Customer Hall of Shame

To Shame or Not to Shame?

Book Chapter: Customer Hall of Shame

Posted: 03/8/2015

On the heels of one of the biggest stories in the news last week, publicly shaming abusive guests and fellow humans, I made 2 lists for current and future consulting clients to consider before pulling the trigger. Now that we’ve all had time to reflect on the incidents and the aftermath, I decided to make my lists public here for discussion.

Reasons why initiating public shaming of customers by a business on social media is a bad idea:

  1. Defending the decision or apologizing for it can be a huge time drain.
  2. The distraction from running your business.
  3. It could backfire badly.
  4. The other side of the story.
  5. The truth.
  6. If you or your staff are culpable, you’ve created an (unnecessary) opportunity for the spotlight to shine brightly on your mishandling of the situation, lack of training, professionalism and experience.
  7. The potential perception that your shaming of guests may be perceived as passive aggressive and cowardly, the same thing many of us accuse amateur ‘reviewers’ of.
  8. Screenshots and residual articles and comments are forever, along with the negative connotations.
  9. The satisfaction is usually temporary, and often not worth it.
  10. The questions about your true motives. (Is it to compensate for something you’re not doing or to create a distraction?)
  11. The risk. It’s rarely 100% beneficial.
  12. The sycophantic, ‘hero’ worshiping, cheerleaders who may enjoy the entertainment aren’t your true friends.
  13. The high road.
  14. Revenge/retaliation.
  15. Inciting ex-employees with a legitimate ax to grind to unearth ugly truths. (Wrongful termination, etc.)
  16. Inciting ex-’everythings’  to expose your skeletons. (Stiffed/jaded vendors, consultants, etc.)
  17. The longer-term implications for the shamed could ultimately be more severe than their improprieties warrant.
  18. Potentially being accused of staging the incident for PR purposes.
  19. The questions raised about your professionalism and hospitality philosophy.
  20. Huge distraction for FOH staff when future customers repeatedly ask about the incident.
  21. The story will be repeated over and over inaccurately, with negative connotations for you and your business.
  22. You’re better off letting someone else do it, bloggers, media, customers, Chowhounds, etc.
  23. Your PR firm may fire you.
  24. Potential lawsuit.
  25. Google.

Reasons why initiating public shaming of customers by a business on social media is a great idea:

  1. You’ve slept on it and considered all 25 reasons above and are convinced that you, your employees, future guests, your brand and your business will benefit in the long run.

There are exceptions when we’re backed into a corner and need to defend ourselves, our families, staff,  brands, businesses, the ‘truth’, and fight fire with fire. Absolutely. And there’s no doubt with the way that technology has evolved, and the way people sometimes use it as a threat, that we’ve all been tempted to strike back, and have in some cases. I’ve done it probably more often than I should have via blog posts. We all wish we could have moments back and could have handled things differently. As business owners, employees and customers, we can all learn from this recent spate of public shamings, and reflect on how we might respond the next time we’re tempted.

I strive for the mission of this blog and my book project to present balanced views of the issues. That doesn’t always happen because we’re all biased and my bias has a (strong) tendency to sympathize with workers/owners vs. customers in most instances. I understand that, and I’ll continue to work on being more objective while researching and posting here.

I welcome your comments and perspective.

Permalink | Posted in Customer Hall of Shame | 9 Comments »

Attorney Benjamin Edelman “Internet Sheriff” on ill-advised crusade

Book Chapter: Customer Hall of Shame

Posted: 12/10/2014

The level of stupidity that service industry workers and owners encounter interacting with the public is astonishing. Last week a Boston restaurant owner and food truck operator shared the story about a woman who called and was irate because her nephew didn’t get the exact hamburger he wanted. Her nephew and his friend only paid $7.50 for two burgers (one was comped because of a communication error), but the woman demanded a $30 refund. I know, “fuzzy math.” He ended up sending her a $10 gift card to keep the peace. It never ends.

This one from Hilary Sargent at  is tough to beat. Attorney Ben Edelman took  Sichuan Garden to task over a $4 “overcharge” on his takeout order, and in an email exchange, things got out of control. The email exchange was shared with and suddenly it became a huge story.

I’ve reached out to Benjamin and the dean of the Harvard Business School (where he purportedly teaches negotiations) for comment.

