Be Kind or Leave!

 

Ever since some restaurants have opened up full time following partial or full shutdowns due to the pandemic, many of them are experiencing an uptick in abuse by customers. One restaurant owner in Erie, Pennsylvania, Chris Sirianni, decided he’d had enough. He decided to hold customers accountable for their bad behavior. Recently he posted the following sign on his business window:

Simple, direct, and straightforward. Just my kind of guy.

Why did Sirianni feel compelled to post this sign?

Sirianni said: ‘During this pandemic, we’ve dealt with some of the most pleasant, courteous and thoughtful people as customers. But since we’ve reopened fully, there’s definitely a growing number of people who have become rude and short with our staff.

‘We always say in this business, ‘You get one disgruntled customer out of 100,’ Sirianni said. ‘But it seems like it’s grown to almost one out of every 10 customers lately being just rude or unpleasant from the get-go.’

Why are customers behaving so badly? Part of the problem is the limitations that the businesses have had to cope with:

‘It could be (prompted) by telling a customer that we’re out of crab or fish because the Canadian border’s closed and we can’t get that stuff easily. Or they might have an hour wait because we’re busy on a Friday or Saturday night,’ Sirianni said.

‘There was a time when most people were fine with that. But service businesses and restaurants are all seeing more and more of this collective anger.’

Sirianni posted this message on Facebook, and the response was overwhelmingly positive.

Customers have been demonstrating rude behavior nationwide. Slow service due to staff shortages, food shortages, and limited open hours are just part of the problem. Customers also bring their attitudes and stress from their daily lives and their accumulated COVID tensions to the restaurants. Impatience, feelings of helplessness, and unrealistic expectations that customers have of the staff are just part of the problem. An inability for many customers to recognize their own acting out prevents them from pulling back and modifying their behavior.

Sirianni comments further on his customers:

However, Sirianni has witnessed disrespectful behavior directed toward restaurant staff on several occasions and he considers it unacceptable.

‘I’ve seen our best and brightest employees be broken down by people,’ he said. ‘They’re servers, not servants. This kind of behavior makes it harder for people to want to do this kind of tough work.’

Nowadays, anyone who enters a business is benefited by realizing that he or she has no idea how well or poorly the business is functioning: its staffing, its stocking, its financial situation, and the many other factors that small businesses must cope with.

Let’s all try to be a little more patient and understanding when we do business at these places.

[photo from contributor to the Erie Times]

Published in Business
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  1. Gary Robbins Reagan
    Gary Robbins
    @GaryRobbins

    Excellent!  On a direct path to the Main Feed!

    • #1
  2. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Gary Robbins (View Comment):

    Excellent! On a direct path to the Main Feed!

    Even more important to me is to hear from people!

    • #2
  3. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    I think what is especially admirable is that Mr Sirianni was willing to risk income and his reputation to stand up for what’s right. Good for him!

    • #3
  4. Rodin Member
    Rodin
    @Rodin

    I have some mixed feelings — not toward Sirriani and his restaurant, but on the broader question customer-server relations. I like the “Be Kind” message but I had noted before the pandemic a trend of counter people and others not accepting accountability for any problems that arose. And when confronted by the lack of accountability taking a “I don’t have to put up with customer complaints” attitude. Mrs Rodin and I had seen this enough to believe that younger people were being trained not to accommodate and work with customers. It was such a contrast to the 1990s when businesses were pushing customer service and authorizing employees to spend money to make the customer happy when problems arose. Of course this is not what is described in the OP. During the pandemic we did what we could to keep our local restaurants afloat. After hairdressers, restaurants have been the most abused groups. 

    • #4
  5. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Rodin (View Comment):

    I have some mixed feelings — not toward Sirriani and his restaurant, but on the broader question customer-server relations. I like the “Be Kind” message but I had noted before the pandemic a trend of counter people and others not accepting accountability for any problems that arose. And when confronted by the lack of accountability taking a “I don’t have to put up with customer complaints” attitude. Mrs Rodin and I had seen this enough to believe that younger people were being trained not to accommodate and work with customers. It was such a contrast to the 1990s when businesses were pushing customer service and authorizing employees to spend money to make the customer happy when problems arose. Of course this is not what is described in the OP. During the pandemic we did what we could to keep our local restaurants afloat. After hairdressers, restaurants have been the most abused groups.

