Is It Rude To Stay Till Closing Time? Here’s What Restaurant Workers REALLY Think.

Is It Rude To Stay Til Closing Time? Here’s What Restaurant Workers REALLY Think
Is It Rude To Stay Til Closing Time? Here’s What Restaurant Workers REALLY Think Illustration: Madeline McMahon For HuffPost

When it’s last call at a restaurant, you as a customer may think you have all the time in the world to hang out and order another round or one last bite to eat. But for restaurant workers, it can be a different story.

“What [last call] really means is, ‘Hurry up and leave, please,’” said Elyanna Calle, a server in Austin, Texas, who is also the president of union Restaurant Workers United.

Asking to dine in right before closing time can be rude, depending on when you show up and the kind of service you are expecting.

“I don’t show up to a place less than 15 to 20 minutes before close,” said Bill Whitlow, a Covington, Kentucky-based restaurant operator. “But I don’t get upset if a guest comes in five minutes before we close.”

Calle said that an hour before it closes, she will go to a diner where she knows food comes out in 15 minutes. But she stays mindful of closing time.

“If it closes at 10 p.m., I will be out by 10 p.m.,” Calle said. “I’ll be aware, like, at 9:50, get a box, box up my food, pay, and be able to walk out as soon as soon as the clock hits 10.”

How rude it is to stay after a restaurant closes? It depends on how long you are lingering.

There’s a difference between staying past last call to finish your drink and staying past a restaurant’s closing hours. Izzy Alcheikh, a bartender for Huda, a New York City-based Levantine bistro, said it’s all right if you hear “last call” and actually get a drink that you enjoy sipping — “That’s completely fine,” he said.

But if customers do not acknowledge last call and stay long past a bar is closed, ignoring that every other table has already been cleaned up except theirs, this comes off as rude, Alcheikh said.

So if you are the last person at a closed restaurant and you are making no moves to leave, you are definitely being discourteous.

“The rudest thing is if you’re purposely staying past close,” Calle said.

“I would never stay an hour after closing,” Whitlow said.

Just because you are not being kicked out doesn’t mean your continued presence is welcome.

At her former job in a pizza restaurant, Calle said staff members were not allowed to ask customers to leave after closing time.

“We can only take measures such as asking people if they want boxes, busing their tables, turning off the music, trying to flip chairs really loudly so they get the message,” she said. “It’s one of those things where even when people are like, ‘Sorry, I stayed so late,’ you just have to say, ‘Oh, it’s all good.’”

In some cases, closing times are not personal — they are the law. “Our liquor licenses are all different depending where we are. Some restaurants can’t serve past 1 a.m.; some can,” said Gabriella Zottola, a restaurant manager based in Waltham, Massachusetts.

Workers often cannot say what they really think about how late you are staying, or else they might risk their jobs. “You just have to be accommodating to the customer,” Calle said.

So here’s the truth, according to restaurant workers who spoke with HuffPost:

How To Not Be A Jerk About Last Call And Closing Time

When it’s last call or closing time at a bar or restaurant, there are simple yet courteous actions you can take to make employees’ lives easier — and avoid becoming the customer every worker secretly hates.

Pay Your Bill Right Away

You should recognize that the staff and managers on a closing shift typically cannot leave the building until all customers do.

“At closing time, my pet peeve is when we’ve given last call, they [have] received their final drink, and the check is in front of them waiting to close out,” Zottola said. “I don’t care how late you stay, just pay your bill!”

Zottola said that when a table or bar guest settles their tab right away, she can then complete her closing-out duties like writing the day’s report, distributing tips and rebalancing cash for the next shift. So when a guest pays right away, “I can at least finish my stuff and be ready to lock the door and walk out with them when it’s time to,” she said.

Don’t Order A Complicated Drink — Or A Whole Bottle Of Wine

Whitlow said that when it’s last call, he will avoid ordering a 10-ingredient cocktail and instead get something simple like a beer, a shot or a vodka soda, “because that bartender has to get 10 to 20 people their last call within a few minutes.”

Be mindful of how much you are ordering right before closing time.

“A bottle of wine, for example, 30 minutes before closing is a wild suggestion,” Alcheikh said. “That’s an hour [to drink]. You can’t kick them out.” Alcheikh added that it’s more courteous in such instances for customers to ask if they can take the bottle home.

Don’t Keep Ordering Drinks After Last Call

“For me, 30 minutes past last call is an adequate-enough time to have your drink, finish it and enjoy it without rushing, and get out,” Whitlow said, noting that the longer you linger after that, the harder you are making it on restaurant workers who would like to go home.

If you order another drink after last call, you will have “your dishwasher, your bartender, your barback, your manager — there might be three or four people sitting there and waiting on you to leave,” Whitlow explained.

And time spent waiting on customers is costing workers. “Let’s say you made 100 bucks that night for what would have been a five-hour shift, but they stuck around for an extra two hours. So I made 100 bucks over seven hours,” Whitlow said as an example. “Instead of making $20 an hour, I made $14 an hour.”

Don’t Leave A Mess

Whenever you do decide to head out, make sure you’re not leaving behind a mess, Calle said.

“Consolidate the things on your table,” she suggested. “If you haven’t already, ask for the check, get your food boxed up.”

Tip Well

Ideally, once customers hear “last call” they should start wrapping everything up so they can leave soon. But if they stick around after closing time, it helps to tip well.

“Even throwing [workers] $20 before they get up would make their lengthy stay a little less annoying,” Zottola said. “It would also make the bartenders remember them for the next time they come in as nice people who take care of them, not ‘the couple that stayed all night.’”

And if you are a regular who keeps staying past closing time, you should not be a stingy tipper, because this does not endear you to the staff. “We’ll go in the back and be like: ‘Oh, Ben’s here again, I’m going to give him bad service because he never tips me,’” Calle said. “We’re very aware of that.”

Find Another Late-Night Spot

Instead of dragging out your stay and making restaurant workers wait for you to leave, head out by closing. That’s what restaurant workers do when they go out.

Even if a bartender seems amenable, another staff member on the same late shift may not be as agreeable to you staying longer. “Maybe one person wants me to stay, but three others don’t,” Alcheikh said, explaining why he’ll leave by closing time.

Another option is to find a restaurant or bar that is actually open later.

“A lot of times I would go to somewhere that opened up a little bit later,” Alcheikh said. “Or I would just take a shot with the bartender and just call it a night, go home.”