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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: Last night my boyfriend and I ate at a very good Chinese restaurant. The sign says it closes at 9 p.m. We arrived at 8:45, were seated and ordered a small meal.

While we were starting the soup, the server brought the main course. As we began the main course, he brought the fortune cookies and the bill and placed them on the table. He said they were closing the cash register and asked us to pay immediately. At the same time, another employee began vacuuming around us and the other couple who were still eating.

Abby, it's a large restaurant, and they could have started cleaning at the other end of the room. The woman of the other couple asked them if they'd please turn off the vacuum, and was told they were closing. Meanwhile, my boyfriend and I paid for a meal we couldn't enjoy. Had we known they would rush us, we could have ordered the meal to go.

We are late eaters, so we usually ask when we enter a restaurant if they're still serving. Are restaurant closing times generally considered the same as store closings when customers should be out the door at a designated time? What do you think, Abby? -- DISAPPOINTED DINER IN SAN CARLOS, CALIF.

DEAR DISAPPOINTED: Don't fault the employees at the Chinese restaurant. The posted closing time is just that, a closing time that should be honored just as customers should abide by the closing time of a department store.

Next time you must eat late, in consideration for the restaurant owner and employees, select a restaurant with a later closing time -- or order take-out.

DEAR ABBY: In response to the letters in your column about domestic abuse -- one from a divorce lawyer in Florida and another from Attorney General Tom Udall of New Mexico -- I am sure they both mean well, but domestic abuse is not cut-and-dried.

Yes, we need to protect women from batterers and free them from arrest when they defend themselves. But one-sided laws that protect only women (battered by men) are just quick-fix schemes -- "sound bite" laws.

Blanket protection for women doesn't address gay and lesbian relationships (like it or not, they do exist -- and they, too, have batterers). Women are also batterers and abusers, not just in lesbian relationships, but also in straight relationships. Men, too, can be victims.

Laws against domestic violence should focus on the abuser, whoever the abuser is -- male or female, straight or gay, rich or poor. Law enforcement and politicians should be trained to understand all the possibilities, and then take educated action to end abuse. We already have too many laws and too many police. What we really need now is more respect for both -- and for one another. -- STEPHEN RANDOLPH, SAN FRANCISCO

DEAR STEPHEN: You make a good point. However, I believe the laws are written the way they are because the vast majority of spousal battery cases involve men abusing women. After reading your letter, I would concur that the laws should be amended so that all batterers, regardless of gender, should be liable for their actions.

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