Gunshow meal restaurant
Photograph ©2019 by Brian Cohen.

Restaurant Closing Time: When is the Latest You Should Arrive?

How late is too late — and is showing up to dine minutes before closing time considered rude?

Your flight has been delayed. The shuttle bus at the airport at which you finally arrived does not show up for at least 45 minutes. The line at the rental car counter is growing because an issue with a customer is being addressed. Traffic is backed up for miles on the highway to the hotel property at which you are staying for the night. You finally arrive at the front desk at the hotel property — only to find no person currently behind the counter. The key to your room needs to be coded again because it did not work the first time.

You are now hungry. You had not eaten all day. You are tired. You are weary. You need sustenance. You either ask the concierge of the hotel property or research the Internet to find a place to eat — and yes! You find a restaurant…

Restaurant Closing Time: When is the Latest You Should Arrive?

…but the estimated time of arrival will place you within minutes of the official closing time of the restaurant. Do you still go?

One argument is to show up at the restaurant in enough time to be able to dine reasonably comfortably and leave by the official closing time — that showing up any later is considered rude and not practicing proper etiquette…

…but others opine that customers should expect full service from as little as one minute prior to the official closing time.

Still other people believe that arriving only minutes before the official close of a dining establishment only applies either for taking food out instead of dining in the restaurant — or simply ordering at a fast food restaurant.

Final Boarding Call

I really do not know the answer to this question, as I have heard other people argue for and against arriving to a dining establishment within minutes of it officially closing…

…but I will say that although a customer can control the speed of his or her dining experience at the table itself, the cooking and serving experience cannot be controlled at all by the customer. I have arrived at a restaurant and had a leisurely meal within as few as 45 minutes because the service was prompt and no problems occurred; and I have also arrived at a restaurant and left as many as three hours later for a variety of reasons which were not my fault. How do I predict when I will actually leave the restaurant?

What about the scenario at the beginning of this article? If you were desperately hungry as a result, what would you do?

One solution which I have practiced in the past is simply contacting the restaurant and asking. The worst that could happen is they say no; but more often than not, I have been warmly welcomed — and I treat everyone with respect and appreciation…

Photograph ©2019 by Brian Cohen.


  1. I believe the answer varies by restaurant. Fast food restaurants tend to shut their doors at closing time but since their food preparation time is short, they take orders until closing time. For restaurants that are not fast food, I personally consider that I should try to finish my dinner by closing time so I estimate when the latest time I can enter the restaurant. For non-fancy restaurant, it may be as close as 45 minutes to closing.

    If I am in the situation described and have a rental car, I consider shopping in a supermarket and buy a Michelina’s microwave dinner for $1-$1.59 if the hotel has a microwave. Many of the mid-range business hotels, like Hilton Garden Inn, have microwaves but the higher end don’t always have them. If really in a bind, Chef Boy-ar-dee canned spaghetti can be eaten cold. Note that in Italy, canned spaghetti cannot be found. One company said they make it for export but not local consumption. Dumb foreigners?

    If really in a bind, a convenience store often has nuts that can be used for one night to prevent starvation.

  2. Agreed!

    At a sit down restaurant, I feel bad if I do not complete my meal prior to, or within minutes of, closing. I have occasionally arrived rather near closing and asked the staff if it is too late. All have been gracious about my staying to dine, but I feel certain they would have preferred I had not.

    Having worked in restaurants in the past, I realize they start breaking down the kitchen to clean so as to not end up working hours afterward. Perhaps that is why it seems rude to me.

    Fast food is the alternative. I do expect them to serve up until they switch off the lights. At least for takeout.

  3. Not related to a flight, we were in San Francisco and got to the nice kosher restaurant there 1 minute before closing. We had asked in advance if that was OK and we were told it was. They were still letting people in 30 minutes after we arrived, so I was very pleased that we went! Some restaurants live by their closing time. Some are more flexible (or, as we say, heimish).

  4. It really depends on the restaurant. At some restaurants, the closing time they post is when they’ll stop admitting diners. I’ve asked the manager of one restaurant I frequent how late is too late to show up, and he said that I should be able to show up a minute before closing and have the same experience as if I showed up when they opened. At others, I’ve been turned away when I arrive within 30 or 40 minutes of closing; in that case, I don’t complain but ask when I should show up to be able to be seated, for future reference. (If they then don’t honor that on a subsequent visit, they lose my business.) In any case, when it’s near closing, I feel obligated to order and then eat reasonably expeditiously—but how long the food takes to arrive is on them.

    I wish more places did what is standard in Japan: post a “last order” time and a closing time. Then you know explicitly what’s expected.

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