Over the past year and a half, restaurant workers have reported an uptick in harassment, abuse, and general unpleasantness from customers. In December, a study found a customers docked tips if servers asked them to adhere to safety protocols, and women reported facing more sexual harassment. Unfortunately, that trend seems to have continued, to the point where one restaurant in Brewster, Massachusetts closed for a “Day of Kindness” after customers made its staff cry.
The New York Times reports that Apt Cape Cod shut down for a day after seeing an uptick in rudeness and abuse from customers, the final straw being a customer berating staff for not being able to take his breakfast order when the restaurant was closed. One customer even told staff “I hope you get hit by a car.”
“As many of our guests and patrons treat us with kindness and understanding, there have been an astronomical influx daily of those that do not, swearing at us, threatening to sue, arguing and yelling at my staff, making team members cry,” Apt wrote on Facebook on July 8, saying they would take a day to deep clean, train, and treat the staff to a day of kindness. “Please remember that many of my staff are young, this is their first job, or summer job to help pay for college. We have had to make adjustments due to the increase in business volume, size of kitchen, product availability and staffing availability, we are not trying to ruin anyone’s vacation or day off.”
You’d think after being on lockdown for over a year people would just be grateful that they can order eggs at a restaurant again, but apparently not. Co-owner Brandi Felt Castellano told the Times, “People are always rude to restaurant workers, but this far exceeds anything I’ve seen in my 20 years.” On Facebook, many lent their support, with some blaming the rise in rudeness on tourists coming to Cape Cod for the summer season, or a lingering influence from Donald Trump.
Other beach towns and tourist destinations have reported dealing with more entitled, abusive customers. Staff at Pop Pop’s Pit BBQ in Myrtle Beach say it’s gotten so bad they now read agreements to customers before they order, stating that patrons will be asked to leave if they’re rude more than once. But customers everywhere seem to be taking it upon themselves to be jerks to food service workers, whether it’s scamming restaurants for free delivery, or complaining about maintaining safety protocols.
Restaurants across the country are facing similar issues — staffing shortages (in some cases, due to servers still feeling unsafe working in restaurants and the low wages being not worth the risk), food shortages, and inflation. Most have been up front about these problems, asking customers to bear with them with longer wait times, a shortened menu, or limited hours. But, as Khushbu Shah wrote for Food & Wine, there needs to be a reckoning with the concept that the “customer is always right,” especially as the pandemic exacerbated cruel treatment toward service staff. As one server told Shah: “We are expected to provide [customers] with above-and-beyond service, even if they are abusive. It makes us feel like we are not allowed to have the expectation of being treated like a person.”
Restaurants like Apt and stressed workers are trying to set boundaries. But as a reminder: everyone is still struggling, and just because a state government said it’s okay for restaurants to be open doesn’t mean things are immediately going back to “normal.” Be patient, be kind. Otherwise you’ll ruin it for everyone.