Restaurateurs shame rude patrons in growing 'culture war'
Owners using social media to criticize customers behaving badly
When a diner has an unpleasant experience eating out, it's not uncommon to find their grievances online — from Facebook and Twitter to blogs and restaurant review websites.
But now, the tables are turning as more restaurateurs are taking to social media to complain about rude and unruly customers.
Last month, Jen Agg caused a small stir when she went on Twitter to vent her frustrations over unruly patrons at her trendy Toronto restaurant The Black Hoof.
"Dear (almost) everyone in here right now," she tweeted. "Please, please stop being such a douche."
One Twitter user replied: "Wow. Talk about customer appreciation gone wrong. Yikes."
The Globe and Mail's food writer, Chris Nuttall-Smith, says there is a growing "culture war" between restaurant owners and their patrons. In an article last month, Nuttall-Smith wrote that we are seeing a "rise of dining aggression."
"Restaurants are not the same today as they were five years ago or 10 years ago," he told CBC host Matt Galloway on Friday's edition of The Current. "Everybody's trying to figure things out. It can be frustrating; it can be confusing."
Nuttall-Smith says that, in general, diners have a great time when they go out for a meal.
"But when there is a problem, they get cycled almost out of control via social media — and often face-to-face as well," he said, adding that he has seen restaurant owners share sharp words with customers.
Today's restaurants don't play 'the long game'
Nuttall-Smith said one of the reasons is economics. In the past, he said, restaurants would open, build a reliable base of regular customers and change very little over the years.
"Restaurateurs would play the long game in which the customer was always right," he said.
But today, Nuttall-Smith says, there is a new crop of eateries that are "more fun, more interesting, are constantly changing, and frankly, they don't have the resources behind them to play a 10-year game."
Instead, businesses now rely on turning tables quickly and keeping things interesting enough to keep customers coming through the doors.
Still, Nuttall-Smith thinks that publicly shaming or criticizing rude patrons is a bad strategy.
"I think it's destructive for restaurateurs to do that to their businesses," he said. "I think restaurateurs who criticize their customers publicly really risk alienating good customers."
Customer not always right
Agg, whose hugely popular restaurant has no trouble attracting customers and where hour-long waits for a table are not unusual, isn't worried about losing customers.
"At the end of the day, it's a niche restaurant with a niche market. It isn't for everyone," Agg said of her restaurant, which specializes in charcuterie and a "head to tail" style menu of meat offerings such as horse tartare and sweetbreads. "You can't be all things to all people, and you shouldn't try."
Agg says that the notion that the customer is always right is "a crazy idea."
Just because her business relies on paying customers, "that doesn't mean they're allowed to abuse my staff or be rude to me … Once that stuff starts to happen, I don't want their money anymore."
To hear more about why the customer isn't always right, listen to the full conversation at The Current.