours at their discretion. It's not like the fire department closed up shop because there weren't any emergencies for the past hour. The resto, imo, does not have to post that hours change at their discretion and this isn't any different than if the resto had recently changed their posted hours to close at 8:30 - they are certainly entitled to do that and you wouldn't know until you got there. It's annoying when restos close early, sure, but so is a resto closing at 9 (per their posted hours) when I want their food at 11:30. I wouldn't boycott their resto, I'd just call first next time, which I usually do if I plan on getting to a resto late.

            7 Replies
            1. re: akq

              It would have to be a real favourite of mine to remain loyal when there are frequent changes to hours and other policies. And in my experience, these are the places that slowly do themselves out of business.

              1. re: julesrules

                I understand the idea behind it but agree it is a bad practice. You don't know how many people they turned away besides you. Even if it were only a couple, that's 2 tables. Send all the servers home but one, keep minimal kitchen staff on, but don't close if you are supposed to be open. Customers will not play a guessing game of "are they open, are they not open," they'll just find somewhere else that's open when they say they will be.

                1. re: rockandroller1

                  Hmm. There are four restos in my neighborhood that immediately come to mind which do not have a set "closing" time (as in, when asked they say "It depends on how busy it is"), and I don't really see the problem with it. If it's late and I want to head over there, I call them to see if they're still open.
                  Would you be equally unforgiving to a restaurant that changes its prices? What about one that runs out of your favorite thing on the menu? One of the best sandwiches in Seattle comes from a cuban place that runs out of its sandwich bread every day. It's irritiating, but people still line up and hope that they are one of the lucky ones.

                  1. re: akq

                    LOL sounds like a version of the "soup nazi" from the Seinfeld series......

                    1. re: akq

                      It would depend on the quality of the restaurant. For the best sandwich in town, I might be willing to drive over to a restaurant that might be closed in the hopes that it would be open. For one of the top 10 sandwiches in town, I might be willing to make a short detour out of my way to check, or drive over if there were also other good restaurants in the immediate area where I could eat if the place I wanted to go was closed. For a good, but not outstanding sandwich, I'd probably glance over and see if they were open if I happened to drive by while hungry and maybe stop if they were.

                      Not that my standards are quite that regimented, but if I was thinking about going to a certain place, how good it was and how many times they'd screwed me over by not being open when they're supposed to be in the past would both be factors in the decision.

                      1. re: akq

                        Price changes are a fact of life. I won't stop going somewhere just because they raised their prices. But yes, if they are consistently out of things we regularly order, I quit going there.

                        There's a breakfast place we really love that we used to be happy to go out of our way to visit. However, this very small restaurant arbitrarily seemed to be closed at odd times of the year. You'd show up and they'd have a sign up that they're on vacation. Or they'd just be closed without explanation. We quit going there, it was just too many visits where we were disappointed upon arrival. Yes, I suppose we could have called first, but I'm not going to call a restaurant to find out if they're open when I'm hungry, I'll just go somewhere else where I know they're open.

                        1. re: rockandroller1

                          I agree with you about running out of stuff on a regular basis. There was a chain sandwich shop that opened near us. We would go in on a Friday evening and find out they were out of the fixin's for a sandwich that was advertised nationally as a special. And the wouldn't be getting any more in until their Tuesday delivery. Well after a couple of times of this we stopped going there. Apparently so did a lot of other people because the place is now closed.