From Ben’s website: “Ben holds a Ph.D. from the Department of Economics at Harvard University, a J.D. from the Harvard Law School, an A.M. in Statistics from the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and an A.B. in Economics from Harvard College (summa cum laude). He is a member of the Massachusetts Bar.”

Not a whole lot of common sense or street smarts from a guy with so many degrees

Ben Edelman (left) and Ran Duan (right)

By Hilary Sargent, Staff | 12.09.14 | 3:28 PM

Ben Edelman is an associate professor at Harvard Business School, where he teaches in the Negotiation, Organizations & Markets unit.

Ran Duan manages The Baldwin Bar, located inside the Woburn location of Sichuan Garden, a Chinese restaurant founded by his parents.

Last week, Edelman ordered what he thought was $53.35 worth of Chinese food from Sichuan Garden’s Brookline Village location.

Edelman soon came to the horrifying realization that he had been overcharged. By a total of $4.

If you’ve ever wondered what happens when a Harvard Business School professor thinks a family-run Chinese restaurant screwed him out of $4, you’re about to find out. (Hint: It involves invocation of the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Statute and multiple threats of legal action.)

Surprised yet? We were, too.

In addition to teaching at HBS, Edelman also operates a consulting practice where he advises clients like Microsoft, the NFL, the New York Times, and Universal Music on “preventing and detecting online fraud (especially advertising fraud).” (That’s from Edelman’s own website, which it seems safe to presume is always kept up to date.)

He graduated summa cum laude from Harvard College. He has a Ph.D. in economics from Harvard University, and a law degree from Harvard Law School.

Ran Duan moved to the U.S. from China when he was 3-years-old. His father had hoped to support the family with a career as an opera singer, but when that didn’t pan out, Duan says “like all Chinese families we decided to open up a restaurant.”

Sichuan Garden opened its doors in Brookline in the early 1990s. A second location followed in Woburn.

Despite the restaurant’s successful expansion, Duan admittted that Sichuan does not have the budget for teams devoted to public relations or a website that is updated as regularly as it should be.

Screenshot of Sichuan Garden’s website as of December 9.

“I personally respond to every complaint and try to handle every situation personally,” said Duan, who was profiled by Boston Magazine in June and featured in GQ Magazine last month as “America’s Most Imaginative Bartender.”

The exchange with Edelman stood out to Duan. “I have worked so hard to make my family proud and to elevate our business. It just broke my heart.”

Edelman told that investigating pricing discrepancies by neighborhood restaurants isn’t something he does every day.

“I mostly look for malfeasance by larger companies,” he said. “It certainly seems like a situation that could call for legal redress. But this is a small business in the town where I reside.”

As for the troves of angry customers likely looking for recourse? Edelman pointed to Massachusetts General Law, Section XV, Chapter 93A, Section 9. (Translation: If you didn’t pass the Massachusetts bar, but still feel as though you must do SOMETHING, then just gather all the receipts you’ve saved, along with all screenshots you took and saved of the website menu in case that dinner order ever ended up in court, find a lawyer whose fees aren’t likely to exceed the few dollars you’re seeking, and … voila?)

As for Edelman, he alerted town officials in Brookline about the matter, but told he doesn’t expect them to take action. He plans to “take a few days” before deciding whether to pursue any further legal action against the restaurant.

Oh and the food? Edelman admitted: “It was delicious.”

Permalink | Posted in Customer Hall of Shame | 3 Comments »

Boorish Banker or Suspect Server?

Book Chapter: Customer Hall of Shame

Posted: 09/17/2014

My first reaction was, “Another entitled, mysogynistic jerk.” And then I became wary of the credibility of the server’s story. So I reached out to the banker and the bartender for comment, and both replied. But let’s start with the events from over the weekend.

A post on the Kitchenette blog yesterday titled: Server Posts Epic Facebook Response After Customer Harasses Her, tells the story of a male customer allegedly sexually harassing a female server:

From Kitchenette: Every server who’s seen the abuse heaped on themselves and their co-workers has wanted to see a horrible customer get their just comeuppance through a public shaming. Today, our prayers have been answered, because someone did just that.

