The Next Restaurant Challenge—The Unsatisfied Guest

Excited to return to their favorite restaurants, guests look forward to the same quality of service and food that left them wanting more. Yet many are finding that the experience they long for has changed. Pent-up demand and high expectations have proven challenging for restaurants still in recovery mode.

Many guests are unaware that restaurant operators are facing unique issues. A disrupted supply chain, increasing prices, and a labor shortage have left many with not enough product, significant changes in overhead, and too few hands to accomplish the many tasks demanded in the restaurant industry.

Unfortunately, some diners don’t want to hear excuses. They want to know that their money will be well spent on an enjoyable dining experience. Some guests are so upset about the disruption in their services that, well, they’ve gotten a little mean.

The New York Times reported on a farm-to-table restaurant on Cape Cod that has experienced its share of unsatisfied guests. Some were unhappy when a menu item was unavailable. Others became annoyed due to long wait times or when the table they had reserved wasn’t available. The latter group threatened to sue.

Tired of the verbal abuse their employees received from these unhappy guests, the owners of Apt Cape Cod, Brandi and Regina Felt Castellano, decided to close the restaurant down for a “Day of Kindness.”

The owners reported that since Massachusetts allowed reopening with no restrictions on May 29, the treatment of their employees, which include their two children, has “gotten worse.” Brandi Felt Castellano said she has never witnessed this type of rudeness in her 20 years in the industry.

Other Restaurant Operators Agree

A post on Facebook about the restaurant’s experience and decision to close for a day received 546 comments and 356 shares. The posts were very much along the line of one by Dorria DiManno, “I’m so sorry for your staff. Sadly, this seems to be the way people are behaving at many Cape businesses this season.”

Other restaurant operators posted that they have had similar experiences.

Even during the pandemic, as the world and those in the industry adjusted to changing demands and restrictions, restaurants reported unacceptable behavior by their guests. For example, WPRI reported on a popular Rhode Island ice cream shop that closed one of its locations last summer after another incident in which customers were rude to their staff, the majority of which are teenagers.

The Please Be Kind Toolkit

It’s gotten so bad that hospitality leaders in Massachusetts and Rhode Island launched public service campaigns designed to remind consumers that restaurants are still in recovery mode after a year of shutdowns and social distancing. The campaign urges people to “be more patient and kind to the servers and staffers tasked with taking care of them,” as reported by the Boston Globe. One digital billboard read, “Thanks for your PATIENCE as we RESTAFF & REOPEN our RESTAURANTS.”

The Rhode Island Hospitality Association developed a “Please Be Kind Toolkit.” Part of this kit is posters which can be placed in restaurants’ windows. One read: “Welcome back. We are experiencing a staff shortage. We ask that you please be kind and patient with the staff that are working. Thank you!”

The kit also includes a list of mental health resources designed for staff that may be struggling under the weight ofguest increased demands caused by employee shortages and disgruntled customers.

The Globe also reported on the odd demands one employee at a Providence restaurant experienced. When the wind started to pick up in the outdoor dining area, customers asked, “Is there anything you can do about this?”

Nation’s Restaurant News reported on Lisa W. Miller, a Dallas-based consumer market strategist who has tracked consumer sentiments since the start of the pandemic. Miller’s June survey found that 43% of respondents were frustrated with staffing and that the intent to revisit or return had dropped.

So, how do restaurants retain the customer experience so as not to impact future visits? Miller suggests that operators ensure their seating capacity aligns with staffing capacity. Of course, this may mean staggered seating and guests who don’t understand why there are open tables, while they are still waiting.

While it’s understandable that guests want to experience the best in services and food when dining out, it’s also important to remember that, in our current environment, your bartender may be doubling as the chef, and your server may be involved in prep. Restaurants are doing what they can to stay open, and we’ll all just have to be a little patient as the “new normal” redefines itself and the world readjusts.

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