Saturday 17 November 2012

How to get banned

A few years ago we were approached by a guy we knew who ran a restaurant. He asked for advice about an awkward situation he’d had. Had he done the right thing?

A customer arrived at his restaurant with a friend one weekend morning and they had ordered coffee and cake. Shortly afterwards she called the owner over and told him that she didn’t like the taste of the cake. Ignoring the fact that she had eaten almost all of it before deciding it wasn’t to her taste he apologized profusely and told her she wouldn’t have to pay for it. In fact she wouldn’t have to pay for her coffee either. She seemed happy and went away.

The following weekend she was back and guess what, exactly the same thing happened again. Having consumed almost all of a different cake she made exactly the same complaint. Although he was beginning to get a little cross he did the same thing again, apologized and reduced her bill to say sorry. Again she went away happy.

The next weekend the same thing happened yet again. This time he was a bit more assertive. His patience had worn thin and he politely told her that as his cakes clearly weren’t to her taste maybe she should think of eating elsewhere in future. For the third and final time he cancelled her bill and wished her farewell.

She came back the following weekend. This time he refused to serve her. He reminded her of the previous occasions when she had suffered cake she claimed not to like and that he’d suggested she select a different restaurant in future. She was stunned. Only when he made it clear to her that she wasn’t going to be served at his restaurant again did she understand. She’d been banned. Eventually she left, muttering and promising to wreak vengeance upon the restaurant and it’s owner for the rudeness she’d experienced.

Was he correct to do this? Had he abused her rights? Had he done something wrong?

Of course not. Don’t you agree? He was perfectly within his rights to ban her. She was clearly enjoying getting a free meal and while it was OK perhaps the first time she was now going too far. She was costing him money, time, food and peace of mind.

It’s often forgotten that service isn’t a fundamental human right. Being able to buy cake from a restaurant isn’t like the right to life, to vote or to freedom of speech. You have a right to buy things but you have no right to demand that any particular person or supplier sells you things. This lady’s right was to buy coffee and cake but she had no right to demand that a particular restaurant sell it to her, particularly given her conduct.

Of course he had to do so as courteously as possible, but he had a right to decline to serve her in future. Her right to free cake had expired.

More recently I heard of another restaurant that banned some customers. This time it wasn’t a demand for free cake, it was slightly more serious. The details aren’t entirely clear, or even that important, but a meeting over coffee (maybe caffeine is the common link?) ended up with one customer’s laptop being seized by another, a lot of subsequent shouting and one of them ending up on his back on the floor outside the restaurant. The Police were eventually involved.

The private problem that these people had with each other isn’t the issue. The issue is whether the restaurant manager was then right to do what he next did. He banned everyone involved from his restaurant, saying such behavior was unacceptable in his restaurant, he had other customers to consider as well as the interests of his staff.

This caused some outrage from the banned customers. The problem rapidly changed from fighting customers to the conduct of the manager. But surely that’s a distraction? I think the situation is perfectly simple. If you and a friend have a fight in my house I’m perfectly entitled to throw you both out and tell you never to come here again. If two of our customers come to my office and start a fight I’m within my rights to kick them out as well. I don’t see any difference with the restaurant situation. The restaurant is private property in the same way that my house and office are private property, the conduct of the customers was dangerous and threatening and I, for one, don’t want to be in a restaurant where things like this are allowed to happen, do you?

One brief update. I heard later that one of the customers was in the habit of visiting the restaurant early in the morning, ordering one coffee, sitting there occupying a four-person table and using their free wireless network to run his business for several hours without ordering anything else. That’s just rude.

I spend a lot of my time criticizing suppliers and stores but it’s not just them that can be in the wrong. Sometimes it’s customers as well who can be wrong. Some customers are unreasonable, just like some store managers can be unreasonable. Sometimes it’s the customer who’s a real jerk.

Sometimes it’s the customer who seems to be asking for trouble by demonstrating a level of naivete that is staggering. Like the person I heard of yesterday who had just given P400,000 to the Eurextrade Ponzi scheme scam. Sometime I think there are people who shouldn’t be allowed out of their house with their mother.

So I urge you to be a reasonable customer. Treat people offering you products and services with the respect they deserve and offer them the courtesy you would like them to offer you. It’s not a miracle cure but it can only make life easier for you and I guarantee you’ll get better service as a result. You might also avoid being banned.

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