Confronting without Confrontation

The Economics of Restaurant Survival in a World Where “Everyone’s a Critic.”

Book Chapter: Confronting without Confrontation

Posted: 03/29/2017

John Howie, chef/owner of Beardslee Public House restaurant in Bothell, WA, wisely exercised restraint and took the high road with an excellent, professional response after an amateur ‘reviewer’ scolded him about his prices being too high, and claimed that his ‘high’ prices demonstrated disregard for his community. As current and former (myself included) restaurant owners know, operating most restaurants is a very hard, high-risk, low-margin way to make a living. Most customers have no idea how hard, and aren’t aware of the perpetual stress and grind involved. The insightful content within John Howie’s response sheds some light on the economics of surviving. More restaurants than you know are a couple of bad months or a mildly catastrophic event away from closing.

After reading John Howie’s response, I posted it in my Server Not Servant Facebook group and reached out to John requesting permission to reprint his blog post here. I also asked him a few follow-up questions that I’ll address at the end of this post.

Reprinted with permission from John’s blog:

Below is a review we recently received for Beardslee Public House, our Northwest-inspired, family friendly eatery and brewery. I removed the guest’s name as I am not out to shame anyone.

“First of all, I use to love this place. I’m sitting here at Beardslee now disgusted with their current price hike. I have one question for the owner, do you want to alienate your faithful customers that come here 2-3 times a week? Charging 14 dollars for a basic burger and fries is crazy. Especially when you are located right by 2 colleges and TONS of student’s come here to eat. Congratulations, after today I will never come back. Your disregard for your community and clients in an effort to make a buck because you are now popular won’t fly…… I’m 100 percent sure that others will take my stance…. based on your food and beer items that are overpriced. Yes, you just alienated your college based customers.”

I personally wrote back to our guest and my response is below:

I’m sorry you feel this way. I’m also concerned that you attacked me by stating that I had no regard for my community or clients in an effort to make a buck. I have yet to make a buck on the Beardslee Public House, I hope to someday be able to repay myself for all of the expenses to open a restaurant like the Beardslee Public House. But I do have a question for you … what is a fair profit for an owner of an establishment like Beardslee Public House? 15%, 10%, 5%?

In the time that we have been open, we have been able to pay back about $350,000 so far. We just looked at our business pro forma for 2017, and we were projected to make $80,000 on $4,500,000 in sales, that’s less than a 2% margin. Cash flow would have been a negative $150,000-$160,000 just to cover the debt payments of $260,000 a year.

We have approximately 25 people a day working around 6 hours each making minimum wage and tips. That’s 150 a day or 1050 hours a week. In 2017 we were required by law to increase minimum wage to $11.00 an hour up $1.51 over the 2016 set rate, that is approximately $1585.00 in additional wages every week, times 52 weeks, that is $82,000+ a year, add on 25% for payroll taxes, medical insurance, FETA, FICA, state industrial insurance and federal and state unemployment insurance and now it is $103,000+. Now add the other employees who want raises because all of the minimum wage employees got raises. Now add on all of the increased costs for food, beverage ingredients, and other increased costs because all businesses are dealing with the same problem, and you can start to see how this adds up.

People don’t realize how difficult it is to make a dollar in the restaurant industry; they just look at the food cost and think they could do it for less.

Take this into consideration … we pay approximately $1,260,000 in product costs. $600,000 a year in rent, $450,000 a year for management wages, managers, brewers, chefs, and none of that goes to ownership. A grand total of approximately $2,025,000 in all wages including the taxes and benefits. $130,000 a year in promotional costs, $50,000 a year for Repair & Maintenance, $150,00 a year in water, sewer, gas and electric costs, $36,000 a year in business insurance, point of sale costs, 3% or around $135,000 a year to the credit card company, janitorial costs of $50,000 a year, cleaning supplies $26,000 a year, dishes and utensils $25,000, we discount or give away food to employees worth over $60,000 a year, this as you can see can add up … and I have not even listed the other 25-30 cost accounts, paper supplies, dues and subscriptions, dish washing machines and supplies, city business taxes, state business licenses, health department licenses, federal alcohol production taxes, light bulbs, point of sale system, management information system costs, software, hardware, menu covers, menu paper, copier, copier paper, office supplies, business cards, delivery van, delivery van gas, and there is so much more that I can’t even think of it all right now.

