A story about a Massachusetts restaurant that shut down for a day this month so its employees could enjoy a few hours without being berated by angry customers carries lessons for all of us.
The owners of Apt Cape Cod restaurant in Brewster, Mass., wrote that an “astronomical influx” of rude customers had been screaming at employees and threatening lawsuits — because of annoyances like delayed service that are typically due to a lack of available employees.
Restaurants are among many businesses that lost a lot of employees during the 2020 shutdown and have been unable to get enough people back to work. Owners are surely desperate to make up for lost time by hosting as many customers as they can. But The Washington Post said restaurant groups across the country are reporting an unreasonable number of flare-ups from guests.
The Massachusetts Restaurant Association bought billboards in the state asking customers to be patient. The group’s CEO said restaurant owners are going to stick up for their workers and added, “Every once in a while, you have to fire a guest.”
That’s surprising commentary from an industry that prides itself on customer service. But there have been enough reports of confrontations at restaurants to make it seem like the industry is in competition with airlines to see which one has the greatest percentage of misbehaving customers.
Let’s concede that there are plenty of restaurant employees who could do better, even when short staffing was not a problem like it is now. We’ve all encountered the indifferent cashier, the poorly trained server and so on. Additional nuisances in recent months have included shorter hours, closed dining rooms and other restrictions prompted by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Back in the good old days, such as the fall of 2019, the proper remedy for a restaurant customer who felt poorly treated was to complain to the manager, or simply not to return. Now, it seems, the pandemic has hardened a noticeably larger number of diners, who have decided they’re going to have it their way — whether or not they’re at Burger King.
The Post story all but predicted that restaurant staffing problems will continue, what with generally low wages and, for servers, the reliance on a growing number of grumpy customers for tips. Many former workers in the industry used the pandemic months to find different jobs that they believe will be more fulfilling. Others may still be enjoying enhanced unemployment benefits before returning to work.
To apply this story at home: If the same sort of hostilities are occurring at a local restaurant — anything from fast food to fine dining — and you are one of the people who gets annoyed by a perceived deficiency at these establishments, it may be a signal to back away from dining out, pickup or drive-through for a while.
Many businesses have been knocked to their knees. They need a fair chance to recover.