Manners / Gratitude

Bring Your Own? Please Don’t.

Book Chapter: Manners / Gratitude

Posted: 09/27/2010

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.

KatharineI 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.

ReneeI 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…

RoseThe 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…

Amen, Rose.

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?

Permalink | Posted in Manners / Gratitude | 69 Comments »

Server Not Servant Question #1

Book Chapter: Manners / Gratitude

Posted: 05/15/2010

Shortly after deciding to write a book, I circulated a questionnaire to everyone I knew and everyone I met to solicit their insights, opinions, and stories about customers , servers, hospitality and human interactions. I am still accepting completed questionnaires for my research. The questionnaires have been invaluable because of the broad range of experiences and perspectives included in the responses. Workers have been sharing what they were thinking but couldn’t say while dealing with impossible customers, and customers have been dishing on servers and fellow customers alike.  I’ll continue to include responses to the questionnaires in future blog posts to ensure that “The Voices of Service Industry Workers Everywhere” are heard, along with the voices of thoughtful customers.

I’ve decided to intermittently post each of the questions in individual blog posts to encourage participation from readers who would  would rather not complete the entire questionnaire. I welcome responses from your perspective as a current or former customer service industry worker, and from your experiences as an observant customer. Please feel free to elaborate, in addition to assigning numbers in response to each item below. Thank you for joining the discussion.

In your experiences, what percentage of customers are:

A. Very polite, respectful and courteous?

B. Indifferent, but decent?

C. Impolite/disrespectful?

D. Downright rude?

Permalink | Posted in Manners / Gratitude | 12 Comments »

Door Jam

Book Chapter: Manners / Gratitude

Posted: 04/11/2010

As I noted in my last post, a lot of humans are not very good at sharing public space. I’ve had countless conversations with people when discussing this blog and my book project that end with, It’s really not that hard. Apparently for a lot of people it IS that hard.

This post was inspired by a Yelp conversation on the Boston Boards titled, Rude People. Karl R. started the conversation by asking, Does anyone else hate it when you hold a door for someone and they don’t say thanks??  When I don’t get that “thank you”, I usually respond by saying, “I don’t get paid for this…”  How do you guys deal with it?

Yelp threads often digress into inane, sophomoric banter, but Karl’s questions prompted some thoughtful dialogue. The Yelp responses are generally divided into 2 camps:

#1- An eye for an eye:

D.K. Hate it. And I usually say sarcastically, “You’re welcome.”

My edited response: I’m with the camp that supports tweaking the ignorant people with a sarcastic, “You’re welcome.” It’s Pollyannaish when people say, “Don’t let them get to you,” or let “karma” come back to bite them. If enough people speak up maybe these unaware, narcissistic, people will snap out of it and change their behavior. When we ignore them, we encourage them.

Kerri O. You know, all politeness is, is an extension of being compassionate.  If someone is rude, it’s just that they are only thinking about themselves.  It’s best to shake them out of their mindset, by pointing out that other people exist, and it’s better to be considerate to them.

Didi V. (combined responses) This is about manners.  No matter your personal turmoil, to consistently act like a dick is wrong.  I do feel sorry for people who don’t realize it’s wrong. They’re sociopaths because their parents never corrected selfish behavior. Maybe they had a really sweet hippie parent who didn’t believe in “wrong” behavior… When I let cars in, and I don’t get the wave, it bothers me.  No wave?  C’mon!

#2- Turn the other cheek:

Anthony L. I’m not polite for the thanks. I’m polite because it’s the right thing to do. No need to be rude after not getting any thanks. Seems childish to me.

Michael N. I’m with Anthony. Some people suck. I prefer to forget about them and concentrate on those that don’t.

Mary M. (combined comments) If someone didn’t ask you to hold the door for them, and didn’t expect you to hold the door for them, and you’re doing it out of your own sense of politeness, and you then get cranky and angry when you’re not thanked in the manner that you expect, doesn’t that rather take away from the graciousness of your act? If I hold the door for someone and they don’t thank me, I can honestly say that it doesn’t even momentarily bother me.  I think there are a couple of reasons for this: 1) I don’t have an expectation of thanks when I hold the door, 2) I don’t read a lot into their behavior.

Richard M.  Expectations outside of yourself will:  ALWAYS let you down. Better to spend the little time you have above ground building your own karma. Others may have more pressing concerns, that you can not know of:  Until you walk a mile in their shoes. Imagine for a moment that they might be absorbed dealing with; cancer, a dying spouse, an incurable sick child or infant, or just something you can not imagine. A gift of kindness is a GIFT OF KINDNESS.

Benjamin K. Sociopaths and narcissists suffer from mental illness that they can’t help.  It doesn’t mean their behavior is okay or should be excused, but perhaps understood as more complicated than just losing their shit on you when you serve them a coffee. Best to avoid these types as often as possible because their behavior will never change, even if they want it to…

My response to Benjamin: I disagree. I believe that if enough people push back and let rude people know that their behavior is unacceptable, the rude behavior can eventually change. The passive, karma, tolerance approach only encourages bad behavior. More people need to speak up and say what everyone is thinking about the rude, obnoxious behavior. And when someone does speak up, more people need to back up the person who confronted the unacceptable behavior. Too many people are afraid to speak up or get involved.

