“Closing Costs” – The emotional toll of a restaurant closing (from a patrons perspective)


So your favorite spot closed, now what?

by Alexander Quebec

It never occurred to me that a place like this could close.

It was an institution at Santana Row for so long, a juggernaut among some of the dining establishments founded by one of the strongest families in the industry. “How could it happen to them I asked?”

When I got the word that Sino at Santana Row had closed, it sent a shock to me. The one place I felt that could never see its doors close for the last time, after a 15+ year run, closing down. A victim of the government’s shelter in place due to COVID-19, Sino hosted its last dinner and served its last meal this month.

It had only been when I went there to see it myself that reality had sunk in: no restaurant or business, no matter how storied or reputable it was, was safe from closure during this pandemic. The feeling of seeing their doors closed and locked amongst a crowded shopping center felt very jarring.

I’ll be honest, I didn’t eat there that much as I tend to be a solo diner, but I felt some pangs of guilt that someone lost their livelihood, that someone else lost a place that brought back wonderful memories. I felt bad for them, but my pity won’t do much. Same for every other restaurant that I’ve frequented that has closed, and a feeling of powerlessness that one person can’t save them all. Of course, owning a restaurant in itself is a perilous exercise: most restaurants are always on the verge of closing with razor-thin margins, a fickle dining population influenced now by vapid influencers who barely eat, and snarky Yelp reviews that offer almost nothing to the conversation.

But anyway, I digress, I’ll save that for another soapbox.

It’s okay to feel down when your favorite place closes. We develop emotional attachments to places that give us some sort of joy or other positive feelings and memories, and that’s not a weakness, that’s just human nature. It’s irrelevant to anyone but yourself why you love a place, what matters is what it made you feel when you went there. Is it normal to feel guilty? Absolutely. Sometimes one feels that more interaction and support would’ve saved the business, but the reality is that things are just more complex than they appear to be. I mean, think of the last restaurant you went to that you loved that went under, did you feel guilty for not coming by so much? If you have, again, that’s your humanity showing, and it shows that at the very least you have compassion for a business and the people that work there.

So what does mourning look like? If you’ve been blessed never to have lost something special to you, it tends to follow a somewhat specific pattern. The only difference is that the experience is individual, mourning is normal and no one can tell you how to do it. There are the classic stages of grief:

Shock – “OMG, they’re closed?”
Denial – “God, I can’t believe they’re closed.”
Anger – “Stupid landlord for raising the rent…”
Bargaining – “If I could do anything for them to come back…”
Depression – “I’m so sad they’re gone.”
Acceptance – “Well, it is time to find a new spot.”

So what if your favorite place is on the verge of closing? You do the easiest thing that can be done: support, support, support! Eat out more often, buy some gift cards, spread the word, hype the place up as much as you can, anything you can think of to get the word out there. Most businesses rely on word of mouth, and if what you have to say is good, someone else will give it a try. It may ultimately be determined by your reach and your social circle, but in the end, a guest who walks in the door is a guest that walks in the door.

In the end, it may sound silly to be sad over someplace closing, whether it be a small coffee shop or a large fine dining establishment. Yet, to someone whose memories or livelihoods mattered on a place being open, it’s normal to feel a sense of sadness and go at your own pace on how you deal with it.  I leave you with the final words from the final scene from one of my favorite movies “Ever After” (the one with Drew Barrymore with somewhat questionable English accent):

“The important thing is not that she lived happily ever after, the important thing is that she lived.”

I’m no therapist, so take all this with a grain of salt. If you need to see one though, see one. There’s absolutely no shame in getting help when you need it.


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