The new year is only a few days old, but it’s already yielding pointed do’s and don’ts for restaurateurs who want to avoid a high-profile nightmare scenario. Here’s a primer for the wary.
Beware of rumors about fricasseeing Fido
A new challenge for 2017 could be countering fake news stories, which we’re encountering on a surprisingly regular basis as we scour local sites for restaurant developments. A case in point: reports in several Florida media about Chinese restaurants putting a leash on food costs by serving Chow Chow instead of chow mein.
The articles allege that police in the Coral Springs area have broken up a ring that was raising pooches to their meat content. Never mind that the restaurant where the dogs were supposedly kenneled does not exist, or that the police have vehemently and repeatedly blasted the reports as groundless lies.
Still, the rumors refuse to die, underscoring the need for education reform among internet users.
Beware of new tricks fostered by tougher times
Restaurateurs often say their best-tipped servers are the ones who connect with customers on a genuine, personal level. A waiter in a Mississippi Olive Garden somehow missed the importance of that genuine part.
He tried to bolster his gratuities by confiding in customers that he was slogging through the job to pay for his cancer treatment. Jason Kisner reportedly even cited his bogus affliction as an excuse for delivering sub-par service on a given night.
Kisner apparently stressed his plight so much that customers smelled a con. They alerted the chain, which canned Kisner and sought to return $125 in tips that were left as charity.
“This individual’s actions are inconsistent with our company’s values and he no longer works for us,” Olive Garden said in a statement to local media.
Beware of a spillover from racial strains
The racial strife evident in American society as a whole is splashing regularly into the restaurant business, as headlines this week attest.
Dairy Queen closed a store in Zion, Ill., because the franchisee called a biracial woman and her two children a racial slur after she asked the drive-thru attendant to fix a botched order. The owner-operator gave the woman back her $5 and then shouted the expletive, saying he was sick of dealing with black people, that she could go back to where she came from, and that he could say whatever he liked in his own restaurant.
The woman called the police, who spoke with the proprietor, Jim Crichton. He defended his actions and declared he would go to jail if that was the cost of sounding off.
But Crichton had not committed a crime, and the police left.
After a very public scandal erupted, Dairy Queen shut the store.
Beware—oh, beware—of customer descriptions
Meanwhile, sensitivities turned an innocently intended remark into a flashpoint for another short-lived racial brouhaha. An employee of a Popeyes in Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson airport asked a co-worker who got the order that had just come up. The co-worker, Brooke Harpe, responded, “the white boy.”
The white boy turned out to be Bo Bice, the recording artist and one-time late-round contestant on American Idol.
Harpe said she didn’t remember giving that reference, and certainly meant no offense in using the term. But the offhand utterance proved to be a match set to kindling, snagging the attention of the media. TMZ and the Atlanta Fox News affiliate ran a clip of Bice crying over the incident.
Harpe immediately apologized for using the label, but was suspended for a week.
The incident was the latest in a long list of scandals that were touched off by poorly chosen descriptions for matching an order to a customer.