    I wasn’t aware of this behavior! It’s terrible! I wonder if owners were so desperate that they were williing to tolerate this behavior by staff, or if they were even aware of it. Desperation is no excuse. I suspect Sirianni’s staff didn’t behave this way. If others encountered this behavior at your favorite take-out experiene, please share with us, and if you can speculate, the reasons staff acted this way.

    • #5
  6. Hoyacon Member
    Hoyacon
    @Hoyacon

    Here comes the contrarian.

    I strongly suspect that the proprietor is correct that there are a lot of abusive jerks out there who should tone it down.  A lot.

    But then I ask myself “Self, why are there so many more abusive jerks now than one normally encounters in the restaurant biz?”

    Is it possible that there are a goodly number of patrons who also have been to “hell and back” and deserve some understanding?

    Is it possible that, in fact, the owner, due to understandable limitations, is not fulfilling diners’ expectations?

    Is it possible that the proprietor has fallen short in notifying diners that, for a variety of reasons, they might not quite get what they are paying for in terms of selection, quality, and service wait time?

    As I said above, I’m sure the sign is warranted in some instances.  But I’m also reasonably sure that some of the rancor could have been headed off at the pass by communicating better with diners about the experience to come.

    • #6
  7. CACrabtree Coolidge
    CACrabtree
    @CACrabtree

    It’s a fantastic sentiment.  I wish a sign was all it took for people to not act like fools.

    • #7
  8. WiesbadenJake Coolidge
    WiesbadenJake
    @WiesbadenJake

    It really takes so little effort to be kind and considerate. But, it takes strength–only the strong can be kind. Kindness is, I think, contagious. Let’s do it. Wonderful, as always, Susan!

    • #8
  9. Gary Robbins Reagan
    Gary Robbins
    @GaryRobbins

    Would you please provide a link to the sign so that I can print it out and give it to my favorite restaurants? 

    • #9
  10. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Hoyacon (View Comment):

    Here comes the contrarian.

    I strongly suspect that the proprietor is correct that there are a lot of abusive jerks out there who should tone it down. A lot.

    But then I ask myself “Self, why are there so many more abusive jerks now than one normally encounters in the restaurant biz?”

    Is it possible that there are a goodly number of people who also have been to “hell and back” and deserve some understanding?

    Is it possible that, in fact, the owner, due to understandable limitations, is not fulfilling diners’ expectations?

    Is it possible that the proprietor has fallen short in notifying diners that, for a variety of reasons, they might not quite get what they are paying for in terms of selection, quality, and service wait time?

    As I said above, I’m sure the sign is warranted in some instances. But I’m also reasonably sure that some of the rancor could have been headed off at the pass by communicating better with diners about the experience to come.

    Very good points! I completely agree that Siriañni had an obligation to update customers on limits evéry night; I don’t know if he did that. But there’s an imbalance in power that could unconsciously be abused,too–the customer over staff. Everyone has a responsibility, particularly in these tough times.

    • #10
  11. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Gary Robbins (View Comment):

    Would you please provide a link to the sign so that I can print it out and give it to my favorite restaurants?

    It’s in this sentence above–

    Why did Sirianni feel compelled to post this sign?

    • #11
  12. Franco Member
    Franco
    @Franco

    I have worked as a waiter and a busboy (50 years ago) on and off for 5 years, and I never encountered a rude customer. Yes, most of my work was in high-end French restaurants (although rich people are fully capable of being rude). 

    I have always bridled at the blanket approach to blaming the public. When my very young daughter was rehearsing in a large theatre with hundreds of parents present in the audience, I remember one woman on stage excoriating the parents for talking and and being unruly. She couldn’t really see the actual perpetrators and no one went to them directly to tell them. Looking around as she lectured the auditorium like schoolchildren, I saw all of those who were respectful listening, and all the disrupters ignoring what she was saying and talking. This is a problem everywhere.

