Ask the Waiter – Late Night Dining!

Dear Waiter:

Here’s a question that came up tonight, and I’d like your opinion: How late is too late to go into a sit-down restaurant, of either “fancy” or”chain” variety?

Because of my work schedule and preferences, I rarely eat at fancy restaurants, but when I have gone, reservations have usually been secured. However, at least once, myself and a couple of people have dropped in on what appeared to be a slow night at a non-chain outlet and were able to be seated about 45 minutes prior to closing. At the chain restaurants I usually frequent, I won’t go in later than 30 minutes to close. Even then, I’ve never been the last person to leave. Is 30-45 minutes prior to close a good estimate, or am I pushing my luck here? I don’t want to keep someone late just for me or us, so myself and whomever I am with eat quickly, but is that still “too late?” I know some people that think if the door is unlocked (9:59PM?), they’re entitled to a table, and that doesn’t jive with me. We’d come earlier, but it’s usually not feasible, and man, fast food sure does get old when you don’t feel like cooking…


There’s a great scene in the movie Waiting where the cooks at a chain restaurant anxiously watch the kitchen clock as it counts down the final seconds before closing time. Milliseconds before the magic hour, an oblivious entitled couple walks in and asks for a table. Following corporate policy, the hostess seats the customers in the empty restaurant. Then the poor hostess, terrified beyond words, informs the cooks they can’t go home yet. The kitchen staff goes berserk and starts breaking shit like a pack of rabid crack fueled anger monkeys. I’m surprised they let the hostess live.

Wes, coming into a restaurant 30-45 minutes before closing is totally cool. It’s the fifteen minutes to three seconds before closing tables that drive me batshit. Don’t get me wrong, waiters understand that customers often can’t get away from their soul sucking/youth thieving/relationship destroying corporate jobs until late in the evening. We understand that some people can only pencil in quality time with their significant others after eleven o’clock. To make life easier for late night diners I’ve compiled a handy list of do’s and don’ts.

1. If the restaurant closes at 11:00 and you must eat at 10:50 make a reservation. Don’t just “show up.” Waiters don’t like tardy diners, but if they have advance warning they can decide which staff stays or goes and mentally prepare for sticking around. If you just “walk in” you run the risk of getting a waiter who was psyched to go home and now resents that you’re cutting into his or her alcohol/sexual congress time. The service will be shit.

2. Skip the appetizers. Why? Because the chef wants to go home too! After he cooks up your entrée he’s changing out of his kitchen checks and walking out the door. As you’re chit chatting over salads your entrées will be languishing under the heat lamp while the dishwasher’s spraying industrial strength carcinogenic cleaning solvents in their immediate vicinity. Here’s a hint. If you see the cook walk out the door ask the waiter for your entrée NOW!

3. Don’t expect a leisurely meal. Even if the kitchen’s been glacially slow all night, the food for the last table of the evening always gets cooked in record time. (MICROWAVE)

4. Get a room. For some reason late dinners tend to be exhibitionists. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen drunken couples swept up in the mini dramas of their lives present their libidos for public consumption. I’m not a prude by any means, but clumsy late night under the table handjobs are not cool. Kissing is OK but sloppy intoxicated half hour face suck sessions are not. And don’t disappear into the bathroom for a quickie either. Someone has to clean up after you. (Remember, many waiters have cell phones with cameras. If you want to be unwitting talent for an online porn site – be my guest.)

5. Don’t order dessert. Be respectful that you’re keeping the staff late. Why risk getting regular instead of decaf and staying up all night? GET OUT.

6. If the weather’s bad, don’t come in late to eat. Remember, we’ve got to go home in that mess too. Many restaurant workers take the bus home or use a taxi. Whenever there’s inclement weather both these modes of transportation can become scare. Will you give them a ride home?

