5 Reasons Restaurants Should Think Twice About Shaming Bad Customers

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Running a restaurant — which is often a narrow-profit, high-risk operation with frequent staff turnover — is not easy, and those employees and owners who do work hard sometimes feel like they only hear complaints from customers. So it’s not entirely surprising that some restaurant folks choose to use social media to shame bad customers, especially those who don’t tip well.

But on his Server Not Servant blog, industry vet Patrick Maguire gives an extensive list of reasons why this sort of shaming might not be the best idea.

Here are just a sampling:

1. The satisfaction is usually temporary, and often not worth it.

The Internet offers users multiple platforms on which to vent immediately for free. So when you’ve been wronged, it can feel so good to share that righteous fury with the world.

But it can backfire on you, as we saw last year when a Philadelphia restaurant posted a receipt from then-Eagles running back LeSean McCoy online because he’d left a $.20 tip on a $61.56 tab. This compelled McCoy to publicly explain that he’d received bad and rude service at the restaurant, and many people ultimately sided with him.

2. Potentially being accused of staging the incident for PR purposes.

This sort of accusation is normally made against “happy customer” stories shared online, like the reddit users who claimed, with little evidence, that this sunshine-y Warby Parker post was just viral marketing. But that door can swing both ways, with people accusing businesses of social-shaming bad customers just to make headlines. While that might improve your search results on Google, wouldn’t you rather have people think first about your food and service?

3. Huge distraction for FOH staff when future customers repeatedly ask about the incident.

When these stories go viral, a lot of people who come into the restaurant will want to ask, “So how bad was it really?” or make half-jokey comments like “I’m going to be nice to you so you don’t write about me on Facebook!” These are distractions that take away from regular service and an annoyance, especially to employees who weren’t involved in the shaming-related incident.

Speaking of which…

4. Inciting ex-employees with a legitimate ax to grind to unearth ugly truths. (Wrongful termination, etc.)

Any time a business puts itself out to the public as some sort of pillar of righteousness, there will undoubtedly be former employees who disagree. Even if those ex-workers were indeed fired for being incompetent or lazy, a headline-hungry media may be willing to give public voice to their opinions, putting the restaurant on the defensive.

5. The longer-term implications for the shamed could ultimately be more severe than their improprieties warrant.

What you may not realize when you post that receipt with the customer’s name on it — or when online detectives figure out the alleged bad customer’s true identity — is that you could be making this person the target of a nasty harassment campaign that goes much longer and to a much greater extent than you could have ever imagined. Should someone be bombarded with threatening e-mails or be put at risk of losing their job because they under-tipped or because they were rude?

“We all wish we could have moments back and could have handled things differently,” writes Maguire, who acknowledges that he’s not entirely innocent when it comes to shaming people through his blog. “As business owners, employees and customers, we can all learn from this recent spate of public shamings, and reflect on how we might respond the next time we’re tempted.”