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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.

                2. Having been in restaurant management for years, both private and corporate, and now running a business---I do see both sides of the coin. Corporate run stores rarely close early. Private restaurants do on occasion. I understand, and have on rare instances closed early myself. That is a business decision I make, based upon a lot of factors. Weather, obvious increase in food cost (along with gas) right now, current trends in my own business as well as surrounding demographics, etc. Bottom line is I make a choice in my mind to help keep the customers I know I have by not raising prices, providing great food and service, rather than worrying more about the customer(s) i MIGHT have had in the 30-50 minutes that I might close early. ---also which is already the slowest part of my day. It may sound callous to some, but I also know that A+ food and service and prices---those customers will come back as well. Carbs, I understand, but I do feel if you love their food as much as you say--you'll be back at some point. That goes to human nature.

                  P.S. Already been discussing with my wife --and have ordered signage addressing possible time changes.

                  1. It's always a bummer to go somewhere expecting to eat something...and find out they're closed. It's both a physical and psychological response, playing off each other.

                    Still, I couldn't blame an indie business for closing early in slow times and a bad economy. Waiting around for customers must be very painful...better to close up, give yourself and employees some rest.

                    Any way, if I'm not sure if a place is open and it's late, sometimes I'll call ahead. It can save a huge hassle and disappointment.

                    1. Jfood read his response to the thread last yeaqr that LindaWhit was kind enough to postthe link and he has changed his mind in these economic times.

                      Last night he decided on a pizza and when he arrived at the restaurant. Next to the restaurant was an ice cream store. Now this is MSP and 40 degrees. Noone in the ice cream store. And the sign stated it would be open for another couple of hours. Inside was a teenager sitting there watching TV. All jfood could think was he is not going to sell anything tonight.

                      So should he close early. One needs to do what they can to survive in this economy. If closing an hour earlier is the answer, place a sign in the window apologizing for the inconvenience if anyone shows up.

                      Would jfood write the restaurant off his list, absolutely not, but he would make sure to call first next time.

                      1. I have a few of my favorite places in my cell, if I am thinking about dinner at closing tme (or even an HOUR before) I give the manager a call, and ask him to hold a table for me-usually along with an appitizer and drink order waiting for me. Only once have I been told it was too late, they offered me the choice of getting my order to go-

                        7 Replies
                        1. re: chowoholic

                          I'd call that service, and I'd be happy to patronise such a place.

                          1. re: chowoholic

                            Chowoholic, what is this cell you speak of? He he. No seriously if I ever give in and get a cell phone, as a chowhound the first thing I'm doing is adding a bunch of restaurants' phone numbers to it. It would be so convenient when I want take out on the way home from somewhere.

                            1. re: givemecarbs

                              Here's a tip, (800) GOOG-411 is not only free (vs. $1.50), but it works pretty darn well. I use it all the time to get hold of restaurants.

                              1. re: givemecarbs

                                I have over 100 restaurant #'s in my phone, categorized by cuisine and alphabeticlly. It sounds a little weird, but I am an extreme night owl in a town that has their slippers on and is watching Murder She Wrote by 9pm(Portland, OR). When I want to eat at 830 or 9(I would perfer 10 or 11 but I have to be realistic) I just start calling to see if they are still open. Its just easier then bouncing from one shuttered restaurant to another like some food-geek pinball.

                                1. re: nkeane

                                  "Bouncing around like some food-geek pinball" Genius!!! May I have permission to appropriate your line?

                                  1. re: adamshoe

                                    ofcourse, Sir! you may remit the appropriate licensing fees to me in the form of Ruths Chris GC's, Foie Gras sliders and bottles of fine single malts....:-)

                                    1. re: nkeane

                                      Not a cheap date is nkeane....good taste, though....

                            2. I've learned its a good idea to call ahead if you are driving any distance. Many times now, I've arrived somewhere (not late at night, all differerent times) to find places closed because someone is having a function, or the oven is broken. Very disappionting if you want something specific from one place!

                              1. I agree that it is somewhat annoying, but if no one is there it doesn't really make sense for employees to hang around.

                                However: I did have one bad experience with this. I had planned a blind date at a coffee shop an hour and a half before closing and when I got there the lights were dim and I went to look at the hours posted on the door to see if they had changed. Two employees were sitting outside on the porch and I heard one say "Awww... isn't that cute. She's looking at the hours." Needless to say I was upset.

                                1. I've worked in kitchens for 17 years. I've noticed a strong correlation between closing early and not having any late night business. I have become a bit of a nazi about it, I will only close early if there is a blizzard. The place I am at now is starting to do a lot of later business, last summer we were usually steady up until midnight when we closed.

                                  People will not come in late if they aren't sure if you are going to be open.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: Somnifor

                                    Well said. I've always believed that arbitrary closing times for any business lead to a cycle of losing customers. Your personal experience bears this out.

                                    If I'm out late and hungry, I'll make the effort to go to a place that I'm sure will be open. Any doubt at all and I'll skip it.

                                    I'll bet your place will get a reputation for being THE place where a late meal is possible, and you'll pick up the business.

                                  2. Restaurant closing early>restaurant dead soon.

                                    1. We had a place in Carson City NV called Nick's Brick Oven Pizza. Nick was from Greece and he made his dough and sauce by hand every day and he only made enough for X number of pizzas. Everybody knew that once he ran out he closed, but that was a known quirk of his pizza shop, and believe me it was WORTH it!! You could get a large (and I do mean LARGE) with everything (known as a Nick's Special) for $13 and it would feed 5 or 6 of us with no one leaving still hungry. Unfortunately, Nick is no longer around.

                                      1. I've noticed a trend in posted hours being "5:00PM til close". Nice and vague and no one can really get pissed. Then there are the places talked about above that are open until they run out of food. Franklin BBQ in Austin: 11AM until they run out of food.
                                        If a place closes a half hour or even an hour earlier than posted i don't get upset as I generally try to avoid going to a place just before closing hours anyway if only to allow the staff to get out. I've seen people walk in 10 minutes before posted closing time in a restaurant with only a couple of tables occupied with people finishing dessert thinking that ordering a four course meal is OK because they haven't closed yet. Maybe I'm too sympathetic towards restaurant staff.