Ask The Salty Waitress: How annoying is it to ask for a table 15 minutes before closing time?

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Photo: Boris_Kuznets (iStock), Graphic: Nicole Antonuccio
The Salty WaitressThe Salty WaitressSalty Waitress is The Takeout’s advice column from a real-life waitress that will teach you how not to behave like a garbage person while dining out—and maybe in real life.

Hi Salty! Some nights I get off work late and feel like eating out. The problem is most restaurants around me close at or near when I get off. Say I get off at 10:30, and a restaurant closes at 11; would I be okay to eat there even though I’d likely make it in 10-15 minutes before the posted time? I’ve never stopped in to ask, but was curious what the general rule is for dining past closing time. Thanks,

Night Hungry

Dear Night Hungry,

Thanks for getting that damn Semisonic song stuck in my head. I’d save my readers the same fate if your question wasn’t so interesting.

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Right off the bat, there isn’t one black-and-white right answer here. If you stop into a Qdoba for a queso burrito 15 minutes before closing time, that’s different than sitting down to a full three-course meal at Chez Tablecloth. The former isn’t going to take very long, so let’s assume you’re not talking about a counter-service place, but a full-service, sit-down place.

Restaurants don’t close the way an office might—we don’t flip that sign to “closed” and all march out the door when the clock hits 11. In most restaurants, some front-of-house staff (servers, bartenders, bussers) gets cut as the dining room gets less busy toward the end of the night. The last servers leave not terribly long after the last table leaves. Back-of-house cooks and dishwashers, on the other hand, generally have cleaning and prep work to do for the next day that keeps them there long past closing.

So while I, a server, might internally—never, ever visibly, mind you—roll my eyes when a table for one walks in the door at 10:45, it’s not as a big a deal for the kitchen. I only stand to make a few extra bucks in tips for what could be a whole hour or more of work. But my friends in the kitchen don’t have as big a problem firing up one final meal as they’re taking inventory or prepping for the next day. They’d be there anyway. Me, I’m watching the clock as you eat your mashed potatoes.

I’m generalizing, of course. Some restaurants know they do a strong business toward the end of the night, and can time the staffing of their dining rooms and kitchens accordingly. Certain nights, I might be super thankful for the extra tips, no matter how late I stay to get them. Other nights, I might be exhausted and on my last grain of patience when that door swings open. But I keep in mind that hospitality is hospitality, and if I show you good service, you might become a regular customer at the restaurant. Restaurants are hardly ever unhappy for business.

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So what are you to do, Night Hungry? Try out some of those still-open restaurants. Call when you’re on your way, if you want to be extra helpful. Don’t rush through your food, but don’t dawdle. Be kind. Tip well. If you get rushed or half-assed service, don’t go back.


Got a question about dining out etiquette? Or just a general question about life we can help you with? Email us: salty@thetakeout.com

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