    In this case there’s an implied accusation which annoys me. That is, most people are kind. I am kind to service people myself. The problem is, the unkind people either ignore the sign (unkind people are notoriously ignorant and selfish IMO)  or they read it and don’t think it applies to them, or they just don’t know how to ‘be kind’. I read the article and it didn’t cite anything much other than foul language – which is everywhere unfortunately – and someone being called “stupid”.  

    I also go to restaurants a lot. I have seen a general decline of service in general from staff in their early twenties. There’s a different work ethic today, and certainly this group has been trained into fragility. They are encouraged to report any and every micro-aggression and to take things very personally.So I can’t get too worked up over this. Signs telling people to “be Nice” is likely to be ignored by louts, and  make no difference. The kind people will be kinder probably.

     

     

    • #12
  13. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Franco (View Comment):

    I have worked as a waiter and a busboy (50 years ago) on and off for 5 years, and I never encountered a rude customer. Yes, most of my work was in high-end French restaurants (although rich people are fully capable of being rude).

    I have always bridled at the blanket approach to blaming the public. When my very young daughter was rehearsing in a large theatre with hundreds of parents present in the audience, I remember one woman on stage excoriating the parents for talking and and being unruly. She couldn’t really see the actual perpetrators and no one went to them directly to tell them. Looking around as she lectured the auditorium like schoolchildren, I saw all of those who were respectful listening, and all the disrupters ignoring what she was saying and talking. This is a problem everywhere.

    In this case there’s an implied accusation which annoys me. That is, most people are kind. I am kind to service people myself. The problem is, the unkind people either ignore the sign (unkind people are notoriously ignorant and selfish IMO) or they read it and don’t think it applies to them, or they just don’t know how to ‘be kind’. I read the article and it didn’t cite anything much other than foul language – which is everywhere unfortunately – and someone being called “stupid”.

    I also go to restaurants a lot. I have seen a general decline of service in general from staff in their early twenties. There’s a different work ethic today, and certainly this group has been trained into fragility. They are encouraged to report any and every micro-aggression and to take things very personally.So I can’t get too worked up over this. Signs telling people to “be Nice” is likely to be ignored by louts, and make no difference. The kind people will be kinder probably.

    I get your point and in earlier times I would have agreed. I suspect that people who would ordinarily be polite are losing it. If wait staff aren’t being held to account, who should we blame? The sign is more (I think) for those who would normally be nice but might lose it; you are correct. Louts will be louts. And if they are, they should politely be asked to leave. 

     

     

    • #13
  14. Franco Member
    Franco
    @Franco

    I had an experience in a restaurant Brick House, a large open dining area. My wife and I were seated but had no contact with a waiter or waitress for at least 5 minutes. I saw one waitress working far away and watched her. Not knowing if she was our waitress, hoping to get someone’s attention. (It’s very important to acknowledge the customer – “I’ll be right with you” takes almost no time and helps).

    Finally, I went to her asking if she was our waitress and yes, she was. I very nicely gave her our drink order (saving her the trip of 50 feet )  and went back to join my wife. After another five minutes still no drinks, and watching this young gal work, I could tell the whole experience was going to be difficult, since she was moving at about half-speed.  This young lady could have moved twice as fast without breaking a sweat, and since the restaurant was so spread-out that was certainly one of the reasons for the wait. So we went to the bar and ordered there. I told the bartender and he explained that they were short-staffed. I said,  I used to be a waiter and I would move about three times faster than that thought a shift.  He didn’t seem to understand. I dropped the matter. Restaurant work requires maximum efficiency. I was very good at it and I made a ton of money in tips.

    But I do notice when service is slow, it’s often because the server is…slow. 

    • #14
  15. Doug Watt Moderator
    Doug Watt
    @DougWatt

    When it comes to service in a restaurant I don’t give a waitress, or waiter a bad time. I see it as a management problem. I just don’t go back to that restaurant.

