Guilt was ladled out like soup this week in the restaurant business, with much of the shame megaphoned by outsiders looking in. The public faulting wasn’t always directed at restaurant operators, but it showed they’re failing to protect staffs from bad guests.
But some of the criticism was directly focused on industry leaders, including one who’s still seen as a possible challenger to Donald Trump.
Add in a new vogue of insulting the competition, and you have enough head-turning moments to worry a chiropractor.
Here’s what we mean.
The real sexual harassment problem
With the outpouring of harassment scandals involving big name chefs, another variety of inappropriate restaurant behavior has been largely overlooked. The overwhelming majority of unwanted sexual overtures come not from management or the kitchen staff, but from guests.
The scope of the problem was underscored this week by a revelation from The New York Times. The newspaper ran a story last week about how routinely servers have to decide between losing their tips and tolerating the lewd behavior of customers. Sixty restaurant employees were interviewed for the piece.
As part of the report, the Times asked servers, bartenders and restaurant guests to recount instances they’d personally experienced of patrons behaving badly. The paper revealed this week that 1,200 readers had responded within 24 hours with accounts of harassment.
“We heard from a woman whose customer offered to pay her college tuition if she would have an affair with him, and a senior in high school who told of men hitting on her in front of their children as she waited on them,” the follow-up reported. “And of course there was the story about the server who poured a strawberry daiquiri over a customer’s head after he kept running his hand up her skirt.”
Most telling of all, according to the paper: “Many of you said the money made it worthwhile.”
Starbucks’ Schultz gets a taste of political hardball
Howard Schultz has pooh-poohed reports that he surrendered the CEO’s job at Starbucks last year because he intends to challenge Donald Trump for the presidency of the United States. But that hasn’t spared him from political sniping by Trump supporters.
“In repeatedly bashing President Trump’s tax cuts, Mr. Schultz, it appears that you may be putting your personal politics ahead of the company’s best interests,” a stockholder commented during the Q&A portion of Starbucks’ shareholders meeting yesterday.
“What’s your question?” responded Schultz, now chairman of the coffee company. His pointed retort drew loud applause from the other shareholders in attendance.
They were aware that the political comment came from Justin Danhof, general counsel for the National Center for Public Policy Research, a conservative think tank.
Schultz assured Danhof that his political activities and beliefs are firewalled off from his leadership of Starbucks.
Restaurant sniping heats up
Insults have become the marketing tool of the moment for restaurant chains. Witness Wendy’s, um, warm wishes to archrival McDonald’s on National Frozen Food Day. The smaller chain chided the Golden Arches in a series of tweets for still using so much frozen beef, a response to McDonald’s announcement that it’s switching to fresh meat for its Quarter Pounder. It was a tart way of reminding consumers that Wendy’s has always and exclusively used nonfrozen beef.
Even the usually polite Pei Wei’s Asian Diner turned nasty, introducing a new orange chicken dish with the snipe, “Sorry, Panda: Pei Wei’s orange chicken is Wei better.”
But the venom really flowed in this week’s head-spinning exchange between Texas Roadhouse and Outback Steakhouse. In what one wag dubbed #TwitterSteakWar, Roadhouse blasted its competitor for being a social media twit. When a customer expressed a preference for Roadhouse, Outback retorted with a suggestion that people turn their backs on the rival.
“Your comebacks are as dry as the steaks you serve,” Roadhouse posted in reply.
“Big words for a place that serves steak called Road Kill,” smacked back Outback.
And it was on. Patrons joined the snipe fest, along with TGI Fridays (“But what about our amazing food and drinks?”), LongHorn (“While they were beefing with tweets, we were dropping legendary steaks.”) and Bennigan’s.
Plant-first = discount-first
A more redeeming development was news of Qdoba’s departure from charging one price for burritos and bowls even if high-cost ingredients like guacamole are requested by customers. The chain, which was spun off this week from Jack in the Box, has decided to discount dishes where no meat is included. Customers who forgo chicken, beef or pork are given a 60-cent break on the price, according to a report from VegNews.com.