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Boston restaurateurs dish about rude customers

Maurice Vellekoop for The Boston Globe

The counterstrike was surprising, even in an age when nothing is surprising anymore on the Internet. A Beverly Hills, Calif., restaurateur, angry about patrons blowing off Saturday night reservations and not canceling them beforehand, shamed the no-shows on Twitter, by name.

“Hi Kyle Anderson,” began one screed from the owner of the upscale Vietnamese eatery Red Medicine, “I hope you enjoyed your gf’s bday and the flowers that you didn’t bring when you no-showed for your 815 res.”

Is skipping a reservation really egregious enough to warrant being called out publicly on the Internet, or was this just a case of a hot-headed restaurateur blowing off some steam? There may be no right answer. But with the Massachusetts restaurant industry rebounding to pre-recession levels, tables harder to come by, and the explosion of using social media to voice displeasure about the littlest of things, don’t be surprised to see tension between diners and restaurants heat up even more.

Parents are changing baby diapers in booths. Besotted pet owners are trying to sneak in small dogs. Smartphone addicts are ordering meals while chatting on their phones. The spoiled are threatening to rant on Yelp if (unreasonable) demands aren’t met. They’re sending back dishes because a pal’s entree looks better, and storming out if they’re not seated immediately. Boors are calling servers “Yo,” boasting about their wine cellars, demanding to switch tables. Locavores are interrogating servers about sourcing. The particular are using the menu as a list of ingredients, or claiming food allergies they don’t have. And the inconsiderate are skipping out on reservations.


OpenTable, the online reservation site, automatically deactivates the account of a diner who racks up four no-show reservations within a 12-month period. No local restaurateurs have yet to blast no-shows on social media, but in the tense but symbiotic relationship between host and guest, some hosts are taking action, albeit just a brave few.



In Needham, Sweet Basil chef Dave Becker ousts patrons who lie in an attempt to get around his policy of seating only complete parties. “They’re like a frontiersman trying to hold the table,” he says. “They’ll be like, ‘she’s just parking the car,’ and half an hour later the person still isn’t there.”

The dishonest, he says, are advised to eat elsewhere. “I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about unpleasant clientele and how to wrangle them and not let them ruin your day.”

When jm Curley opened in Downtown Crossing in late 2011, the owners printed rules of engagement on the menu. “The customer is NOT always right. However, the respectful customer is always right, and the [expletive] customer is always wrong,” reads one. And another: “It’s food and drink, not life and death. Don’t take yourself too seriously, we don’t.” And: “No groping, . . . mauling, sucking face, canoodling or heavy petting.”

There is no manners index tracking diner behavior, but Patrick Maguire, an industry veteran who’s writing a book called “Server Not Servant,” says a survey he conducted of more than 200 current and former service industry workers found that almost one out of five customers is impolite, disrespectful, or downright rude.


“Some [patrons] are not happy unless they’re miserable, or making someone else miserable,” says Maguire, a co-creator of jm Curley’s tongue-in-cheek-ish menu text.

It’s hard to say whether diners are getting ruder, but restaurant consultant Ed Doyle, of RealFood Consulting, says two trends have converged to create the (in some cases) overly entitled customer: “You’ve got the dining consumer who is better educated about food than ever, or thinks he is,” he says, “and we live in a world where you can get customized everything.”


Additionally, the dissolution of the wall between public and private behavior has led to the belief that a restaurant is a mere extension of the home, or man cave, as the case may be.

“Are you familiar with a ‘love sheep?’ ’’ Doyle asks, recalling a group of guys who installed a crude, inflatable sheep as a centerpiece at a high-end Boston restaurant, to the dismay of co-diners. “There are rude people in all aspects of life,” he says, “but in a restaurant you can be stuck next to them for hours.”

Marblehead-based etiquette consultant Jodi R.R. Smith says the problem may not be that customers are getting ruder, but rather that we’ve become increasingly intolerant of others’ behavior. “Everything we watch on TV is about judging others,” she says, mentioning, “The Bachelor,” “So You Think You Can Dance,” and “The Voice.” “That’s what we do for entertainment — judge others. When we turn off the TV we continue doing that.”


Ideally, she adds, a growing recognition of others’ behavior would prompt people to improve their own. “But that doesn’t always happen,” she says.

While the vast majority of diners are terrific, says Paul Sussman, the chef at Back Deck, in Downtown Crossing, a small number are seemingly impossible to please. He recalls a patron at Daddy-O’s — his former restaurant — who sent back her trout because the flesh was pink and she didn’t believe it was actually trout (a legitimate question, in light of the Globe’s 2011 series that revealed dozens of restaurants have mislabeled fish).


“The server came back out and explained that its color depends on its diet,” he says, “and it had probably been eating crustaceans. She said, ‘Now I can’t eat it because I’m kosher [and don’t eat shellfish].’ ”

Sometimes the problem is not the people who are in the restaurant. It’s those who aren’t. Some people not only blow off reservations without calling, but don’t even pretend to feel bad when the restaurant calls them, says the chef. “We had one guy who said he’d made three or four reservations [at different restaurants] so he could decide that night what he was in the mood for.” (Not Back Deck, as it turned out.)

“They just assume we’ll fill the table,” Sussman adds, “but it’s not that simple. You have to make sure that table is available if they do walk in the door, because if you gave it away, and they had to wait 15 minutes, you know they’d be furious.”

Beth Teitell can be reached at bteitell@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @bethteitell.