If the number of people in your party changes last minute, let the restaurant know in advance. The Maitre’d or host may have a specific table planned for your party and unexpectedly arriving with more or less people may throw that plan out of whack. Don’t just assume that the restaurant will have a larger table to accommodate your augmented group. Showing up with less people, on the other hand, may result in the restaurant wasting precious real estate by holding a larger table for you than is needed. It isn’t as easy as you think to get all parties seated on-time and situated in the appropriate tables over the course of a given evening. Throwing a wrench in our plan could end up adversely affecting your experience and/or sabotage some other innocent party’s. It isn’t fair that another group’s experience should suffer because of your lack of consideration. Don’t expect to be seated incompletely either. Make sure your party arrives together or as close to the same time as possible. Seating incomplete parties can disrupt fluid service and most busy restaurants, worried about the potential domino effect, won’t do it.
No one is going to prevent you from sitting down in a restaurant right before before they close, but you should never do it. We understand your right to patronize an establishment within their advertised business hours. Why should a restaurant advertise that it’s open if it’s not hospitable to guests at any time of the night? It’s purely an issue of courtesy. If someone calls you at your office job and keeps you on the phone for an hour and a half after you were scheduled to leave work you wouldn’t hang up the phone on them but it would certainly be considered an inconvenience. People often take advantage of the flexibity of restaurant hospitality and feel entitled to it. Friendly late-night places often attract a similar crowd—romantic couples who enjoy having an entire dining room to themselves, solo diners who seek a quiet place to bring reading materials, or Europeans who are accustomed to dining at a later hour. Enter at your own risk. Restaurants do not often perform at their peak in the closing hours. For staff, there is usually an elaborate regimen of busy work associated with the end of the night—kitchen and waitstaff have a tendency to take their hands off the steering wheel when it’s time to go home. A kitchen filled with cooks standing around waiting for you to order and finish your meal is a room full of enemies. If you work in the industry there is an unwritten code about being the last one in or out. We just don’t do it. And neither should you. Be respectful of the long hours the staff puts in and don’t take advantage of them by arriving right under the wire or overstaying your welcome. If you are planning a late visit, give the restaurant a call right before. Firing a warning shot will soften the blow.
No matter how much a restaurant’s buzz affects your expectations, try to keep an open mind when dining somewhere you’ve never been. People too often patronize new restaurants unduly influenced by other people’s opinions. They’ve memorized the menu, having studied it in advance online, read every food blog and Yelp review. By the time the meal begins, expectations have become so inflated they’re unattainable. Restaurant menus change quite often, so it’s possible that whatever dish you keep hearing about is no longer being offered. Learn to trust your own palate. Solicit servers or bartenders for their input rather than relying on faceless Yelpers. The waitstaff has much more empirical data on customer likes and dislikes and, at most reputable restaurants, they’ve tasted through the menu. Trusting their insights can pay dividends even if you might risk being led astray. Stop googling menu items under the table and start asking questions. Make decisions based on what you like not hearsay. There’s a reason that people’s opinions about restaurants differ so dramatically. The act of dining out is a singular, unique experience. For it to be successful many elements must act in concert. Your participation in essential. If you approach your role passively and with prejudices, chances are you will be disappointed.