Restaurant Closes at 10 pm. I Show Up At 9:59. Do They Seat Me?

The title pretty much says it all. When a restaurant’s hours, as advertised or posted on the door, end at, say 10 pm, does that mean they’ll seat anyone who gets in the door by 10 pm, or does it mean they want the place cleared out by 10 pm?

It means the staff want some hope of going home before 11pm.

Don’t be a dick, if it’s 9:59 go find a drive through.

What if it’s 9:30? Where do you draw the line?

It depends on the policy of the restaurant. Once I walked into a restaurant near closing and they happily seated me but said the kitchen was closing and there were only a few items on the menu they could still make. Sometimes closing time means they won’t send any orders to the kitchen after that time. Other places might not seat you at all.

But, Discipline, if they seat you and serve you, you’re not being a dick, you’re what they call a “customer,” which is the reason they exist.

When I managed restaurants we always honored the closing time, and even extended it if we had a waiting line. Often we would tell folks that the kitchen was closing soon, and generally they would be OK with that.

Obviously, a restaurant is not like a bank, or a hardware store. The posted closing time should refer to when new customers are not accepted, not to when the doors close for good.

See, this is what bothers me. I’d hate to walk in knowing that I wouldn’t be done by closing time, and then have someone like Discipline put a booger in my apple pie a la mode. So when I show up late (and I often do, usually because I’ve just flown across the country and am starving) I usually pass by a restaurant if it’s within 30 minutes of closing. But that means soggy french fries from a drive-thru, or worse, the dreaded hotel vending machine. Room service I cannot abide. I just won’t spend $20 for a BLT and a lemonade.

Do we really have to play the slippery slope game here?

It’s all going to depend on the place, the party, the ordered meal, and all the rest of the crap that makes up a restaurant dining experience.

It takes time to shut down a restaurant, to do all the closing work and cleaning before the doors can open the next day. My only point was that the longer you’re there after “closing”, the longer they have to put off the other duties.

Consider a grocery store that closes at 11pm. If it’s a quarter 'til and you just need a half gallon of milk, it’s cool. If it’s a quarter 'til and you are planning on filling up the cart with a month’s worth of food, you’re an inconsiderate jerk.

Hey, I keep my boogers for myself.

It never hurts to ask, you know. If it’s getting late just stick your head in and ask if it’s too late to get a quick sandwich. Until the kitchen is being bleached, I doubt any decent restaurant would turn you down.

If you’re talking fast food, they absolutely should have no problem serving you. Maybe there are no more milkshakes, but most everything else should still be running.

At sit down places, I just try not to go that late!

It will depend on the place, and day of the week.

Stick you head and explain your situation and ask if it will be OK.

We tend to eat late regularly in a town where every stinking restaurant other than fast food closes by 10.

We’ve had everything from excellent service to putting the chairs on the tables next to us and standing at the back of the restaurant staring at us with her arms crossed. Never once have we been refused to be seated.

I’ve always understood that restaurants know that an average patron will be there approximately 1 hour and set their hours accordingly. If they want to be out of there by 10, then they should close up shop at 9 and only service the remaining customers. Now it sounds like each restaurant makes their own rules which greatly explains our wide array of experiences.

My most memorable experience with a restaurant late at night was a few years ago during my one trip to Europe. We (four of us) were driving into the mountains of Austria, ran into a lot of snow that slowed us down and arrived at our resort town much later than we expected (aobut 10:00 at night). We saw a restaurant that appeared to be open, so two of us poked our heads inside. There were four people sitting at a table talking. Turns out it was the owner and 3 waitresses. When we asked if they were open, they said no, they had closed about a half hour ago. Then they asked how many people there were all together. We told them four. They looked at their watches and said we wouldn’t find anyplace else open in town, so they better take care of us. The owner, and chef, asked us to restrtict ourselves to certain items on the menu - which we were more than happy to do. When it came to my turn to order, I looked at the owner and said, “Surprise me.” He got a big smile on his face and went back and started cooking for us. When the dinners came out, the owner sat with us while we ate and we talked for a while. I can’t remember what he made for me - I just remember it was delicious. Needless to say, we left a big tip.
Moral of the story - ask, you never know what the answer might be.

