Rude Diner - ©

COVID-19 Experience: Rude Diners Mar Resto Re-Openings

It’s hard enough for restaurant operators to get decent workers these days. But it seems that hyper-irritable, overanxious, demanding diners are making life miserable for many of those who are back on the job. And restaurant owners are pleading with patrons to have patience…

Rude Customer warning - © Sunset Towers HotelOne Los Angels hotel has taken a lighthearted approach to pleading with patrons for patience…

Even with relatively ‘positive’ employment numbers the past few weeks, restaurant operators are complaining of an upsurge in an ancient and abiding problem. Customers who are venturing out again after COVID-19 restrictions were eased are openly expressing their frustration. A number of owners have been moved to speak out against what they call the worst behaviour from customers they’ve ever faced.

For a start, you’d wonder why resto workers stick around in conditions like that. Apparently, they’re not. Insiders report that servers, hosts and other front of house staff are not returning to the industry for a variety of reasons, not the least of which are low wages, unhappy working conditions and – yes – obnoxious customers. The harsh reality is, the U.S. resto sector needs more than 1.6 million more workers than it currently has, to get back to proper staffing and service levels. And the impact on service that represents is just making some customers nastier.

Caught in the middle

Caught in the middle are the resto owners and operators and a significant number of them have taken to social media to present their side of the story and pleads with patrons for ‘kindness’. That’s the term that Brandi Castellano, co-owner of the Apt Cape Cod restaurant in Brewster, Mass., uses to describe the theme of her recent viral Facebook post:

“As many of our guests and patrons treat us with kindness and understanding, there have been an astronomical influx daily of those that do not, swearing at us, threatening to sue, arguing and yelling at my staff, making team members cry. This is an unacceptable way to treat any human.

“So Chef Regina and I have decided to take the day and give the staff time deep clean the restaurant, train, and treat my staff to a day of kindness. We will be open again for breakfast tomorrow. Please remember that many of my staff are young, this is their first job, or summer job to help pay for college. We have had to make adjustments due to the increase in business volume, size of kitchen, product availability and staffing availability, we are not trying to ruin anyone’s vacation or day off.”

Owner-operator Cheri Sitras of Joshua’s Restaurant and Tavern in Brunswick, Maine, minced no words:

“Whatever juju is out in the universe right now – the awesome folks are being extra nice, and the jerkwads are being extra turdmuffiny (yes, I made that up). […] So to the awesome 80% – keep doing you, the world needs all the kindness it can get. To the other 20% (including the one that had a waitress in tears tonight) CLUE THE HELL IN.

“There are still random shortages of food (for every 10 items we order, 2 are out of stock). EVERYWHERE is short staffed – and I don’t just mean restaurants. Food suppliers aren’t running trucks for lack of drivers or warehouse pickers. It’s everywhere. Your cable company, bank, grocery store, etc. Things are taking longer, because places are working with less staff.

“So when you get sat, and the host explains that things are running slow because it’s busy and wait times will be longer, […] don’t yell when your order isn’t out in 15 minutes.”

A market-wide initiative

“I think it’s pent-up demand. People do not have the same patience that they may have had in the past, and I’m hoping that’s going to change,” says Dale Venturini, president and chief executive of the Rhode Island Hospitality Association, which represents some 900 eateries and hotels in the state. The Association has launched a “Please Be Kind” campaign offering restaurant operators and employees resources to help them cope with the Rude Diner Epidemic.

My take

I can certainly sympathize with resto operators and employees who are suffering under the stress that rude diners are dumping on them. I can also understand that some diners who are accustomed to eating out frequently and enjoying industry-standard 20-minute kitchen-to-table service, are upset about not getting it now that they’re finally able to visit sit-down restos again. Of course they’re frustrated by slow service and menu limitations. Like Venturini says, the nastiness surge is clearly the result of pent-up demand not quite being met.

But I can’t endorse the reaction of the ‘nasty 20 percent’ to prevailing conditions in the industry.

My advice? If you want better service, be nicer to your hosts. And be patient with restos as they weather the serious shortages of employees and supplies due to conditions that are beyond their control.

~ Maggie J.