A Memphis restaurant is taking some heat after leaving combative messages against a customer who complained about seeing the owner’s naked child running around the cafe. The bizarre incident is a true contender for the bad customer review hall of fame — and the competition is steep, given how many weird customer-restaurant owner Yelp clashes there have been lately.
Here’s what happened: A woman named Chelsea Bartley left a two-star Google review of the Imagine Vegan Cafe, saying that even though she “eat[s] here all the time” and “still probably will bc … there are few options,” was disturbed by a recent incident in which the restaurant owner’s “bare butt naked baby was running around, stood up on a table with its black theyre [sic] so dirty feet, and bent over to show me it’s b——-.” (This is a family newspaper! But she wrote that the baby showed the customer its, erm, bottom. You can read the whole thing here). She said the staff just stood there and laughed.
On their now-deleted Facebook page, the restaurant owner shot back: “I am about to start calling out names and pictures of people who leave us bad reviews, especially when it deals with our children. You will no longer be allowed to come and dine at Imagine. Especially when you lie about our babies.” In a later comment, the Facebook page posted, “If a one-year-old baby was upside down on a table showing everyone there [sic] [bottom] I don’t think that’s the biggest problem,” and chastised the bystanders of this theoretical scene for not “grabb[ing] the baby before they fell.” In other subsequent posts, the owners said they “couldn’t even begin to care about losing business” over the incident, which is good news for them, because they almost certainly will.
Unsurprisingly, the restaurant’s Yelp page has been flooded with, um, bottom-inspired reviews (Sample: “I was looking for microwaved vegan cuisine and baby [bottom] and I got it!). Some longtime vegan fans of the cafe have also come to its defense.
And that’s the most times I’ve ever used the word “bottom” in a story about restaurants.
In addition to the gross violations of allegedly putting dirty feet on tables and the gratuitous displays of bottoms, there are two other etiquette breaches here. When a customer has a problem in a restaurant, it’s considered better to raise it with a manager during the meal, rather than suffering in silence and posting on social media later. This gives a restaurant owner a chance to make it right — although it sounds like that may not have helped in this particular situation. The other is that restaurant owners who are in the business of hospitality should probably try to make it up to a customer who has had a truly bad experience and win their business back.
But there are also times when restaurateurs clearly think they have been unfairly maligned by customers, and they can’t suffer in silence. Remember these?
- Here in the District, the Washington City Paper reported that “Emma C.” complained about being overcharged for a drink by Nick’s Riverside Grill. The manager shot back, saying that Emma C. “lost control of [her] bowels,” and “our poor manager working that night was left to clean up your feces.” The original poster wrote back to defend herself, saying she was not the same party pooper.
- In England, a Berkshire pub owner got mad after a customer left a one-star review saying that the food was inedible. Owner Kiren Puri wrote: “You claim to be foodies. I have never met a self professed foodie start his meal with a bowl of chips.” Puri alleged that the customers were trying to get free food.
- In New Hampshire, a customer urged others to boycott a restaurant because her party was asked to stop singing “Bohemian Rhapsody” so loudly. “I sincerely apologize that you mistakenly thought my restaurant was a karaoke bar,” said the owner.
And there are other times when a restaurant owner goes totally crazy after seemingly justified criticism, as in these incidents:
- When a customer of a Bondi Beach, Australia, restaurant described a cafe as “Dirty. Ants. Burnt food. Extortionate prices,” the owner posted a lengthy, over-the-top screed that ended, “you just [expletive] on my art, in public.”
- And then there’s the unforgettable meltdown that was the Arizona cafe Amy’s Baking Company, subject of an infamous episode of Gordon Ramsay’s “Kitchen Nightmares.” Owners Samy and Amy Bouzaglo posted a series of unhinged rants, such as: “You are all just little punks.” “We will be pursuing action against you legaly [sic].” “My wife is a jewel in the desert. You are just trash.” “I AM NOT STUPID ALL OF YOU ARE. YOU JUST DO NOT KNOW GOOD FOOD.” and “YOU ARE DISGUSTING PIG PEOPLE, MADE FROM THE SLIME OF YOUR OWN HATRED.” They later claimed they had been hacked. The restaurant is no longer in business.
The reviews have become so bombastic that they inspired a segment on “The Tonight Show,” with host Jimmy Fallon and guest Aziz Ansari playing the roles of patron and owner.
As for Imagine Vegan cafe? It has deleted its social media accounts.
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