    As a police officer there were times a waitress would tell me we don’t charge police officers. I left the cost of the meal on the table. If the waitress could keep the money as a tip that was fine with me because I could always say I paid for that meal.

    • #15
  16. James Salerno Coolidge
    James Salerno
    @JamesSalerno

    Rodin (View Comment):

    I have some mixed feelings — not toward Sirriani and his restaurant, but on the broader question customer-server relations. I like the “Be Kind” message but I had noted before the pandemic a trend of counter people and others not accepting accountability for any problems that arose. And when confronted by the lack of accountability taking a “I don’t have to put up with customer complaints” attitude. Mrs Rodin and I had seen this enough to believe that younger people were being trained not to accommodate and work with customers. It was such a contrast to the 1990s when businesses were pushing customer service and authorizing employees to spend money to make the customer happy when problems arose. Of course this is not what is described in the OP. During the pandemic we did what we could to keep our local restaurants afloat. After hairdressers, restaurants have been the most abused groups.

    This. I’ve been to many a restaurant where the server/bartender is too busy to do anything because they’re looking at their phone.

    Or a server that may be legitimately preoccupied with a task, but will not acknowledge your presence with a simple “hello, I’ll be just a minute…”

    And casual swearing. Not in bars, but all-ages establishments like grocery stores or gas stations.

    I see so many behaviors that are common now that would have gotten me fired in my entry-level days. It’s definitely a generational thing.

    • #16
  17. Jim McConnell Member
    Jim McConnell
    @JimMcConnell

    Rodin (View Comment):

    I have some mixed feelings — not toward Sirriani and his restaurant, but on the broader question customer-server relations. I like the “Be Kind” message but I had noted before the pandemic a trend of counter people and others not accepting accountability for any problems that arose. And when confronted by the lack of accountability taking a “I don’t have to put up with customer complaints” attitude. Mrs Rodin and I had seen this enough to believe that younger people were being trained not to accommodate and work with customers. It was such a contrast to the 1990s when businesses were pushing customer service and authorizing employees to spend money to make the customer happy when problems arose. Of course this is not what is described in the OP. During the pandemic we did what we could to keep our local restaurants afloat. After hairdressers, restaurants have been the most abused groups.

    I have thought that it’s not that employees have been taught not to be responsive and courteous, I think the problem is that they simply haven’t been trained. I can’t imagine that any owner would be training his employees to be rude to the source of his business. On the other hand, I’ve experienced the same attitude from shop owners. Maybe it’s my age.

    • #17
  18. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    James Salerno (View Comment):

    This. I’ve been to many a restaurant where the server/bartender is too busy to do anything because they’re looking at their phone.

    Or a server that may be legitimately preoccupied with a task, but will not acknowledge your presence with a simple “hello, I’ll be just a minute…”

    And casual swearing. Not in bars, but all-ages establishments like grocery stores or gas stations.

    I see so many behaviors that are common now that would have gotten me fired in my entry-level days. It’s definitely a generational thing.

    All the things you describe shouldn’t be tolerated, James. But I can’t help wondering whether the managers see them do these things and ignore them, or if they make sure they’re not seen. We don’t go out to restaurants much, but I rarely see this kind of thing, except not being acknowledged, but most of the time they do. I guess we’re just lucky.

    • #18
  19. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    It’s barely connected to this post, but we had a craving for KFC (which we do about once per year). We decided to dine in, and the young man who took our order was so darn polite! We told him he didn’t have to include the cookie, but he did anyway. What a delight! And after we dug into our meal, a soccer team of young black kids came in and sat in the booth behind us. They were a little noisy, but pretty well-behaved, and when they got a little louder, their coach sitting in a booth across from them hushed them. No messing with him, I’ll tell you. After a few more minutes when the coach resigned himself to their chattering, he told them to move across the room. It wasn’t anything we said or did–in fact we were smiling at them most of the time–but we were seniors and he wanted them to behave. I was very impressed!

