Restaurants Push Back on Violent Customers

Liz Carey

Erie, PA ( – Some restaurants are pushing back against customer outbursts that have increasingly become violent since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Across the country, restaurant employees have become the target of customer frustrations, sometimes in violent outbursts.

Recently, in Sacramento, a customer threw a drink and a tip jar at an employee at The Coconut on T because there wasn’t a cold glass for his beer. At the beginning of September in Sacramento, a customer attacked a worker at a Chinese restaurant over a missing egg roll.

Two weeks ago in New York City, a group of six tourists attacked a hostess at Carmine’s Italian Restaurant for asking for proof of vaccination, per Mayor Bill deBlasio’s orders.

Since then, the NYC Hospitality Alliance has called on the city and state to do something to protect hospitality employees.

“We’re calling on the City and State of New York to immediately increase penalties for assaulting restaurant workers in New York City in conjunction with enforcement of Covid-19 protocols,” Andrew Rigie executive director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance said.

But some restaurant owners have had enough and are acting on their own.

In Essex, Maryland, the owners of Icy Delights posted video of an altercation on their Facebook page Sept. 28, asking for help in identifying a couple who threw food at the 15-year-old employee who was waiting on them.

Sharon Gay, the owner of Icy Delights, a small Maryland-based chain, said the customers got upset over a food order. First, she said, they ordered three Snowballs – a dessert with crushed ice, flavored syrup and marshmallow topping – and asked for extra marshmallow topping. When they got the Snowballs, though, they complained there was too much marshmallow and asked the employee to re-make them. When the employee gave the new desserts to the customers, they complained that there wasn’t enough marshmallow.

“She told them ‘I can’t re-make them, what do you want me to do? I gave you extra marshmallow, I gave you regular, and you’re saying neither one of them is correct.’” Gay told The Today Show. “And that’s when the snowballs started hurling.”

Gay posted video of the incident on the company’s Facebook page asking for help identifying the couple who ultimately threw five desserts and a tip jar at the employee. She said she also plans on restricting the couple from visiting again, while the employee’s mother is planning on pressing charges.

A Hardee’s restaurant in Seffner, Fla., is pressing charges after a father and son duo attacked two of its employees.

The Hillsboro County Sheriff’s office said it is looking for Jeffrey Thomas Jackson and his son, Hunter Thomas Jackson, after the two men got into an argument with one of the restaurant’s employees on Sept. 23. The argument escalated into an attack, deputies said.

When another restaurant employee, who was a minor, tried to intervene, the two also attacked him. The two men face charges of burglary of structure with assault and aggravated child abuse.

In Hawaii, where state and local regulations require customers to provide proof of vaccination to dine inside, some restaurants are hiring extra staff to deal with the tension-creating mandates.

“We’ve had to hire additional security, which doesn’t look good to customers because this is a nice, formal restaurant and not what you want to see when you first arrive,” Javier Barberi of Down the Hatch and Mala Tavern in Maui told “Good Morning America”. “Now we have to hire a male host, additional security and who pays for it? … these things aren’t free. There’s no restaurant relief left. There’s no government assistance coming from the PPP.”

Other owners are taking less extreme steps.

In August, Mike McNamara, founder of Hog Island Beer Co. in Orleans, Massachusetts, posted on his company’s Facebook page the hashtags #thecustomerisnotalwaysright and #goodvibesonly, with a post saying the restaurant wanted customers with “good vibes only.”

“If you don’t have these or know what they are, please find another place to spend your money. We have all worked very hard to create a fun, cool, laid back environment to share with each other,” the post said. “To the 97% of y’all who are awesome – thank you. To the remaining 3% of you – your mother called and she has a bar of soap for you to chew .”

McNamara said he created the post after an incident where a man badgered a teenage hostess over seating.

According to a report by Black Box Intelligence and Snagajob, 62 percent of employees surveyed reported emotional abuse or disrespect from customers.

In response to the increase in customer outbursts, the Rhode Island Hospitality Association started a “Please Be Kind” campaign to help hospitality businesses and their employees. The association, which represents more than 900 restaurants and hotels, created posters and social media posts asking customers to be understanding during this period of labor and supply shortages, as well as a poster for employers that includes links to mental health resources for hospitality workers.

“I think we just need to remind people that we are all doing the best we can with the resources that are available to us right now,” Dale J. Venturini, the president and chief executive of the Rhode Island Hospitality Association, told the New York Times. “I think it’s pent-up demand. People do not have the same patience that they may have had in the past, and I’m hoping that’s going to change.”

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