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.

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