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Opinion: The Customer Is Not Always Right

Rude customers used to be tolerated, but no more. With social media at their fingertips, business owners are fighting back and taking no prisoners.

Ever suffered the unpleasant experience of having to listen to someone's loud telephone conversation while eating dinner at a restaurant and wondered why a waiter didn’t ask the person to quiet down? Or, watched as a customer berated a sales clerk in a store over some minor issue and wondered why the clerk didn’t shout back and defend herself?

It’s because of that old adage in retail, “The customer is always right."

Except, it’s not always true these days. Business owners are beginning to stand up for themselves, using social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter to express their opinions and fight back.

Please Stay in Your Seat During the Show

On Saturday, I accompanied some friends to the Machine nightclub in The Fenway to see a play, the Gold Dust Orphans’ production of Peter Pansy, A musical adventure in faggotry. As you might gather from the title, it's a tongue-in-cheek, raunchy comedy.

During the first act, I noticed that a couple of people kept walking from the audience to behind the curtain. I figured they must be part of the tech crew or something.

Nope. Turned out, they were patrons who had decided to walk backstage (multiple times) of their own volition. It was mildly distracting but I thought nothing of it until after the show, when the troupe’s founder and director, Ryan Landry, verbally thrashed them, telling the audience that he had thrown the group out halfway through the performance.

By the next day, the incident was all over Facebook, with Landry exchanging verbal volleys with one of the instigators. “You and your friends threw your little party, running in and out of our dressing room, walking across the stage even when you were told to stop, trampling all over our set pieces that we worked so hard on.”

Exactly how you should behave during a show about “cocaine, drag queens, and filth, in the basement of a rundown gay club," as a Yelp! reviewer described it, might be a fair question. But, in truth, we all know: Sit quietly before the show, turn off your cell phones, laugh at funny jokes, applaud at the end, then exit. These rules haven’t changed.

When You’re in a Coffee Shop, Buy a Cup of Coffee

A similar type of incident took place in the South End this week, this one involving a café owner, a customer, and a computer.

Jaho Coffee on Washington Street is a warm, comfortable kind of place with lots of tables and several long bars (I wrote this column while sitting in it) - the kind of place that has ‘apple tartlet’, ‘cheese flan’ and ‘broccoli cheddar stratta’ on its menu, with the requisite “alt-indie” music playing overhead. And free wi-fi.

Well, free wi-fi … for paying customers, that is.

Apparently, one of the owners at Jaho was not pleased that one of its visitors was allegedly making a habit of coming in for the free wi-fi, but never ordering anything.

As all things do these days, the conversation made its way to the Internet, on Twitter (edited for spelling/punctuation/privacy):

@xxangry_customerxx: @jahocoffee Hope your café does well with its terrible treatment [of] customers. #Boston #Restaurants #cafe #terrible #southend

@jahocoffee: @xxangry_customerxx You're not a customer. You're a guy who comes in for free water. #clueless #immature #leech #Boston #southend #stayhome

Boom! Take that. (You can read the entire twitter conversation here: Just told to order something or GTFO.) (Hat tip to Universal Hub for the link.)

I would never suggest that a business owner should lose his/her temper with a customer. (I mean, I would, but that’s why I don’t work in retail or the restaurant business.) But, in this case, the customer seems to have been at fault and he pushed it by taking his complaint to a public forum. The owner had no choice but to respond. (For a refreshing look at what workers have to deal with, visit the Server Not Servant blog.)

Bottom line, although we live in an ever-changing world, proper etiquette is expected and appreciated.

If you’re looking to have some coffee and conversation (and, potentially ending up in a Twitter flame war), here some options in your neighborhood:

South End coffee shops
Charlestown coffee shops
Jamaica Plain coffee shops
Back Bay coffee shops

BosGuy May 26, 2011 at 07:50 PM
I have to say that my sympathies are with Ryan (and the gold dust orphans) as well as Jaho Coffee owners. Even business owners have a right to expect common decency. Certainly its up to the owner as to how they choose to deal with an unruly customer, but I can't help but sympathize with Ryan and Jaho in this case and hope it serves as a wake up call to both the rude / unruly attendees to the play as well as the 'mooch' too cheap to spring for a coffee or coke. Jeesh... BosGuy
Cookie May 26, 2011 at 11:12 PM
Hurray for both of them! I see this type of rude behavior way too often. People with cell phones, when in a coffee shop, etc. take your conversation outside please.
Anna Rubin May 31, 2011 at 02:01 PM
Great piece! Thanks for the entertaining read.

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