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.