I do take exception to your comment about disregarding my community. I’m sure you are unaware of the information I’m about to provide you…If you are a student nearby then you probably remember the massive fire which destroyed much of downtown Bothell last year. We were among the first to bring much needed supplies to the first responders, the following Monday we gave all of our after-cost proceeds to the Cozy Corner Café owner, who lost her business that day. Beyond that, we have supported Bothell schools, sports teams and many other community projects. Last year we provided over 800 gift certificates to different charitable organizations throughout our area.

This is not the greedy owner trying to fleece the college student … it is a legitimate business that employs 92 people in the Bothell community, pays its employees well, and pays all of its taxes, values its guests, the guests that value good service and good food. We use USDA Prime for our regular burgers; no one else uses USDA Prime for burgers. We bake our own buns, we make almost everything we do in-house from scratch, that takes time and effort, and we do pay our crewmembers a fair and living wage.

If my goal was to fleece anyone, my restaurants would never survive…it’s my hope that I’m able to provide people a great place to work, a great place to enjoy their friends and family, and a great place that supports its community.

But, There is a cost to doing all of these things and that cost is an additional $1.00 on our burgers and $.50 on a pint of beer. If that is too much to pay, then I’m sorry, and we will miss you. But I think most people will realize that this is a cost of doing business the right way at a high level and will be willing to support a living wage in Washington State by supporting those who chose to do business in this state.


Chef John Howie

I asked John if the amateur reviewer replied.

John: The person has not responded to my response of their post, depending on how often they check their Google Reviews, they may not see it for a while. The good news is we have not had any other complaints from fellow students at this time.

[Update: The review has been removed, but John’s response to the reviewer remains as of 9pm on 3/29/17. I’m following John’s lead and not shaming the ‘reviewer.’]

I also asked John if there was anything else that he wanted me to share in this blog post that he would like the public to know.

John: I love what I do. I love the people who chose to work with me. I value them not only as co-workers, but as people. I love what my business has allowed me to do for my community. I hope to be able to continue doing what I love and providing for those who are less fortunate.

Tweet from John Howie (@ChefJohnHowie) at 8:43 pm on 3/29/17: Thank you to all of you who have responded to my blog, your comments and support have been incredible. I think I may have touched a nerve!

You sure have, John. Good luck to you and everyone else in the industry grinding it out every day. And let the voices of the positive, thoughtful, respectful amateur ‘reviewers’ drown out the anonymous keyboard cowards. Cheers.

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Service Industries: “No Escape from Reality” + Entitled Customers

Book Chapter: Confronting without Confrontation

Posted: 07/1/2015

Yes, this is the “real life,” and it’s not “just fantasy.” A lot of humans just plain suck.

It’s no fun being the Fun Police. I’ve been a member of the brigade often. And no matter how hard you try, it’s rare to confront a group of “fun” people who completely “get it” when you ask them to consider the circumstances, their volume and actions, and everyone else around them. When you add alcohol to the mix, it often doesn’t end well.

Today’s post comes with permission via KC, owner of KC’s Rib Shack in Manchester, NH via their facebook page:

Open letter to an OBNOXIOUS Self Entitled Customer: ( I have always come from the school of “The customer is always right” and many of you who know me and have been customers of KC’s for many many years know I will bend over backwards for my customers.) That being said, there are times I need to say what needs to be said. Which is what follows [after Joyce’s ‘review’].

