Restaurant Ettiquette: Closing Time

(December 11)

Before I ever set foot in Paris, I had learned from watching various films that there are two types of people; those who prefer to walk the streets of Paris in the rain and those who prefer the streets while dry while dry. While I find myself on team rainy-Paris (yes, I am a romantic), I found that I most enjoyed Paris at night, walking back to our Airbnb after dinner and watching the restaurant workers stacking the patio tables and chairs and sweeping the sidewalks while their last table finished their espressos.

The choreography of this closing time dance was clearly articulated. It was efficient. It was nothing personal; the chairs must be stacked, the sidewalk must be cleared, the staff must go home. In the restaurants I have managed over the years in the US, the logistics of closing are a bit….. less straightforward.

When you find yourself closing the place down, there are some things to keep in mind:

1. The dishwasher cannot leave until all the plates and glasses are washed. Waiting on a lingering guest to finish those last bites of tiramisu can actually cause him to miss the last train home. I actually had a dishwasher once who was too shy to mention this; he would simply miss the train and walk an hour to get home at the end of his shift. If you are finished with your dessert or wine glass, it is helpful to indicate to the staff so they can clear things away and begin the business of cleaning.

2. Don’t ask the staff to tell you when you need to leave. Most everyone who works at a good establishment is too polite to order a paying guest to vacate the premises*. Saying “Let me know if you need us to get out of here!” Will more than likely result in a response of “we still have plenty of work to do” or simply “please enjoy yourself.” We don’t want to kick you out because we are certain that it will be the main thing you remember about your experience. If you feel as though the entire staff is waiting on your party to leave so they can get on with cleaning the dining room, washing the dishes and balancing the day’s cash, you are probably right. (*though with minimum wages rising in many major cities this may change; no business owner is going to pay a staff of people overtime because a table is deep in conversation.)

3. If you do, indeed, stay long after the kitchen closes and are the last table present for more than half an hour, a generous tip is a gesture of goodwill. It is certainly not required, but if you visit a venue frequently, there are worse things than having a reputation as a generous tipper.

4. If the music starts to sound weird, or the lights grow brighter, these are cues that it is time to go. Some might argue that it is more polite to be straightforward and simply tell a group of guests that it is time to go, but many restaurant operators I have known over the years prefer to “send signals” by making the dining room less inviting by small degrees until subconsciously, guests choose to leave on their own.

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