One person’s closing can be another person’s opening

He strode with purpose towards the front door just as the second to last table in the restaurant was wandering out that very door. The woman with him walked slower and slightly further behind. A contrast in intents and purposes, between not only he and she, but also between they and them.

The TVs were already off, and the music was turned down low, playing the last stanzas of the last song of the evening. The kitchen had closed 30 minutes ago. Any idiot could have seen we were closing. Any, but not “every,” apparently.

“Where’s [insert the owner’s name, in a shortened form he himself never uses]!” bellowed the strider.

As if the owner of the restaurant would still be there on a weekend night half an hour after we closed.

In the restaurant business we often hear the term “soft opening.” It’s used to describe a situation in which a new restaurant has opened but is hoping by semantical gymnastics to somehow insulate themselves from the rigors of actually being open.

The soft close, on the other hand is that period after a restaurant has closed (according to its posted hours) yet as a matter of hospitality is allowing guests to finish up at their own pace. This is a situation that can often be abused. I have seen people show up two minutes to closing and then stay for two hours. It’s different in the late night bar or nightclub situation. After 2 a.m. you may not only not serve anybody anymore, but anyone still on the premises cannot even be in possession of a drink. Period. End of discussion.

In the restaraunt dynamic, it’s all about the discussion.

“We’re closed,” I said.

The nickname dropper looked at the off duty waitress sipping a shift chardonnay, and the one regular hoping to convince her of something.

“What about them?” he asked.

I didn’t feel like arguing. So, I made a calculated choice.

“I can get you a quick glass of wine,” I said.

“Great,” he said gesturing to the woman, who looked a bit unsure as to what was going on.

“I told you I knew people here,” he said.

She looked unconvinced.

“I’ll have a bottle of [insert name of expensive chardonnay].”

“I said a glass of wine, not a whole bottle.”

It’s the old foot in the door trick, or the vampire metaphor, once they are in the door, getting them out is going to be a problem.

“I thought you wanted to make money,” said the strider, his female friend starting to squirm more visibly.

As if that argument ever holds weight. Businesses have posted hours for a reason. And that reason is part of their business model. How would you like to get a call at 3 a.m. from a client? What? Don’t you want to make money? And trust me the client that calls you at that time is never going to be profitable. The quickest way to maintain the money you’ve already made is to not cater to people like that.

I served them the two glasses of wine.

“She’s into me,” he said, even as she shook her head.

I ran his credit card.

“Your credit card was declined,” I said.

“Try it again,” he said.

“I already did,” I said, acknowledging a behavior I have learned to be true, lo these many years.

“Call [owners shortened name],” he said. “He’ll take care of it.”

As if that was really an option.

“Call him yourself,” I said, watching the last table leave.

The woman with him looked on incredulously.

“I’ll take care of her drink,” said the regular, realizing his odds of convincing someone of something were probably better with the new arrival.

An argument over proprietary behavior, etiquette, and finances soon ensued between the three of them.

“She can’t leave with you. She’s my date,” said Strider.

“I don’t even know you,” she said. “You were just heading to the same hotel as me from the airporter.”

Eventually, and when I say eventually, I mean an hour and a half later, she finally left, but with the regular customer.

I guess it’s just us,” said Strider looking at me.

“Get out of here,” I said in my most unhospitable tone.

Leaving me with these thoughts:

-Even a Saint has their limits.

-Good thing I didn’t serve him that bottle of wine, because we might take a loss on one glass of wine, but we certainly won’t on a $200 bottle.

-“There’s no such thing as a soft opening. If you are taking in money, then you are open,” often says SF Restaurant Marketing guru Andrew Friedman.

-Some people will go anywhere with anyone.

-If you ever wonder why a restaurant might be reluctant to serve a last-minute patron, please see story above.