Joyce — 1 star • KC’s Ribs Shack WAS one of our favorite places to eat HOWEVER we just left there very unhappy. We had a party of twenty for a birthday party. We were all seated in the bar. We were having fun singing along with the radio when the OWNER came over to the table and very RUDELY told us to keep quiet others were trying to eat. Now mind you there were about 10 others in the bar and they were all laughing and having fun with us including the bartender and wait staff. When we confronted owner about him being rude he said he didn’t care! Let it be know We will NEVER EAT THERE AGAIN!!! We had a 500 dollar bill they have now lost our business! And I now will never recommend this place to anyone!!! I will never go again!!! ‪#‎KCRIBSHACK‬ ‪#‎THEYSUCK‬ ‪#‎ownersanASSHOLE‬ ‪#‎boycott‬

KC’s response:

Dear Joyce, I sincerely apologize that you mistakenly thought my restaurant was a karaoke bar.

We are a family restaurant not a bar. I realize you felt as though everybody in the entire restaurant was rejoicing in the painful rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody you and your self entitled friends were performing, yet that was not the case.

Although sometimes it is tough to walk the line between being the fun police and allowing our customers to enjoy themselves to their fullest. We have to draw the line when it becomes a nuisance to other customers in the restaurant at the time. Two tables asked to be moved to other areas of the restaurant even after your group was asked to stop singing. You probably missed out on that because it is clearly all about you. I’m glad you and your inconsiderate friends have vowed to “Never Eat There Again” and to #Boycott KC’s Rib Shack. Go ahead and continue your social media crusade on Yelp and facebook. I think you may have forgot Tripadviser as well. Thanks again for your feedback. We will let you know if we decide to become a karaoke bar in the future. ‪#‎IMKC‬ ‪#‎IMTHEASSHOLE‬ ‪#‎ISUCK‬ ‪#‎DON‬TNEEDINCONCIDERATECUSTOMERS

“Easy Come, Easy Go” -Freddy Mercury (Bohemian Rhapsody)

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Boston-area Restaurant Playfully Embraces Yelper

Book Chapter: Confronting without Confrontation

Posted: 07/31/2014

This is too good not to share. From Eater National:

Yelpers and restaurateurs have long had a shaky relationship, but one bar in Massachusetts has come up with a clever way to fight Yelp hate. According to an Instagram postState Park, a bar in Cambridge, is poking fun at a one star review left on the site by quoting it at the bottom of their checks: “Lucy D. on Yelp says ‘Overall, a pretty lousy experience.'” Other restaurants have also gotten creative with responding to the antics of Yelpers: One restaurant in Portland fired back at a sexist joke left on their Yelp page by turning it into a fundraiser to benefit victims of domestic violence. In New Mexico, a food truck bit back at a one star review with a genius song featuring a ukulele.

See receipt on Instagram here.

Love it.

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Battle in Buffalo

Book Chapter: Confronting without Confrontation

Posted: 08/21/2012

This post is a precursor to a forthcoming post titled, Amateur Hour, Online Restaurant Reviews, that will include suggestions for restaurateurs and reviewers, especially anonymous reviewers. Some of your comments following this post will be quoted in the future piece.

Roy Binbuffalony, a Server Not Servant facebook group member, recently sent me a link to a story by queenseyes’ on BUFFALO RISING, a website covering everything happening in and around Buffalo, NY. The piece, titled, Surprising Buffalo: Mike A’s, highlights a relatively new restaurant by renowned Buffalo restaurateur, Mike Andrzejewski. The piece includes quotes from travel writer, Steve Jermanok:

“Dinner was exceptional, probably one of the best meals I had since dining at the acclaimed Next in Chicago last summer. Mike Andrzejewski is one of the city’s best loved chefs and he finally has a high-end restaurant that matches his talent. One taste of his wagyu beef tartare, spiced with pine nuts, capers, watercress, red onions, olive oil, truffled Dijon mustard, and egg yolk, and you realize this dude’s destined for a James Beard award.”

Roy asked me to read the comment in response to the BUFFALO RISING piece written by a disgruntled, ‘anonymous’ poster, and then the response to the ‘anonymous’ poster by chef/owner Mike Andrzejewski.

