OPINIONConsumer Trends

Customers behaving badly: New hall of fame candidates

Photograph: Shutterstock

reality-checkIf the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame can induct a new class of superstars every year, why shouldn’t the Gallery of Really Ridiculous Customers do the same? Sure, there’s the complication of the latter not being real, but higher mountains have been climbed in this space. And some license is surely provided by the sheer scale of absurdity our overachievers from Camp Jackass have flashed in recent months.

So, behold these nominees for the restaurant industry’s Chucklehead Hall of Fame.

Fisticuffs over straws

Last year’s feel-good movement soured into a Tony Soprano highlight clip during the first week of 2019, courtesy of an Einstein who hadn’t noticed that plastic straws are no longer given out like napkins. He didn’t get one with his McDonald’s order, so he sniped at the young woman handling his order, barking that someone wasn’t doing her job. Then he reached across the counter, grabbed the front of the girl’s shirt, and yanked her nose to within a foot of his, snapping at her the whole time because a straw hadn’t been automatically provided.

The woman under attack, reportedly a former boxer, proceeded to pummel the much larger man, though he didn’t seem phased by her punches. The staff broke it up, and a manager provided the straw, explaining that it was available all along—all the man had to do was ask.

As the man exited the restaurant at the manager’s request, he reportedly kicked another staff member—and then was arrested outside on misdemeanor charges. 

Much of the episode was of course taped by someone with a smartphone and posted on social media, where it reigned as a must-see until eyes were lured away by kittens tongue-bathing an otter or some similar absurdity caught on video.

Suing for a make-good after getting stuck

A patron of a Burger King showed just how far some customers will go to get free food—in his instance, albeit for life. The individual, Curtis Brooner, had gotten stuck in the restaurant’s bathroom for roughly an hour, unable to turn the lock or jimmy it open with a fly swatter provided by the staff. He had to wait until a locksmith arrived and sprang him.

By that time, Brooner was bleeding from his use of the fly swatter and apparently seething because of the wisecracks lofted by the staff during his unfortunate incarceration. To lighten the sting, Brooner later recounted, the unit offered to let him dine for free for the rest of his life.

According to media reports, the restaurant did exactly that for two weeks, but subsequently withdrew the offer when district management decided the make-good was too generous. When the freebies stopped, Brooner summoned lawyers and filed a lawsuit seeking exactly $9,026.16 in compensation, or what he’d spend if he bought a meal at the unit every week for the 22 years he expects to live. Brooner said he expects to live to just 72 years old because of all the burgers he’s consumed.

The matter is apparently now in the courts.

‘Where are my potatoes???’

Word of this one drifted across the Atlantic from Birmingham, England, presumably because operators on this side of the pond so readily identified with the restaurateur involved. The proprietor, Marta Retenaga, made no apologies for throwing out a pair of women who disrupted the lunch service at her tapas restaurant, Amantia, because their potato sides arrived after their meat plates. Indeed, Retenaga recorded a video to alert other unreasonable customers that she’s had enough.

Apparently, the disgruntled pair was a mother-daughter team that felt it’d been wronged to an unacceptable degree. The potatoes had come out after the meat! Why would anyone tolerate an insult of that magnitude?

Retenaga acknowledged the mistake, but stressed on her video that tapas coming out of the kitchen at different times is “something quite trivial for the reaction they had.”

When the women wouldn’t calm down, Retenaga told them their reaction was unacceptable and threw them out. “I’m not tolerating this type of behavior just because, as [the mother] said, ‘I am the customer,’” she says in the video.

The incident quickly drew a spotlight from media, both the traditional and social sorts. But Retenaga didn’t flinch. In an online survey, 94% of consumers said they think she acted appropriately.

If this all sounds like silliness, keep in mind that Amantia has been in business for four years. Retenaga apparently agrees with the assertions heard on both sides of the Atlantic that today’s customers are far more likely to explode over the slightest infraction than their milder-mannered predecessors of yesteryear were. And yet the business has become more difficult.

“We only ask for one thing in return: Be nice,” Retenaga says.


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