7. Economics. Many hippy dippy people are all about sticking it to corporations and only patronizing local mom and pop business. Cool. Prove it by never coming into an independently operated restaurant fifteen minutes before closing. Why? Because a restaurant loses money hand over fist when they’re paying salaries and utility costs to serve two customers in an empty restaurant. You want that quaint corner bistro to be open a year from now? Don’t be an entitled late night prick. Live your values. Don’t just wear them on a t-shirt.

8. Don’t order late night takeout as a substitute for eating in! Besides the fact that to-go orders from white tablecloth establishments never weather the commute from restaurant kitchen to customer living room very well, you also run the risk of consuming a forensic toxicologist’s version of a wet dream.

9. Do not come into a restaurant just before closing and ask if you can “just have dessert” or a “glass of wine.” We’re not staying late for your cheap ass.

10. If you do eat out late, do not bring your overstressed, maxed out, emotionally labile children into a restaurant way past their bedtime!

11. Customers who arrive fifteen before closing time without a reservation are almost always assholes. Experience has taught me that when people are inconsiderate with a server’s time they’ll treat the server like shit as well. Late night dinners are invariably bad tippers. Why get labeled?

12. If you make a habit of eating out late – tip large. It’ll take the edge off the server’s pain. Yes, we can be bought. At the Bistro I had a few good tipping customers that I’d seat late despite threats of dismemberment from the kitchen staff. (Yes, I’m fully aware of my hypocrisy.)

13. Customers who arrive after closing time and insist on being served, often saying “I know the owner,” are going to have the flesh perpetually ripped from their bodies by grotesque serpents in deepest, hottest bowels of hell. You’ve been warned.

14. If the staff’s tired and the manager decides to lock up an empty restaurant ten minutes early, don’t get all legalistic and shout “But the sign says!” Deal with it like a mature adult. Don’t stand outside the door and angrily point at your watch either. Those serpents in hell have sharp teeth.

15. If you get turned away at the door, don’t call or email the owner the next day and rat out the staff. You’ll never be able to trust the food at the place again.

16. You can always go to a diner.

I know what some of you reading this list are thinking. “Hey, staying late’s part of the job. If you don’t like the hours, find another line of work!” That may be true, but if your work schedule only lets you eat out late at night, maybe you’re the one who should consider a career change. You only get to ride this ride once. Enjoy it.

11 thoughts on “Ask the Waiter – Late Night Dining!”

  1. Eater says:

    8. Don’t order late night takeout as a substitute for eating in! …you also run the risk of consuming a forensic toxicologist’s version of a wet dream.

    Is it just me who doesn’t understand why this is so bad? If I come in 20 minutes before close and order take-out, aren’t you still done by close? Is it really that much of a pain in the ass? I would have thought this was way better than making kitchen staff and wait staff and the whole place stay open while you eat.

  2. kristin says:

    Eater, Waiter meant that food from fine dining establishments does not travel well as takeout. Therefore, it would resemble the aforementioned “wet dream.”

  3. Chocklit says:

    I have had a late diner ask me to be honest and tell her why coming in 15 minutes before closing, when I am paid to be there. My answer: On your 9 to 5 office gig, how do you feel when your boss/supervisor/customer comes to you 10 before 5 PM and tells you that the report that was due tomoroow afternoon now has to be completed and emailed to your boss/supervisor/customer BEFORE YOU LEAVE FOR THE DAY? Sure, the report is pretty much done, as you are good at your position and are a professional. But now, you are going to MISS YOUR RIDE, BE LATE PICKING UP YOUR CHILD (incurring further child care costs), GO HOME TO AN ANGRY/SLEEPING/EXASPERATED SPOUSE, ETC ETC ETC. When you complete this ill timed assignment, your boss/supervisor/customer does not even give you a thank you or indicate his/her appreciation for your effort. Sucks, huh? Show a little compassion for those who serve you.