Laura Ramadei, a server and bartender in New York City, was at the end of her rope after five years’ experience in the industry and more than her share of terrible customers. So when a New York finance bro named Brian Lederman allegedly sexually harassed her, it was the last straw:

The piece linked to Laura’s facebook page where Laura described the incident in detail in a letter to the accused, Brian Lederman:

Dear Brian,

You came into the restaurant where I work and ordered a Stoli on the rocks. When I asked you and your companion if you’d be eating, or needing anything else from me, you put your hand – ever so gently – ON MY ASS and asked if you could take me “to go”.

The facebook post included a copy of the receipt including Brian’s name, a bill for $15.24, a scribble in the tip line, and a printed total of $17.24, indicating a $2 tip. If you’re not on facebook, I’ve included the full text of Laura’s post in the first comment below.

As the story started making the rounds, I reached out to Brian via Facebook DM:

Me (9/16 4:09pm): I’m publishing a piece on this. Would you like to share your side of the story? Thank you-PM (I included excerpts from Laura’s Facebook post and a link to the Kitchenette post.)

(All of Brian’s comments were cut and pasted verbatim, without edits. Perhaps they were voice-generated?)

Brian (9/16 4:11pm): You want to publish a piece of fabricated lies bet guest you will also be on my attorneys list to sue for defamation you like to publish hearsay ! You know this girl ? Does anyone know her ? It’s a shame people believe what they hear not knowing the facts

Me (9/16 4:12pm): What are the facts?

Brian (9/16 4:18pm): My story ??? There is no story I went into a bar ordered a drink I was a bout to make a joke and stopped in the middle ” the girls says what can I get you – the joke if told 1000 times is how about you to go with nothing on it ” laughing kidding in the most joking manner not insulting nothing even remotely close the fact is I didn’t even finish the joke .. And I certainly never laid a finger let alone a hand on this girl she is simply fabricating a story to gain attention and get another Jon if I did anything inappropriate why didn’t she say anything to me I signed my check with my friend and left there is not one part of her story which is factual I never said anything derogatory and sexually harassing in any shape or manner never nog in anyway it’s a complete lie and I have a friend who was with me who witness everything and nothing because nothing but two drinks were serves we were not even drunk I remember EVERY think that occurred which as normal stop in a bar for a drink paid and left where this came from is shocking to me and my friend in fact my cc is missing since I left there and I believe she stole it and probably got does not quit . The girl is a psyco that’s the facts I’ve never had anything like this happen to me before so that’s a sick story to post especially when no one knows the facts except myself and my friend

Me (9/16 4:20pm): I’m waiting for statements from you and the restaurant you interacted with her at before publishing my piece. Obviously I want to get the facts straight. That’s why I reached out.

Brian (9/16 4:23pm): If anything happened why didn’t someone say anything to me not the girl not the Resteraunt no one I got a call from someone about this is all a complete shock to me . The fact is nothing what so ever happened if I was in any way rude I would have appologized I wasn’t I’m not that type of person I’m a married man 2 children this is like a nightmare what have I done but have a drink pay and leave What’s could possibly have happened why didn’t anyone in the Resteraunt say anything why suddenly 2 days later all this garbage written its 1000% untrue that’s the faxts

Me (9/16 4:26pm): If you want to prepare a statement, I’ll include it in the story. Thank you.

Brian (9/19 12:01 am): My statement is simple . This fabricates story is a clearly premeditated plan to leave a job and attempt to get sympathy from the public by slander and defamation of my character . The girl is clearly intelligent and calculated how is it possible is I sexually harnessed her she didn’t say anything to me or her manager ? Why ? Because it NEVER happened except in her mind . I never touched her or made any advance in any inappropriate sexual manner and this girl will be deal with my attorneys and paying for her lies this I can garantee . I’ve never heard of anything like this in my life ! It’s just a shock to me and I’m honestly speechless how she can create such a story maybe it was the tip …

Brian: (9/17 12:31 am) One more thing to take into consideration about what has been written Look how much time she spent taking about herself rather then the supposed sexual Harassment she is self promoting herself rather then making such a huge deal about the fabricated story and why she quit her job . If anything like that ever happened in a bar or public place the manager would have known imm and came to the table to say some thing or she would have said something she was super nice when she handed me the bill and never insinuated any sort or inappropriate actions on my part so when did it all occur after I left ? I guess on her mind ! That’s all I can say this girl is self promoting and getting to gain sympathy to get another job or try to defame and slander me to Gain attention for herself

Me (9/17 8:28am) : Got it. I’ll be gathering facts all day and posting tonight. Why only a $2 (13.12%) tip on $15.24?