Posted by anonymousOOO on August 7, 2012 PM: 

A disappointment from one of WNY’s [Western New York] seasoned restaurant owners, & we never even made it to review the food! Our issues started with the lack of a sign for the restaurant/dining room, and some confusion between where to check-in, in relation to the location of the bar. (Note: it is a restaurant bar, not an open late hotel lobby bar.) A cheap curtain between the kitchen and the dining room, was our first red flag, far from five-star. The drink menu was impressive, and the specialty drinks even came with an old fashion single large ice cube, like Vera Pizzeria also does (nice touch). The odor of old and new in the place mixed together, interestingly. We especially liked chandelier lights in the bar area, but they totally missed with carrying the noir lights also into the dining room. (Cheap Home Depot spotlights throughout the entire dining room.) We then made our way into the loud echoing dining room, with beautiful high ceilings, which unfortunately only exacerbated the high noise level. There were nice mosaics throughout, and the unshaded windows provide a nice view of the library. We then had issue with the overzealous waiter trying to give us each 4 pieces of bread (another amateur mistake). Then after an expected deep dive into the menu, there was a lack of any specials menu. Now this is something that isn’t necessarily mandatory, but expected by many (another miss). Then came a whipped cream radish teaser thingy (another fail). We placed our orders and promptly received some overcooked scallops, and romaine wedge salad (didn’t know that a WEDGE came from Romaine- not what we expected) with a nice bottle of mildly priced pinot noir was ordered. Our wine arrived and the waiter then spilled our bottle of red wine all over me!!!, which promptly and effectively ruined any chance of any further review, EPIC FAIL! Given the above we cannot recommend this restaurant. This place has only been open a few weeks, but we expected so much more. [sic]

Response from Chef/Owner Mike Andrzejewski on August 9, 2012 4:43 PM:

RESPONSE to ANONYMOUs000 Hello Christopher Hawkins of HSBC bank aka Anonymous000, Lets tell the readers the whole story here- and Why you are angry , you classless pig. Mr. Hawkins showed up at the Lafayette hotel last weekend claiming he had a reservation under another name. Our hostess who behaved as professionally as possible to accommodated him and tolerate his obviously intoxicated ,agitated and aggressive behavior moved their table twice to satisfy his demands. The server was as tolerant as possible while Mr. Hawkins bantered and stammered, and the table ordered a bottle of wine and the rest of the savory portion of the meal. After eating the appetizers AND finishing the wine Mr. Hawkins purposely knocked over the empty bottle in a childish display of bad acting, blaming it on the waiter startling him. (This was witnessed and verified by other guests around him in the dining room.) Again making a scene he instructed the other guests to retrieve the car from the valet and he would “take care of the check”. when the manager went to print the check Hawkins then sprinted out the door and left without paying his bill, and worse stiffing the server whom he abused through his service. BUT WAIT – Hawkins then went to Seabar , Our other restaurant and demanded tho the Host that she take care of him and that “Mike A” himself sent him there to make up for his experience. Sherri, my wife and owner of Seabar trying to make the best of a bad situation promptly moved things around seated Hawkins , who once again was a complete Obnoxious jackass to the server. and the staff proceeded to try and provide a good dining experience, all the while Hawkins and his pathetic girlfriend with tears in her eyes berated my restaurants to everyone within earshot. Finally after being called about the situation I arrived at Seabar from the Hotel , just in time to hear how the server should be ashamed and that we owed him money. Immediately I made sure to tell him to get himself and everything else associated with him out of my restaurant, and the spineless tool even admitted he spilled the empty wine which he already had finished and skipped out on a bill. Demanding that he leave immediately he and entourage finally exited. BUT it gets better! After leaving the scumbag gets pulled over by Police , who is aware of the situation and make him call the restaurant and turn over his credit card number to cover our cost. To end the saga , the other couple they were dining with ,so mortified and embarrassed went back to the Lafayette and payed for the wine Mr Hawkins stole, and explained to our management that they wanted no part of such behavior. To them THANK YOU! that was a classy and dignified thing to do and earned a great deal of respect from our staff. Chris Hawkins is really a spineless and crass individual,and stories abound about his horrendous actions and abusive behavior throughout the restaurant industry. Now he is such gutless clown he wont sign is name to false criticism he is slandering all over the internet … I will though- this is the rest of the story. Mike Andrzejewski [sic]

The exact same ‘anonymous’ rant was also posted on UrbanSpoon on August 7, 2012 under the moniker of “anonymous1″(first and only post), and also on Yelp under the handle, “C A.”(first and only post). Yelpers refer to (usually anonymous) reviewers with no photo as “Orange Heads”. The UrbanSpoon and Yelp reviews have since been taken down by the site monitors.

