Bring Your Own? Please Don’t.
By: Patrick Maguire
Book Chapter: Manners / Gratitude
Back in March, I posted 64 Suggestions for Bar Customers. Number 36 declares, Bringing in beverages from outside of the restaurant is a no-no. My long-standing conviction about this practice led to a spirited discussion on Yelp Talk (Boston) recently when I posted the following:
I’ll never understand how adults can walk into brunch at an upscale, sit-down, full service restaurant with large Starbucks cups with no shame. They didn’t try to hide them, didn’t apologize, didn’t ask for a barrel to dispose of them, and never asked their server if it was ok if they finished their drinks. They put them on their table in plain view and finished them during brunch. In case anyone is wondering, these people were 35-50 years old, not hungover college kids.
For those of you unfamiliar with Yelp Talk, the topics and commentary range from hilarious to high-brow, and everything in-between. If you sift through the banality, insanity and white noise, you can learn a lot.
Here is a sampling of the Yelp responses to my post:
Josh W. – Why would someone be ashamed of that?
Shane K. – yeah, what exactly is the big deal if they ate and paid for their food?
Therein lies part of the problem….
Mary M. – Maybe they just stopped to get a coffee on their way to brunch – a lot of coffee-drinkers don’t like to wait until 11 or noon or whenever brunch starts to have their first cup of the day. They weren’t finished, so they brought it along and will probably order (and drink) more at brunch. Anyway, do most brunches charge separately for coffee?
Jason B. – most restaurants, unless they have some kind of genius management, have coffee that is absolute shit. Most large-scale coffee machines are made out of metal and plastic that rarely, if ever, gets properly cleaned… Also, most places buy their coffee in bulk, which does absolutely no good for freshness. Result: restaurant coffee, by and large, is disgusting…Bottom line: if restaurant coffee didn’t suck so hard, I would come down on the side of “don’t bring outside coffee into a restaurant”, but it does, so I can’t really complain. I’m a coffee snob.
Michael N. – The point is that the restaurant probably also sells coffee. So by bringing in your own you are depriving them of a sale. It’s equivalent to sneaking in your own popcorn to a movie theater. Except that you’re kinda rubbing it in the restaurant’s face.
Laura D. – …bringing in a beverage does not automatically deprive the restaurant of business. Possibly alienating a group of diners by making them throw away their drinks would lose far more business.
Sarah D. – I don’t bring outside food/drink into restaurants, I feel weird about it.
Geoff M. - I’m really, really surprised that people think this is OK…It’s just not appropriate to bring your own.
MC slim JB, (One of Boston’s most knowledgeable restaurant critics and food/drinks writers)- The argument against allowing outside drinks from a business perspective is that you establish a precedent, effectively encouraging other customers to bring coffee in from a competitor. I don’t see that as a good business strategy, myself. I certainly see people that do it without asking as rude and disrespectful to the business. Not wanting to serve rude and disrespectful people is reason enough not to want to allow it.
The comment about it being disrespectful to the business cuts to the core of my message. While every situation is unique and should be judged on its own merits, it’s insulting to the restaurant when people bring drinks in from a competitor and don’t, at a minimum, ask for permission.
Coren D., linked the Yelp discussion to a similar post by Frank Bruni, The New York Times’ former chief restaurant critic and author of his best-selling memoir, Born Round. Bruni relates the story of a friend who entered an establishment with a Starbucks coffee and the hostess who told him to throw it away. His friend challenged the hostess, but she stood her ground. Bruni dismissed his friend’s indignation stating, “While coffee-purchased-elsewhere wasn’t going to make a huge economic impact on the place’s business in that particular situation, on that particular morning, it strikes me as a measure of disrespect. As bad form.”
Readers also commented on Bruni’s piece:
BrieCS – … I think that unless a sign is posted (no outside foods or beverages), they should not claim you cannot have it with you or have to throw it away.
Signs like that, especially in an upscale joint, are tacky. Do we really need such explicitness? On second thought, maybe we do…
Annabelle - Starbucks coffee is in a container that says “Starbucks” – bad advertising for any other coffee shop. To save his coffee, (Bruni’s friend) should have asked for a cup and poured his leftovers into that. Maybe the coffee shop could even hand out mugs to everyone waiting for a seat-that would be good relations and calm the situation.
Annabelle gets it and realizes that you can make your point, maintain good business practice and keep your customers. These situations require finesse, flexibility and empathy from all involved.
Katharine – I think it depends on the formality of the restaurant. At McDonald’s, almost anything goes. At a white tablecloth restaurant, I’d be appalled to see someone bring in Starbucks.
Renee – I am definitely guilty of carrying a Starbucks into a diner here and there, BUT only if they serve flavored coffees. I have a severe tree nut allergy and can not drink coffee that has been ground in the same grinder or brewed in the same pot as a “nut” flavored coffee (almond, hazelnut etc…). Most have understood and allow me my caffeine from another source! In return, I must say, I have been extremely loyal to those that are gracious and understanding.
Adam W. – Unless the diner is gonna offer a decent product, they better be ready for me to bring in something more to my tastes.
Adam sounds like a real charmer…
Rose – The hostess was only trying to do her job. Think how you would feel if someone came into your office or your store (or place of employment) and tried to change the procedures that YOUR boss wants you to follow…Put yourself in someone else’s shoes for once and quit being selfish…
No one wants to be told that they are bad customers or rude people. Some people go to great lengths to defend and/or rationalize their boorish behavior as a means of self-preservation or just plain ignorance. After all, some people just don’t know what they don’t know.
MC Slim JB: This issue strikes me as part of the whole culture of unmerited self-entitlement, folks doing something that clearly isn’t appropriate and either being oblivious to the fact or finding ways to justify being rude anyway…The question I consider in these situations is: do these people have any sense at all that what they’re doing might be rude, and have they decided to be rude anyway, or are they really clueless about it? I’m not sure which is worse…
Where do you stand on this issue?