One afternoon last week, when the Tysons Corner restaurant she manages was preparing to serve its last-ever meals, Chris Scheib opened a freezer, stared at shelves stocked heavy with food, and whispered one question: Why not?

Scheib's answer prompted instant plans, quick phone calls and hasty invitations that yesterday resulted in a full-course free feast for hungry and homeless men and women in metropolitan Washington.

By the hundreds, they came by bus and van to the H.A. Winston Restaurant and Co. at Tysons Corner Center, sat quietly at polished oak tables and vinyl booths, and smiled as they made the exciting choice: steak, veal, chicken or fish?

"We knew we would have much more food than we would ever have been able to use," Scheib said. "So I thought, instead of selling it or just throwing it away, we may as well just use it to feed as many hungry people as we could."

The restaurant, its lease expired, closed its doors for the last time Thursday. Scheib called shelters for the homeless across metropolitan Washington that day, inviting them to the restaurant for an all-day, all-you-eat-and-carry-home extravaganza.

Most of the restaurant's 30-member staff, some of whom are now unemployed because the restaurant closed, cooked and served soups, salads, appetizers, meats, potatoes, vegetables and desserts. Their goal was simple: empty the freezer's shelves.

"I've been hearing 'Hey, waiter!' all day, but I don't think it ever sounded better," said Dennis Regan, a self-appointed restaurant host who shook nearly all the guests' hands as they entered.

"This is great. So many people were thanking us by writing notes on the place mats. I'll take that over tips anytime."

The first vans arrived at the restaurant arrived about 2 p.m., the last about 8 p.m. Scheib and others estimated that by the time the last meals were served, more than 400 homeless people from Washington area shelters had been fed.

About 50 men and women from Baileys Crossroads Community Shelter were the last group to sit down for the dinner. "A lot of these people have not been to a restaurant for a long time," said Mike Arnold, the shelter's assistant director. "It really makes them feel good that that they haven't been forgotten."

Kevin Lowe, 26, a shelter resident for two months, sat across from Arnold. He smiled and wasted little of the waitresses' time. "No question about it, I'm opting for the steak and baked potato," Lowe said. "I really been looking forward to this meal."