I reached out to “C A.” via Yelp’s messaging option. Here is his response and my exchange with him:

Hi Patrick,

I have considered not responding to your note, but feel if I did not, then an accurate accounting of that evening would not take place… I am the victim here…

I would prefer that you not use my full name.

Patrick Maguire: How long have you known Mike?

Chris: I have been eating at his establishments for over 10 years, and spent thousands over the years. This was the first negative experience I have EVER had. I have never met the man other than saying “hello” to him over the years.

PM: Do you have a grudge against him? If yes,why?

Chris: I certainly do not have any grudge against anyone. I was simply disappointed, and I felt that it was my right to say so. The backlash of saying so has been significant.

PM: Do you have a response to his comments ripping you and your actions in his restaurants?

Chris: I do, he is outright lying in his response.

PM: Have you contacted him and apologized?

Chris: My Atty has advised me to have no further contact with him in any way. I have no intention to apologized as I did nothing wrong, other than leaving to avoid conflict.

PM: Is there anything you’d like to add?

Chris: Sure,.. As a foodie, I have ate[sic] at many an establishment, and posted several reviews. In this case, I have learned a lot as a result of my negative experience that evening and the internet post. That review was sincere and accurate from me. His rebuttal however, was not.

One of the things that I have learned, is that businesses can have negative reviews removed from some websites for a cost per word! Where is the literary integrity there?

When posting a negative review about any business, their proprietors take it as a direct personal attack on their livelihood and will do anything to fight back, including LIE. (My review was not meant to be a personal attack.)

In this case, some examples include, 1.) there was no police involvement that evening. (A quick review of the police blotter from that night can prove that).2.) We were not intoxicated at any time, (we had our first drink when we got to the restaurant.) 3.) Almost every other statement he made was either an outright lie or an exaggeration. Mr. A, personally wasn’t involved in any of the interactions, so any accounting he received was after the fact, except when he asked us to leave, which we quietly did, offering to pay for whatever we ate so far, but was met with “Just go”. 4.) I certainly did not spill anywine on myself!

He made a scene in his own restaurant, not us. (Perhaps he could have approached us outside, or asked us to talk privately- instead he blew up in the middle of his own establishment.)

I have always believed that, If you leave someone alone, they will leave you alone. He obviously is interested in some free press and attention, I however am not.
Which is why I posted anonymously.

At this point, I just want to put this to rest and move on.

A Cease and Desist letter has been sent to Mike Andrejewski from my attorney, to stop using my name or any likeness thereof, directly or indirectly through any 3rd party, in any slanderous way, as my Review was not directed at him personally, rather at our negative experience we had at one of his many restaurants.

After the written response from Chris, I called him and left a message, and he called me back right away to confirm that the Yelp message was, in fact, written by him. During that conversation, I told him that everyone would have a fair opportunity to respond to the public comments following this post. After speaking with Chris, he sent me another Yelp message requesting that I state that he is not employed by HSBC, and to add that he is a consultant.

I also called Mike Andrzejewski and sent him a couple of emails seeking clarification from his perspective. Here is my email exchange with Mike:

Patrick Maguire: In retrospect, is there anything you wish you handled differently? (It seems like you should have thrown him out of your steakhouse for being a drunk, obnoxious boor.)

Mike Andrzejewski: I think as a restaurant we did everything possible to make the best of the situation. It’s easy in retrospect to second guess, but at the steakhouse we had no idea he would run out on the check, and then show up at Seabar to try and extort a free meal there. I should have answered my phone earlier when they tried to call , but I was in the kitchen and the staff and my wife at Seabar did their best with a bad situation.

