Restaurants say customers have ‘forgotten how to be human’ since reopening

<p>“Her husband stood at the doorway and was like, ‘She’s hungry! She needs her food right now!’”</p>

“Her husband stood at the doorway and was like, ‘She’s hungry! She needs her food right now!’”

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Diners have become increasingly difficult to tolerate since establishments reopened, according to restaurant owners who spoke with SFGate.

Vi Nguyen, owner of Vanessa’s Bistro in Berkeley, California, told the publication that “people who were already nice prior to the pandemic are super nice, and people who were a little bit difficult to deal with pre-pandemic are now completely just unbearable to even serve.”

Nguyen recalled a recent incident, when a customer stood in the kitchen doorway to “yell” after a server made a slight error. “Not talk, yell,” Nguyen reiterated. “This was the beginning of the reopening, and we had a line of takeout orders. Her husband stood at the doorway and was like, ‘She’s hungry! She needs her food right now!’”

Nguyen also spoke of another encounter, during which a gentlemen howled, “I don’t understand why you guys don’t have more tables out here,” as he didn’t want to wait for one to open up. “They were just super rude,” she said. “Where exactly do you want me to put all of these extra tables? In the road, where the cars drive?” Nguyen asked him to leave the next time he tried to come in. In total, Nguyen had to ban and/or remove at least 86 “regulars” due to unruly behaviour since reopening.

Mina Makram, founder of Palo Alto bakery Misfits Bakehouse, has observed the same astonishing attitude from the bakery’s clientele. “I’ve been seeing a huge rise in people just forgetting to be human,” she said. “People have been staying at home for a year and a half, but everyone in the service industry has been busting our butts ... and this is what we’re getting now.”

One of Makram’s customers ordered bread pickup for the day before Memorial Day — but didn’t show up until the following Wednesday. The customer then “made a scene” upon realising her order was no longer available, giving the bakery a one-star review on Yelp for not providing a refund.

“Then she filed a fraudulent claim with her bank,” Makram continued. “The bank withdrew the amount from the order from us but also fined us $15. … She stole from the bakery as far as I can see.”

Customers seem to believe that the pandemic is “over,” and so restaurants are back to business as usual — no harm, no foul. In reality, however, many are still recovering from the pandemic and its after-effects, ranging from issues with food supply to labor shortages.

“People just expect everything to be perfect, as if we weren’t dealing with a labor shortage, dealing with new systems that were put into place during the pandemic, having to juggle managing takeout flow and unpredictable service, an all new front-of-house staff … the list is just endless,” said Sergio Emilio Monleón, co-owner of La Marcha Tapas Bar in Berkeley.

Monleón explains that the shortage has forced many restaurants to hire new, and younger, staff, meaning some may not be of age to try wine selections, for example, or just generally not have enough experience to match current customers’ demands. What’s more, the likelihood of running out of certain items is increasing — leading to a surge in consecutive customer complaints.

“Somebody went to Yelp over an item that we ran out of at eight o’clock on a Saturday, and she canceled her entire order,” said Monleón. “... It was like 10 or 15 items we were already making.”

Danny Stoller, co-owner of Square Pie Guys, concurs. “Basically every supply chain and every supplier is pretty gunked up right now. We’ve had a series of issues with chicken. … And we had a period of time where our custom takeout boxes just never showed up. So we ended up having to pivot really quickly.”

Square Pie Guys has also fallen victim to negative Yelp reviews: One user complained that they tried to order a few minutes before closing time, then the restaurant stopped taking orders. Indeed, the online portal automatically stops accepting orders before closing — which the customer didn’t seem to realise — or care to find out.

“... Why is that a bad Yelp review? Can there be some trust? Of course we don’t want to turn orders down, it’s not personal,” said Stoller.

Stoller also believes the restaurant industry is at a “major reckoning,” and hopes customers will eventually acknowledge their part in helping establishments heal.

“We’re all in it together,” he said. “And there’s not a single person in any industry that’s actively trying to screw anyone over, or provide poor service, or just be a bad owner.”

Nguyen also wishes diners would try and practice patience and compassion before berating restaurant staff who are simply doing the best they can with the current circumstances.

“I didn’t pay rent for eight months, you know, I took out a cash advance so that I could keep up with payroll, so my staff could stay employed,” said Nguyen. “Just be more understanding, more kind, more patient. I think patience is the key.”

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