    • #19
  20. Full Size Tabby Member
    Full Size Tabby
    @FullSizeTabby

    OK, I understand the sentiment. But taking @hoyacon comment #6 in a different direction, the human beings who are his customers have also been abused and maltreated for over a year and a half. Many of them may be at the point at which not getting exactly what they wanted may be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back. 

    I am finishing the second of two extended automobile trips across the United States in 6 weeks. I have observed that Covid has been used as an excuse to provide less service to customers (more noticeable in the hotel business than in the restaurant business). Staff shortages (presumably due at least in part to paying people more to stay home than they could earn cooking or serving food at restaurants) mean that I have had waits that would have been considered absolutely unacceptable two years ago. I don’t believe I have been rude to any service staff, but my patience is sometimes strained by the circumstances imposed on me. 

    • #20
  21. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Full Size Tabby (View Comment):

    OK, I understand the sentiment. But taking @ hoyacon comment #6 in a different direction, the human beings who are his customers have also been abused and maltreated for over a year and a half. Many of them may be at the point at which not getting exactly what they wanted may be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back.

    I am finishing the second of two extended automobile trips across the United States in 6 weeks. I have observed that Covid has been used as an excuse to provide less service to customers (more noticeable in the hotel business than in the restaurant business). Staff shortages (presumably due at least in part to paying people more to stay home than they could earn cooking or serving food at restaurants) mean that I have had waits that would have been considered absolutely unacceptable two years ago. I don’t believe I have been rude to any service staff, but my patience is sometimes strained by the circumstances imposed on me.

    You make very good points, @fullsizetabby, and I see no end in sight where we can hope to make things better. I guess everyone’s comments are a reminder to me to try to be kind when I can. Then again, I just remembered that I filled up with gas this afternoon, and no receipt came out. So I had to go inside convenience store. Three people were behind the counter, two of them restocking. The third was waiting on a customer and she’d run out of shopping bags so she went over to open a box of bags. Of course, she had to find a knife (and didn’t realize the customer had already left, or didn’t care). The other two people kept stocking. I finally called out, “There are three of you behind the counter.” One finally came up to the counter (no apology) and printed off a duplicate receipt. No smile. No greeting. Darn.

    • #21
  22. Hoyacon Member
    Hoyacon
    @Hoyacon

    Full Size Tabby (View Comment):

    I have observed that Covid has been used as an excuse to provide less service to customers (more noticeable in the hotel business than in the restaurant business). Staff shortages (presumably due at least in part to paying people more to stay home than they could earn cooking or serving food at restaurants) mean that I have had waits that would have been considered absolutely unacceptable two years ago. I don’t believe I have been rude to any service staff, but my patience is sometimes strained by the circumstances imposed on me.

    My feeling is that, within reason, there is a form of implicit contract between business and patron.  It is my job to behave myself and pay the listed prices for that which I receive.  It is the business’ job to provide me with an experience of a quality that justifies the prices and is in keeping with representations about food, service, etc.  I know it when I see it.

    I’m willing to take Covid into account to an extent but I am unwilling to accept something rather obviously substandard when there’s no reciprocity on the part of the business in terms of pricing.  Yes, I know that you’re “trying to survive,” but meet me halfway and let me know what I’m getting for my money.  My suspicion is that there are quite a lot of places that will go with “but Covid” after a customer complains, but are unwilling to inform customers of potential problems in advance out of lack of concern or for fear of scaring them off.

    • #22
  23. DaveSchmidt Coolidge
    DaveSchmidt
    @DaveSchmidt

    Rodin (View Comment):

    I have some mixed feelings — not toward Sirriani and his restaurant, but on the broader question customer-server relations. I like the “Be Kind” message but I had noted before the pandemic a trend of counter people and others not accepting accountability for any problems that arose. And when confronted by the lack of accountability taking a “I don’t have to put up with customer complaints” attitude. Mrs Rodin and I had seen this enough to believe that younger people were being trained not to accommodate and work with customers. It was such a contrast to the 1990s when businesses were pushing customer service and authorizing employees to spend money to make the customer happy when problems arose. Of course this is not what is described in the OP. During the pandemic we did what we could to keep our local restaurants afloat. After hairdressers, restaurants have been the most abused groups.