Brian (9/17 3:32pm): I didn’t pay attention I was in rush that simple . I thought I wrote 3 and now find out 2

After reaching out to Laura via Facebook DM, we exchanged emails:

Me: (9/16 4:49 pm): Hey Laura. I write a blog advocating for people in the service industry. I’m working on a blog post about the alleged incident with Brian Lederman. I have a few questions.

#1- Would the MOD working when Brian came in be willing to substantiate your story and answer some questions?

#2- Did you tell the manager that Brian put his hand on your ass?

#3- What action did the manager take? Did they confront Brian?

#4- What do you say to the people who are speculating that this is a ruse? (Your “commercial” at the end of your facebook post has raised more than a few eyebrows.)

Laura (9/16 9:48pm): I have answered your questions so as to clear up confusion. I am hoping the noise my post has created will die down soon, as things seem to have gotten out of hand, and attacks are being made that I have strongly advocated against. I hope that in reaching out to me you like wise seek to promote awareness and education, rather than malice and accusation.

[Laura's answers to #'s 1-4 above.]

#1- He was not a witness to the incident, and therefore would only be able to provide further conjecture.

#2- Yes, almost immediately after the incident, the customer asked for the check. I told my manager what happened as soon as the customer left and he took down a description of the man and his name.

#3- After conferring with the general manager, the decision was made not to allow this customer back into the establishment. He was not contacted or approached by my managers, and I never requested they do so. The organization has been very supportive of me as an employee.

#4- I posted the story to spread awareness, and to inspire friends to treat each other and their servers with kindness and consideration. The post script was a genuine call for help and advice from friends, who face similar challenges pursuing careers in the arts while making ends meet. By no means was it meant as a “commercial”. I can’t imagine that any significant career opportunities would arise out of this incident. Only support and input from friends and colleagues, which I’ve been grateful to receive.

I also sent Laura a facebook DM on 9/16 at 4:50pm stating that Brian denied touching her. In a separate email sent by Laura on 9/16 at 10:07pm, Laura responded:

Oh and to address your follow up facebook message – he did touch me. It wasn’t a “grab” or a violent act the way certain repostings or stranger shares have implied. It was subtle but clear contact. To me it felt like three fingers gently resting on my left buttcheek. I hope you understand how horribly ridiculous and uncomfortable it is to talk about the details of this, but in the interest of clarity I hope my candor is helpful. I know that he has denied the event to other publications, and to my managers, but I stand by what happened, as do my employers.

If the quotes in today’s NY Post are accurate, Brian Lederman did nothing to endear himself to anyone defending him.

Excerpts from The NY Post:

“I’ve grabbed plenty of girls’ asses in my life,” Brian H. Lederman boasted to The Post. “But I’ve never grabbed hers.”

The married moneyman went on the defensive Tuesday after server Laura Ramadei made a tell-all Facebook post saying he ogled her like a piece of meat as he fondled her derriere at Lucky Strike on Grand Street.

Lederman, a 57-year-old managing director at Swiss Performance Management & Fiduciary, angrily denied any physical contact — and threatened to sue Ramadei for defamation.

“I clearly remember making a joke when the girl said, ‘What would you like,’ ” he said. “I kiddingly said, ‘I would like you to go with nothing on it.’ ”

He said he was furious that she claimed he did more than spew sleaze.

“That f–king c–t, for her to do something like that is pretty ridiculous,” he told The Post.

He then threatened to make sure she doesn’t serve lunch in this town again.

“I will make sure she doesn’t get another job in New York City. I know everybody,” he raged. “The bar owners, the club owners — that’s a terrible thing to write about somebody.”

Ah, another rendition of the old, “Do you know who I am?” rears its ugly head. Because of his reaction alone, a few hundred thousand more people know him…

If a 57-year-old guy doesn’t know that it’s not funny to make a sexist comment to a stranger, there’s a good chance he’ll never learn. The old, “I was just kidding” excuse just doesn’t fly, especially in a case like this. It’s bad enough when servers hear the same ‘jokes’ thousands of times (“Hated it” from a customer pointing to a licked-clean plate), but personal, sexist, abusive “kidding” is unacceptable, cover-your-ass backpedaling.

