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by Abigail Van Buren

Diners Who Are Rushed Today May Not Come Back Tomorrow

DEAR ABBY: About the restaurant closing time item in your column -- how many restaurateurs did you interview before writing your answer? If my closing time is 9 p.m., that is when we close the door to NEW customers. Whoever arrives before 9 receives our best service until they leave.

Indeed, I do fault the employees and management of the restaurant in question. In my judgment, that restaurant's policy lost a minimum of four future customers in that one incident alone. -- WARD HORNBLOWER PROESCHER, COMMODORE DINING EVENTS, LAYFAYETTE, CALIF.

DEAR WARD: I didn't interview any -- and I apologize for that answer, which generated some eye-opening mail. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: A restaurant's posted closing time means NO ADDITIONAL customers after that time. Or, that's when the kitchen closes. Or, no more food service after that time. But it does NOT mean that the door is locked at the stroke of 9 and diners should stop what they're doing and get out. If a person has been seated 15 minutes before the posted closing time, certainly the expectation is that the customer will have time to eat.

What kind of stupidity allows employees to make a customer's dinnertime so miserable that they not only won't return, but will surely tell all their friends about their experience? That's no way to do business. I think the restaurant was at fault. -- S. DAVID IN SHERMAN OAKS, CALIF.

DEAR S. DAVID: After chewing on it for a while, I must agree. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: Speaking as a lifetime restaurant worker, the posted closing time is when no more customers are allowed into the restaurant. Guests entering before that time have the right to receive the same quality of service as those entering at the height of business hours.

Owners and managers who care about their guests would have disciplined employees acting like those at the restaurant in San Carlos.

The problem with that restaurant, and too many others, is the employees forgot the most important rule of proper service: Guests are never an inconvenience. Guests are our livelihood! Without them, we might as well be dishing out food at a school cafeteria, instead of practicing the fine art of restaurant service, one in which many of us take a great deal of pride. -- DONNA WILLIAMS, NASHVILLE, TENN.

DEAR DONNA: I stand corrected, but I did receive a small percentage of mail such as the following:

DEAR ABBY: Thank you! Thank you! Thank you for the terrific answer to "Disappointed Diner in San Carlos, Calif." I have worked in food service for 30 years, 23 of which have been in management. Closing time for late customers has always been a problem. For some reason, people think that when the last customer leaves, all the manager and crew have to do is lock the doors and go home.

We want customers to have a pleasant dining experience, and most people do respect our closing times. However, I have seen many instances where my entire crew has been held up for two hours due to inconsiderate customers. Sometimes I feel like asking customers how they would like to stay an extra two hours at their jobs after their scheduled quitting time! -- JILL IN CULVER CITY, CALIF.

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