  4. scorpio5150 says:

    Try working at an airport bar. Our contract says if there are delays by your bar you must remain open til they leave. Usually 5 gates either way from your area. These passengers, not customers as our bosses say, are irate beyond belief. Well guess who they take their issues with the airline out on. Please tell me I don’t have to tell you:( The best part is, depending on how long the delay is, they have vouchers from the airline. The “passengers” feel they do not have to tip us out when using vouchers, or the balance can be used as the tip. TIP to those who travel—we do not get anything off these vouchers. Have some pity on the staff. We usually have to be at work the next day at 5am after working for you till 1am. So please the next time your plane is delayed at night be nice and tip well.

  5. Sarah the Second says:

    “Live your values. Don’t just wear them on a t-shirt.”


  6. Kris says:

    Lmao I wondered when you were going to reference that movie.

  7. Alfred says:

    At Eater,

    I think why they mind is in that the staff need to clean up too and if they stay after hours because of your order the owner will have to pay them all overtime which can be much larger cost then then profit he will make on your order.

  8. Bedding Mattress says:

    Spot on there Alfred. Good comment. Yeh i think the post is great, some nice tips there!

  9. RetailWageSlave says:

    Number 14 gets me all the time. I work retail, and we close at the same time every night, 10pm sharp, and yet we still have ass holes showing up at our door saying that they should be let in because according to their watch it’s only 9:55 so they should totally be allowed to come in and fill two carts with crap. Never mind that right across the street, literally, is a 24 hour grocery store that sells all the basics that might constitute a necessary shopping trip at 10 at night (toilet paper and food are the only things that could possibly be ABSOLUTELY necessary so late at night in my book – and if you’re after a video game or movie, well I think you can wait ten hours).

    One particularly memorable ass hole showed up as everyone was standing at the door waiting for the last couple stragglers to get their shit out of the break room. He then demanded to speak to the electronics guy at the top of his lungs, because he’d gotten a digital camera and it wouldn’t work. When the manager told him the store was closed, he pointed at his watch and shouted that according to that it was only 9:59 and we should still be open for another minute, despite the fact that our store sign was off, the lights in the store were dim and the place was pretty obviously shut down for the night. That ass hole refused to leave until the manager threatened to call the cops, and she didn’t let us leave because he was loud and cursing like a sailor and she didn’t want him assaulting one of us. It took that fuck 10 minutes to get it in his thick skull that he wasn’t getting in before he drove off threatening to never ever come back.

    Oh what a pity that would be, to never have to deal with ass holes at work.

  10. KLD14 says:

    One of the things with dining that people never get to see…asshole chefs, yeah I might not mind staying an extra half hour but do I want to put an order in to my chef that is an asshole in general and has just cleaned up the entire kitchen? No, no I don’t. I’ve been walking on eggshells the whole day and don’t need a customer that came in 5 mins before closing to ruin my yell-free track record. Think of closing time as an ending point to your meal. You may not necessarily have to leave but you should be good and paid at that point.

  11. Amanda says:

    My boyfriend cooks for a restaurant and his reasons for disliking late night patrons make sense:

    *He’s paid by the hour, so the managers rush everyone who is closing (completing the cleaning and stocking at the end of the night for their position) out of the store.
    *As a result of above, the managers usually tell him to start cleaning his grill and turning off cooking appliances and taking back ingredients to be stored, if there is no business 30-45 minutes before close.
    *Thus, when a customer waltzes in ten minutes before close, yes he’s pissed. Now, it’s going to take at least twice as long to cook the customer’s meal because he has to turn everything back on and go get all of his ingredients. So then the manager is going to yell at him like his incompetent when it’s the manager’s fault for rushing him to close. Then the manager will rush him to reclean everything and return everything off and retake everything back.. can you see why he’d be pissed?

    Yes customers, we know, this has nothing to do with you. But it is the nature of the beast, so consider yourself warned. Really… do you want a pissed off cook rushing to cook your food, a pissed off server shoving your meal at you thirty minutes after you ordered because it took the cook that long to cook your food after he’d already closed, and a nonexistent manager who has now gone to the back to count money…?

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