Probably the angriest I’ve ever got over a dining experience:

Madison, WI has a great east african cuisine restaurant on State St. At least they did, not sure if it’s still around.

This was in my college days:

I call them at 8 PM - ask, “how late are you open?”

They tell me, “Oh, 10 PM”

So my girlfriend (at the time) and me start walking. See, we were college kids with no transportation.

We show up at 9:15 PM. The place was about two miles from my apartment. Plus it was February, which in Wisconsin is deep winter.

Anyways, we walk inside and see the staff packing up. I call out a waitress - “Hey, WTF?! You said you’d be open until 10”

“Oh, it was slow, so we’re closing.”

I cursed her and the restaurant out. Dropped several F-bombs. Haven’t been back. Pity, the food really was quite good - when they actually served it to me.

I spent 15 years working in restaurants and IMHO it is unwise to show up at a sit-down restaurant at closing time. Half the food is packed up and put away, half of the equipment is cleaned and stored, and half the staff is gone and the remaining staff are in a “We’re Done” mindset and your presence will rudely (in their opinion) pull them out of that mindset.

This results in a “Are you F*%king kidding me?!?!” attitude from the cooks and has them stomping around collecting the ingredients for your meal and dirtying equipment they just cleaned for the night. As they are done caring about quality you are likely to receive an inferior (perhaps on purpose to discourage repeat behavior) or even sabotaged meal.

Among things I never do in when dining in a restaurant, I never show up at closing time. Unwise.

I’ve worked in several restaurants. 9:59 is just as good as 10pm from the perspective of the kitchen staff. 9:30, well it depends what you’re going to order. If it’s a well done steak, then I’d probably be a little annoyed. If it’s just pasta or pizza, then at that time I wouldn’t be so bothered. (although again, if it’s something with a lot of ingredients not on hand, that can be equally annoying. Just order a bloody hawaain/margherita :stuck_out_tongue: )

It also depends how busy it has been. If the restaurant has been dead all day, they may well be cleaned up by that time. Just ask if it’s OK, tell them you can go elsewhere (even if it’s a lie) if it’s a problem. If they’re emphatic about seating you, then they’ll likely give you good service regardless of the time.

Actually what is most annoying is having you come in at 9:30 and sit there for a full hour chatting away.
Closing times aren’t set in stone though, it all depends on the restaurant policy/owners discretion. You simply have to judge the situation on it’s individual context - Do they look all cleaned up? Are there still people eating here? Did the waitress hesitate before saying it’s OK for you to get seated? Do they have a takeway option?

It might also depend on the night. If they’ve been dead for the last 30 minutes to an hour, the kitchen staff have probably broken down most of the stuff for the night.

IMO, go in, say “I know you’re about to close, but I just got in and am looking for something to eat”. This kind of puts the ball in their court and lets them decide whether to keep the whole restaurant open for a single customer. If they do, appreciate it, they’re probably being nice, unless there are still a lot of other folks there. Be flexible, and don’t get your knickers in a twist if there’s not much they can do for you. If you’re cool about it the worst will probably happen is that they tell you about the cool little place around the corner that they go to eat after they are closed.

And of course it goes without saying that “appreciate it” = “tip VERY well”.



The answer is, of course, that it depends on the restaurant and the people working there. They can do whatever they want. However, I showed up to a place a few weeks ago three minutes before closing (they closed really early, so I had no idea until the waitress mentioned it), and they seated us and served us a lovely meal.

When I worked in fast food in high school in the 90s we accepted customers right up until closing time. The rule was if they came in before closing time we had to serve them and let them finish their meal (if they chose to eat in the restaurant instead of taking their order to go, that is). But as soon as the clock hit 10 p.m. we locked the entrance.
By that time we did have most of our equipment cleaned, but we always kept one fryer on until closing time just in case anyone ever came in late. Usually if it was a small order we didn’t mind. But if somebody came in there and ordered a family meal, and decided to dine in, then we’d get pissed, because we might have to dig out a bunch of stuff we’d already put away. I can’t remember ever “sabotaging” anyone’s order because of that, but a lot of times we were less than friendly about it.

I just read a book, Soul of the Chef, and the author relays a story about a line cook who got fired on the spot for griping about a late arrival being seated. That was at The French Laundry, so the standards for other kitchens/chain restaurants/fast food are probably quite different.