    I have seen more than an uptick of the behavior @Rodin describes.  

    • #23
  24. Spin Coolidge
    Spin
    @Spin

    I think  we should all be a lot kinder to each other.

    • #24
  25. Franco Member
    Franco
    @Franco

    Spin (View Comment):

    I think we should all be a lot kinder to each other.

    Lovely sentiment.

    However, I disagree. We should all be more honest and forthcoming with each other (nicely, of course)

    The cult of kindness is being exploited by evil people. Be careful of bestowing blanket kindness. The left has hacked the kindness and civility and morality of conservatives and exploited it. To me that’s evil. 

    But who can argue? Well, I will anyway…

    • #25
  26. Hoyacon Member
    Hoyacon
    @Hoyacon

    Franco (View Comment):

    Spin (View Comment):

    I think we should all be a lot kinder to each other.

    Lovely sentiment.

    However, I disagree. We should all be more honest and forthcoming with each other (nicely, of course)

    The cult of kindness is being exploited by evil people. Be careful of bestowing blanket kindness. The left has hacked the kindness and civility and morality of conservatives and exploited it. To me that’s evil.

    But who can argue? Well, I will anyway…

    “Kind” is a bit too subjective for me.  I prefer to focus on actual behavior, which is why I was on the fence about the sign.  There are few, if any, situations where it is acceptable to berate or belittle a person in harsh terms.  However, there is certainly a place for “constructive criticism,” and one could argue that it’s a customer’s right if done properly.  When one reads that sign, it conjures up images of loud, overbearing interactions, but is that really it?  Or is it about customers simply voicing dissatisfaction with a poor experience, combined with the inability of many young persons to take criticism of any kind?

    • #26
  27. Hoyacon Member
    Hoyacon
    @Hoyacon

    In the “too much time on my hands” file, I checked out the place online.  It’s a brew pub that serves some food, which surprised me because I don’t think of breweries as generally having customer relations problems, given their mission.  Yelp and TripAdvisor reviews were mostly positive, with nothing nasty.  There was one well-written review from a regular who was barred after he wrote about a negative experience on Facebook and was identified.  I will leave it up to your personal taste as to whether the name–The BrewErie in Erie PA–is a worthy pun or too cutesy.

    • #27
  28. James Salerno Coolidge
    James Salerno
    @JamesSalerno

    Hoyacon (View Comment):

    In the “too much time on my hands” file, I checked out the place online. It’s a brew pub that serves some food, which surprised me because I don’t think of breweries as generally having customer relations problems, given their mission. Yelp and TripAdvisor reviews were mostly positive, with nothing nasty. There was one well-written review from a regular who was barred after he wrote about a negative experience on Facebook and was identified. I will leave it up to your personal taste as to whether the name–The BrewErie in Erie PA–is a worthy pun or too cutesy.

    Because I’m a cynical bastard, a well-regarded restaurant putting up a “be nice to us” sign would make me suspicious.

    • #28
  29. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Hoyacon (View Comment):
    “Kind” is a bit too subjective for me.  I prefer to focus on actual behavior, which is why I was on the fence about the sign

    Your comment reminds me when I would do team conflict activities and people struggled with respecting another person; sometimes the person did not earn their respect. But I would say their behaving respectfully (which defined in detail) would take them a long way. Although they were sometimes grudgingly agree, they understood my point.

    I’d say the same thing about “being kind.” I can describe that–it’s a lot like acting respectfully: you are not sarcastic; your tone is calm, your language is moderate and you wouldn’t show angry behavior–waving your arms, raising your voice, etc. Now other people might describe being kind differently, but I’m sure we’d have some overlap.

    • #29
  30. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    James Salerno (View Comment):
    Because I’m a cynical bastard, a well-regarded restaurant putting up a “be nice to us” sign would make me suspicious.

    I love when people own their stuff, @jamessalerno! Good for you. I have my own stuff aplenty!

    • #30