Despite the hint of opportunism, I’m siding with Laura.

Permalink | Posted in Customer Hall of Shame | 3 Comments »

First-Time Yelper Gives 1-Star Review Because of “Ugly Generic” Pizza Box

Book Chapter: Customer Hall of Shame

Posted: 01/2/2014

Ok, I’ll take the bait. The pizza at Lincoln Tavern in South Boston is very good. I know because I enjoyed a few free slices that the good folks at Lincoln donated to volunteers when they hosted a tremendous charity event a few months ago.

I’m not sure what vacant, rookie Yelper, “Nikki R.” thinks about the pizza at Lincoln because the twit didn’t mention it in their 1-star review, but they did mention the pizza box:

“was SO disappointed last night when i got a pizza to take home and it was in an ugly generic box.. what?!?! what happened to the lincoln pizza boxes? everyone loves walking home with a lincoln pizza box and everyone knows where you got it from. hm”

The post reminded me of comments made on Eater Boston by a guest who attended a free, pre-opening, ‘friends and family’ night hosted by one of the Boston area’s best restaurants:

“Tried ribelle tonight and was not impressed. Loud, weird paper over windows. Not a larger enough menu selection for vegetarian or kosher diners. I won’t be going back.”

The “weird paper” the anonymous ‘friend’ or ‘family’ member was referring to, was brown paper taped over the windows because the restaurant was closed to the public!!

I sent Yelper Nikki the following direct message:

“Do you really think it’s fair to give a restaurant 1 star because they ran out of pizza boxes? Yelp drives people to or away from restaurants, and obviously 1-star ratings can have a detrimental impact on restaurants. If you owned or worked at Lincoln Tavern, would you be amused by the 1-star review?” (I’ll update if they respond.)

Maybe it’s a ruse, or maybe Nikki is just looking for a little attention, but restaurant workers have a right to be frustrated and angry when anonymous dimwits fuck with their livelihood. It’s not funny.

Eater National recently ran a piece about Anthony Bourdain’s interview by Amazon’s David Blum for a Kindle Singles Interview. The piece included a comment from Bourdain about Yelp:

“Some chefs borrow money, they do everything they can, they kill themselves, it’s the culmination of a career working 100 hours a week or more. They finally open a place and within eight minutes of opening, some asshole has posted on Yelp, ‘Worst meal ever.’ You can understand why they go insane…”

Yes, we can…


Permalink | Posted in Customer Hall of Shame | 17 Comments »

Just Stay Home

Book Chapter: Customer Hall of Shame

Posted: 10/3/2013

For the sake of humanity, some adult humans should not be allowed out, period.  If they were allowed out, on a limited basis, their “house arrest” should preclude them from interacting with anyone who serves the public. They just don’t get it.

I received these pictures from an employee at a restaurant that is widely regarded as one of the best restaurants in America. (It’s in the Southeast.) I’ve confirmed the employment of the sender, and the restaurant, but agreed not to disclose the identity of either. The pictures represent both sides of a card handed to a server by a guest last weekend, during a very busy dinner service. Side 1:

It’s one thing to ask for a few modifications, but really? If you want to pick and choose exactly what you want, go to a buffet, or go to a supermarket. Side 2:

No, this was not a joke. This diner actually sent a note to the kitchen requesting that they default to his dietary philosophies!! I can hear the kitchen crew now, “Hold everything. We’re going Forks Over Knives for table 32…”

The restaurant took the hospitality high road, and served the persnickety patron a vegan entre of local produce. (I’ve requested information from the server about the interaction with the guest and his dining companions, and how they tipped.) I do know that the demanding douchebag did not thank the chefs in the open kitchen for accommodating him.

The perky, Thanks for working with me!” does not offset how obnoxious this note is. The entitlement epidemic is alive and well. I’m surprised the diner didn’t specify ideal lighting luminosity, room temperature & humidity, and hand the maître d’ a playlist…

Love to hear your reaction, and your stories in the comments.


Permalink | Posted in Customer Hall of Shame | 19 Comments »