PM: Have you heard from Chris since the incident?

Mike A.: [He] messaged me on facebook with an very untrue explanation of his actions.And several delusional accusations. He also called the restaurant , spoke to my wife Sherri, attempted to apologize and ask that I remove references to his employment. I did not post anything regarding him, his employment or anything else about the incident after my initial response. I also instructed our employees to cease posting anything or even discuss the incident any further.

PM: Have you confirmed that the guy in question was him?

Mike A.: Absolutely confirmed it was him.

PM: Has he apologized?

Mike A.: When he called back with his credit card number he initially told our employee to take the number and tell us to fuck ourselves. Afterwards, when he called the restaurant, he asked us to remove employment references ( Which we did not post) and vaguely attempted to apologize. He was told to apologize to the servers and host whom he mistreated.

PM: Does he have an ax to grind with you? Why?

Mike A.: I don’t think he had a problem with me personally. He does now. I think if you read some of the comment threads which there are a lot of , his behavior has been known around Buffalo and he has a reputation of really being an asshole.

PM: Feel free to add anything you’d like me to include.

Mike A.: I want to make it perfectly clear that any references to Hawkins’ employment or personal issues were made by people following the posts he began, and not posted or sanctioned by anyone at our restaurants,  just more literary integrity from the masses. “The pen is mightier than the sword. “

Also, I need to say that the only regret I have is not finding out more of the police involvement , I have been unable to verify first-hand exactly what happened with the officer, and was told of this by customers coming back into the restaurant as the events were unfolding. I tried very diligently to follow up and get a first-hand and verifiable witness report, but received no contacts or answers from the people (2 separate Groups) who first told us of this happening. Everything prior, we have undeniable and first-hand accounts.

I think the history of our respective reputations speaks for itself. As does the response to the postings put up, literally hundreds of people chimed in with stories of their own about Hawkins, and myself for that matter. If he was so concerned about only voicing an opinion, he certainly did – posting the identical critique on yelp, buffalo rising, urbanspoon and several other sites. As far as paying for removable reviews? Really?  and literary integrity, start by signing your work.

I have never responded to an online review previously in a public fashion like this incident, and have, on a couple occasions, contacted reviewers who posted negatively to address and correct the problems they brought to my attention. This was not the case in Hawkins’ situation. His malicious intent warranted a public response in defense of my staff, restaurant and the way he treated them especially my wife , who runs Seabar. There was a time in my life when I would have handled this differently, much differently.

As far as the claim he spent thousands in my establishments is a stretch , to say the least. Maybe a hundred fifty over the last 4 years. And as far as claiming I’m looking for free publicity? Seriously, I get an almost embarrassing amount of attention from the local press, and certainly do not need to drag this kind of bullshit out in public.

My actions in telling him to leave the restaurant , and not asking him to speak privately were directly in response to him screaming at the waitress for giving him a bill , and stating that she owed him money for his troubles. He so embarrassed himself that a number of customers actually applauded and commented as he finally left the restaurant.

Finally, if Mr hawkins wishes to contact attorneys, he can have them approach the “anonymous” people on facebook , Buffalo rising, The buffalo News and other public forums to cease and desist. Since its ok for anyone to post things as they see them why is he complaining? After all, Isn’t that his point when he put his comments up publicly?

 I really love the restaurant and service business, I think it’s a pretty noble profession. It angers and hurts me when people degrade it and degrade the people who work so hard at it. 

Sincerely, Mike Andrzejewski

Please add your comments below if you have any additional information to add about Chris’s latest visits to Mike A or Seabar.

#1- What do you think of the ‘anonymous’ comments posted by Chris on BUFFALO RISING, UrbanSpoon and Yelp?

#2- What advice/suggestions do you have for amateur, anonymous posters who hide behind their keyboards when writing restaurant reviews?

#3- How about suggestions for amateur reviewers in general, even those who disclose their real names?

#3- What do you think of Mike A’s response on BUFFALO RISING to the comments by Chris?

