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Is いらっしゃいませ only used by staff, or is it used in other circumstances?

When I was at a dinner at a restaurant being held after a programmers' meetup, I thought that I heard it being used by one of the people eating (it could have been the organizer of the dinner for all I know) to welcome a late-comer. Or is it more likely I mis-heard them merely saying いらっしゃい or some other form of the verb?

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いらっしゃる is also used instead of 居る in some keigo. – oldergod Jul 7 '12 at 7:03
Is it possible that he just responded with "いらっしゃいました"? I'm not a native, but I think you can use "いらっしゃい" when welcoming someone to your home, or business. It has a connection to "being ready to serve". But this is only what I've heard.. – Chris Harris Jul 7 '12 at 8:10
@Chris いらっしゃい is the imperative form of いらっしゃる, which is the subject honorific form of いる or 来る . – user458 Jul 7 '12 at 10:19
up vote 5 down vote accepted

A hearty いらっしゃいませ! from the staff or owner brings back happy memories of Japanese restaurant/bar life. いらっしゃい is a perfectly ordinary word of greeting. A person who feels like the 'owner' of the get-together might well shout a いらっしゃいませ especially if alcohol is involved. There is also the possibility of using it ironically or with hostility on a late-comer - again the alcohol issue. In Japan, if you act drunk, you can be safely forthright. Watch a lot of daytime drama to get a handle on the many uses of keigo.

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There was alcohol involved. I was drinking nihonshu while others were mainly drinking beer. +1 for the answer, and for giving an answer rather than a comment. – Andrew Grimm Jul 7 '12 at 23:58

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