Closing Time: Restaurants Can Make It Or Break It In The Last Hour

My husband and I wandered into a reliable neighborhood bistro around 8 p.m. I was expecting to find a candidate for my Favorite 100 Houston Dishes list there, while he was just tired, hungry and looking for an after-work dinner. The restaurant closed at 9 p.m. and there was plenty of time to eat.

After we ordered, we realized we had the misfortune of coming in on an off night. The creamy, cheesy potatoes, normally luscious and decadent, had taken on a dull gray hue. Slices of leg of lamb, ordered medium rare, were overcooked on one side and barely pink on the other. It was a shame, because that was the dish I was really there to re-try. It had impressed me previously but was now simply acceptable.

Another course turned unappetizing when we realized the deeper side of the well of bone marrow was uncomfortably red and even a touch bloody. We sent it back for a few more minutes under the broiler and when it returned it was still somewhat pink but edible.

Anyone who works in the restaurant industry will tell you that off nights happen. Sometimes it’s the wrong crew working that night. Other times, there are unforeseen problems in the kitchen. Even a restaurant that’s having a good night, though, can lose diners just before closing time.

Our server kept disappearing for 10 and 15 minutes at a time. Another came out and started spraying down the eight-top table across from us. I realized it’s very rare for me to ever see a table sprayed down instead of wiped down. It makes sense. Diners don’t really want little particles of cleaner flying around when they’re eating.

Then the clattering, banging and mopping started as the crew started cleaning up the main dining room and kitchen area. It wasn’t nearly 9 p.m. yet.

Restaurant work is incredibly fatiguing, and people need to do what they can to get a jump on cleaning duties so they can go home sooner rather than later. But it shouldn’t be intrusive for the guests who are still there trying to have a nice dinner—at least not until the restaurant is actually closed. Then, if a diner lingers past that, it’s his or her own problem.  

Imagine being at the edge of your seat during the last 15 minutes of a movie, when suddenly, right in the middle of the explosions and/or passionate embrace, ushers begin marching down the aisles with their flashlights to start picking up the discarded popcorn buckets and soda cups. It would really put a damper on the final scenes.

Do the behind-the-scenes work, but don’t drag out the spray cleaners and mops until it’s actually closing time. People are still trying to eat. 

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