I understand Benjamin’s point about the extreme cases where behavior will never be modified. Some people are incapable or unwilling to learn how to work and play well with others.  However, the majority of entitled, rude people perceive themselves as exempt from the basic tenets of mutual respect and common courtesy. As I noted in the Yelp thread, There is something ingrained in people and our culture that makes it ok to remain silent and tolerate abusive, offensive behavior. Most people are confrontation adverse because it’s awkward and uncomfortable to speak up. It seems that we always think of the perfect response when it’s too late. Confronting without confrontation is an art that takes practice. I’m working on speaking up more often rather than dealing with the regret that often follows silence.

I’ll be discussing the origin and reasons for bad manners and how to deal with them in the Confront Without Being Confrontational chapter in my book. We have become so inured to bad behavior that we accept it as inevitable.

Quantifying the epidemic of bad manners is easy. Articles on bad manners always generate record numbers of comments online. (As of this post there are more than one hundred and four thousand fans in the If I hold a door open for you, I expect a “thank you” fan page on facebook.) Raising awareness and fostering change are the real challenge.


  • Thanks to all Yelp commenters. Please read the entire Yelp thread to understand the full context of all comments.
  • People who don’t let the door slam in your face are the same people who don’t say thank you when you hold the door for them.
  • People who go through the unopened door when you are holding a door open for them really suck.
  • ABC News had a program with hidden cameras called, What would you do? A modern day Candid Camera, they interviewed people after secretly filming their behavior in staged social contexts. I’d like to see a program called, Why didn’t you?, where they would catch people being rude and ask them why they didn’t thank someone holding the door, wave to a driver who let them go in traffic or cross the street.

What are your thoughts and experiences? Which camp are you in? Thank you.

Permalink | Posted in Manners / Gratitude | 28 Comments »

Why Don’t People Care?

Book Chapter: Manners / Gratitude

Posted: 01/27/2010

Do you ever wonder why some people just don’t care unless it involves them? The question will be discussed at length in my book, but I want to put it out there for discussion.

Last night when I got to the gym at 8 o’clock, the locker room was packed as the after-work crowd was getting ready to head home or out on the town. I searched for some space to change, farthest away from all other humans. I finally found a corner with a little breathing room and a bench. As is often the case, a wet, used towel was on top of the bench, along with 2 wooden hangers that are usually inside of the lockers. It always amazes me that people who work out at a gym are too lazy to clean up after themselves. (Huge personal pet peeve.) I envision, Someone else will get it, going through the minds of the offenders, if anything at all. So much for leaving an area the way you’d like to find it.

After working out, I went to the very small steam room inside of the men’s locker room. There was one guy inside the steam, sitting on the left side of  the L-shaped bench that can accommodate 4 guys, max. I sat on the right side of the bench, on the opposite side, and as far away from the other guy as possible. Despite the fact that the gym is only a few years old, the temperature in the steam room is usually one extreme or the other, and very erratic. So there we were, 2 guys wrapped in towels in a cold steam room, waiting for the heat, careful not to make eye contact. The awkward silence in a steam or sauna is much worse than riding in an elevator, because it usually lasts longer. It’s even worse after you say hello and get no response, regardless of how innocuous or terse the greeting is. 

This reminds me of comedian Stephen Wright’s quip; When I was little, my grandfather used to make me stand in a closet for 5 minutes without moving. He said it was elevator practice. It could have also been steam room practice.

Finally, the tension broke as the steam came roaring on and the temperature started to climb. As the heat and humidity started to kick in, someone opened the door, didn’t even look in, and let the door close very slowly, allowing the precious heat to escape. Guy #1 and I both made noises in disgust implying, What was that? Eventually another guy (#3) walks in and Guy #1 doesn’t slide over to make room for him. I’m already sitting at the end of my bench, so there’s nowhere for me to go. Guy #3 doesn’t push the issue, and decides to stand.  Another guy walks in and hurriedly brushes by standing Guy#3, and approaches the bench #1 is on as if to say, Make room, now, without even asking the guy who was there before him if he was waiting for a seat.  Guy #1 did slide over, and eventually when he left, he let the door close slowly, instead of quickly slamming it behind him…

As I sat there in my own little world, with my head down, occasionally lifting my eyes only high enough to watch what was going on, the questions, What makes people thoughtful?,  and Why don’t some people care? came to mind. Is it really that hard to think about how we would want to be treated while interacting and/or sharing space with other human beings? Apparently, for some people it is.

As I left the locker room, I counted fourteen steps from the bench the dirty towel was on, to the closest laundry bin that I had to pass on the way out.

So much for de-stressing at the gym. I guess if it weren’t for “them” I wouldn’t have a book to write…

I’m interested to hear your experiences and theories. Thank you.

Permalink | Posted in Manners / Gratitude, Personal Pet Peeves | 20 Comments »