Normally this space deals with gee-whiz developments. But this week’s standout moments were less likely to spin heads than to preoccupy them with a question: What is wrong with these people?
How could anyone with enough sense to land a job show such bad judgment in fulfilling it? Yet this was a week of stellar screw-ups by restaurant employees, rendered all the more perplexing because similar past transgressions festered into causes celebres. Anyone with a smart phone should be aware of the risks.
Maybe it’s time to review some fundamental do’s and don’t’s of restaurant operations:
1. Don’t show porn in the dining room
Especially not on Easter Sunday, when the place is packed with customers observing the religious holiday. But that’s exactly what happened at a Huddle House family restaurant in North Carolina. It’s unclear who switched the channel to a skin flick, but this week the restaurant fired a waitress for allegedly not noticing the on-screen action and switching it off.
2. Don’t serve booze to kids
It’s staggering that this happens almost regularly. If you know the reason, please pass it along so we can share it and hopefully prevent incidents like one in Phoenix this week that drew national media coverage. There, a 3-year-old was served a cocktail in a lidded cup, the drink vessel used for children at the Benihana. An explanation has yet to be provided. Then again, one wasn’t offered for a similar lapse about two weeks earlier, when a 2-year-old in a Texas Roadhouse was allegedly given a glass of sangria. It’s not clear if the server thought it was grape juice, but we’re grasping for understanding.
3. Don’t categorize customers by race
Ticketing systems that allow the staff to add a description of a customer, some point of recognition, have become commonplace in the business. So, too, have idiotic misuses. The notion is to give the staff a clue as to who’s getting a takeout order or a drink. Seeing “woman in red dress” enables an employee to find the patron and provide just that touch of personalized service, instead of calling a number or a name as if they were holding a Bingo game.
The trouble comes when staffers don’t think about the traits they select as their point of reference, and completely forget that the ticket is usually given to the customer along with the order. The example from this week: A restaurant in North Dallas using “5 black guys” as the clue to who got a round of drinks. Not “5 guys.” Not “5 guys at Table 7.” Not “5 dudes.” A waiter figured their skin color was a better way of fostering recognition. It cost him his job at Zenna Thai and Japanese.
Please, put some boundaries on the descriptors your staff can use. Limit them to using a garment as the reference point, the way hostesses at upscale restaurants sometimes use shoe styles and colors to find a particular party who’s waiting at the bar for a table. And make sure they know that skin color, disability and disparaging references like “ho’s” are unacceptable.
4. Breastfeeding is a legal right in many areas
Yet some employees are still so unnerved about a child being nursed that they ask the woman to leave. Unflattering news stories typically follow if the customer makes an issue of it, as she has every right to do. But now the reputation damage can be more severe because of social media, as Time magazine noted after a breastfeeding incident in a Colorado Hooters came to light this week. An employee said he was flabbergasted when a woman started nursing her baby just as the waiter was taking the table’s orders, and wished he had a wing to chuck at the mom.
That touched off a firestorm on Twitter. An employee’s inability to push through a few minutes of displeasure tarnished a restaurant and arguably its parent brand. And all because an employee didn’t know the facts of life.
5. Stop snapping at service dogs
The United Kingdom has such a problem with fake service dogs that lawmakers are considering an increase in penalties for the owners of the bogus aid pets. There are similar rumblings in Canada and even occasionally here in the colonies. But until restaurants’ hand is strengthened, places can’t turn away a customer because he or she has a service dog in tow. It couldn’t be simpler.
Yet controversies still erupt. This week, a mother and son were ousted from a place in Houston because an employee knew the health code banned dogs from the restaurant, but didn’t realize that service animals are an exception.
What is so hard about setting a standard for documentation and then abiding by the local laws on bringing aid pets into a restaurant?
6. Don’t refuse followers of fashions you don’t like
Tattoos and skin piercings have gone mainstream, so 86ing customers who take that fashion to an extreme just doesn’t make sense any longer. Yet a member of the industry said this week that he was refused service because of the skin art that showed on his arms and the top of his chest. The restaurant, Pico’s, said the problem was the patron’s sleeveless shirt, not the tats. But that point was largely lost in the news coverage. Instead, the place came off as intolerant of fashionistas—the last impression a restaurant would want to leave.
Of course, tattoos and face piercings aren’t the only things that have prompted staffers to refuse service on the grounds that other patrons could be disgusted by the visuals. Customers with disfigurements, disabilities, neurological orders like Tourette's and other visible points of difference have also been asked to leave. Does anyone think a request like that screams “hospitality”?