#4- What advice/suggestions do you have for restaurateurs when it comes to responding publicly to online reviews?

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Game Over

Book Chapter: Confronting without Confrontation

Posted: 07/31/2012

Thank you to everyone who visited this site to read the last post about the customer who tried to play a little game with one of the servers at our restaurant. There were 10,542 visits to the site within a day and a half after publishing the post.

Thank you also to Patrick Farrell from the Diner’s Journal section of the New York Times, Chris Morran from The Consumerist, Andrea Grimes from Eater National, The Gothamist, Pulse News, and everyone else who shared the post on Facebook and Twitter.

Lastly, thanks to most of the people who commented on the last post. The anonymous, “ihatetipping” person, and a few others, are just plain mean, ignorant, trolling assholes.

So here’s the rest of the story:

I returned to the restaurant, with our general manager, on Monday night to a nearly full restaurant, after distributing food at a neighborhood block party. The servers quickly told us what happened, then got back to work immediately. It was busy. After making a lap through the diningroom, and watering all of the tables, I saw the potential tip money on the table.

I actually had another server tell me a similar story a few years ago, but never saw the 3rd Rock or Cheers episodes that several commenters referenced. It was appalling to believe that someone actually had the nerve to try this charade in real life. As Andrea Grimes at Eater National said, this might be funny on a sitcom, but it “plays out like a serious dick move in real life.” 

My first reaction was; This violates what we stand for, and we need to end it now. Our restaurant actually has a page on our menu called, Law & Order, in which the following two items are included:

The customer is NOT always right. However, the respectful customer is always right, and the asshole customer is always wrong.

– … Just don’t be a douchebag.

The server who had the douchebag’s table was very busy, and really didn’t have time to think about the implications. Witnessing her anxiety and thinking about how demeaning the ruse was, made me and our GM, Suzie, incensed. Suzie went to the kitchen to check out the status of the couple’s meal, then came up with a brilliant plan: They’ve just finished their appetizers. Let’s take the high road. We’ll wrap up their entrées to-go, comp their entire meal and kick them out. I loved it. The dignity of our server was more important than the profit on the meal.

As it turns out, the couple had ordered a steak frites to split, so Suzie wrapped it up and handed it to me. I approached the table and said, Excuse me sir, may I speak with you outside? He immediately followed me out the door.

When we got outside, I introduced myself as one of the managers/partners of the restaurant, and shook his hand. I explained that I had just returned to the restaurant and learned about the little game he was trying to play with our server, and asked him, Do you realize how insulting, demeaning and disrespectful that is to another human being? He immediately began to appologize profusely, claiming that he was only trying to have a little fun, that he was smiling when he initiated the game, and that he had no malicious intent because he too, was in the restaurant business in New York. Not once did he push back at all, or suggest that I was overreacting. If he had, he would have been gone.

He was so convincing with his apology, that I told him I changed my mind about giving him his meal to go, and that I would allow him to finish his meal at his table. He returned to his table, promptly removed the cash from the table, then had to explain to his date what happened. They were both obviously humiliated. I took over the table so the server wouldn’t have to deal with such an awkward situation.

After taking a few bites of his steak, he stopped me on my way by and said, This is really good, and again, I am SO sorry. In front of his date I said, I hope you understand why I was boiling mad and how disrespectful that was? He said he did, and asked permission to apologize to the server. I asked him to make it brief. Moments later, he approached the server, gave her one of those two-handed handshakes where his left hand covered her right, and pleaded his case.  

I’ve never seen two people crush and entrée so quickly. When they were done eating, they stacked their plates (to help), and asked for the check. After fumbling with his cash and the check, I noticed he was attempting to write or scratch something on his check with one of his keys. Apparently he was too embarrassed to ask for a pen.

After shaking my hand for the umpteenth time, he apologizing one final time, then sheepishly left the restaurant.

I quickly examined the cash and check to make sure he didn’t stiff our server. He left $71 on a $50.83 bill, and the note etched onto the bill read, So Sorry.

Part of me still regrets not throwing him out.

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