Eat & Drink

Stop Rewarding Customers For Being A**holes

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Can we please move away from the narrative that the customer is always right? It seems pretty clear that if a customer verbally abuses a restaurant server for not putting enough ice cubes into a glass of iced tea, that customer is definitely not right. They’re an asshole. Yet it happens each and every day at restaurants across the country. And if a customer feels even the least bit slighted, their first line of defense is to call for a manager, or if they’re really upset, call corporate! This is the scene that follows:

Manager: How can I help you?

Customer: I am so angry!

Manager: Tell me what happened.

Customer: (insert inane complaint here).

Manager: I am so sorry to hear that. Please accept this complimentary gift card for you to come back another time so that we can give you a better experience.

Wait, what? That sounds like positive reinforcement, the operant conditioning tool of adding a reinforcing stimulus following a behavior that makes it more likely that the behavior will occur again in the future. It’s like when you’re house training a puppy and you give it a treat after it poops outside, except in this case you’re giving a customer a monetary reward for shitting all over a server. World-renown psychologist and behaviorist B.F. Skinner came up with this theory and I’m pretty sure he didn’t mean for a restaurant manager to reward an awful customer. Stop rewarding customers for bad behavior. Gift card, free desserts, and cocktails on the house should be reserved for good customers, not bad ones. Yet this is almost always the go-to action to satiate a complaining customer.

If the customer’s food fell to the floor and they had to wait an additional twenty minutes for their entree, by all means comp them something. If they found a short and curly in their tres leches, yes, absolutely give them another one. But if the customer complaint is based solely on them being a complainer for the sake of complaining, tell them you’re sorry they’re unhappy and show them the door. By gifting them with freebies, all it does is makes them think that what they are doing is oaky. The next time they go to another restaurant they will play the same card, complaining about as many things as possible all in the hopes that one complaint will stick and they’ll get a free slice of cheesecake out of it.

Even if the complaint is legitimate, let’s base the response on how they complained. No gift card should be offered if any of the following phrases escape their mouth:

  • Do you know who I am?
  • How dare you!
  • I have a huge social media following and will trash your restaurant.

In addition, if during their complaint session there are any insults about someone’s appearance, race, sexuality, or intelligence, there should be no reward. That would be like a puppy taking a dump on your rug and then immediately giving it a handful of Scooby Snacks. The asshole customer and the puppy will both think that what they did was good behavior.

Instead, let’s save those gift cards and free desserts for customers we want to come back to the restaurant. How about we reward people for good behavior instead? A customer tipped 25%? Give them a free shot! They spoke with the manager to praise the food and service? Give them a gift card! They berated a busboy for accidentally knocking over a glass of water? Get the fuck over it, it’s water. See how that works? Good behavior warrants reward. Bad behavior doesn’t. B.F. Skinner would be proud.

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Bitchy Waiter

Bitchy Waiter

Darron Cardosa is a writer, actor, singer, and waiter. He lives and and works in New York City and enjoys "The Brady Bunch," "The Facts of Life" and cocktails almost as much as he hates your baby.