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Restaurant Skirmish
Mom with a View

Restaurant Skirmish

Sometimes our kindness does more harm than good.


My husband and I went out to eat on a recent Saturday night. As is the case with almost every kosher restaurant these days, sushi was featured prominently on the menu and was one of the most popular offerings. And, as in the case with almost every kosher restaurant on a Saturday night, the place was packed.

We took the last two seats. There was one harassed waitress attending to all the patrons. At one point in the evening, one of the diners requested chopsticks. The waitress in turn asked the sushi chef. He too was overwhelmed by the crowd and none too patient. He tossed them aggressively at the waitress who responded by requested (in her justifiably annoyed tone of voice) that he not hit her with the chopsticks.

This scene, while not pleasant, would have quickly ended there if not for the outrage of another customer. She marched over to the owner to berate him about his disrespect of women and his negligence is not immediately jumping to his waitress’ defense.

Before long, everyone in the restaurant was involved, their opinion solicited by the vocal diner. Finally the owner threw up his hands in frustration and announced that he was closing the restaurant.

What interested me most was the disastrous result of good intentions. Although the customer felt very righteous in standing up for the needs of the waitress and was pleased to strike a blow for harassed and subjugated women everywhere, she may have actually done this employee more harm than good.

If she hadn’t said anything, the incident would have been quickly passed over. People lose their tempers and snap at each other in tense situations, but it doesn’t have to escalate. It wasn’t pleasant but perhaps the waitress was willing to put up with it. Perhaps the chef was responding to some earlier provocation on the waitress’ part.

Now both the owner and the sushi chef were embarrassed, with the waitress’ cry of distress the ostensible cause. The person most likely to suffer – to be criticized or even fired – would be the employee lowest on the totem pole, the one whose behavior may have contributed to the stress. You guessed it, the waitress.

This highlights in a unique way the important thinking before and during an act of kindness. The customer certainly meant well but is this what the waitress wanted? Was it to her benefit, or perhaps, unfortunately, to her detriment? Seeming acts of kindness can actually be destructive. The customer didn’t stop to analyze the consequences of her actions. She didn’t think about what was really in everyone’s best interests. Meaning well is not enough if your actions or words actually hurt people.

This story should give us all pause. I certainly learned a number of lessons from it, one of them being that next time we'll order take-out!

January 23, 2010

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Visitor Comments: 13

(13) SusanE, January 28, 2010 4:35 PM

Sounds Like a Familiar Story.

My 3 friends who had retired early, ran a lovely high end bed and breakfast 25 years ago in a tourist area of New Jersey on the Delaware. They were perfect hosts. Food was lovely, all local, and cooked to order in the mornings. Crisp white tablecloths, fresh flowers. Customers came down from New York for the weekends. They could accomodate about 50 guests at a time. It was furnished with beautiful furnishings and highlighted with antiques. (thats how I got to know them) They were booked for weeks ahead because the the rooms, the food, and the service was charming. After a few years, the rooms stayed 85% filled with friends who told friends who had friends. The owners made plans for them and accomodated parties and special occassions, and went to trouble for special requests.. There were just a few rooms of 'outside customers'. After a while the patrons thought it was their exclusive domain. The B&B owners always welcomed guests to their lovely B&B, now the guests acted like the owners were THEIR employees. My friends decided to close that beautiful place. It was in part because the customers were so nasty and demanding. ---------- Perhaps the owner of the restaurant threw up his hands and closed his restaurant for the same reasons my friends did. He had enough of nasty customers.

(12) Anonymous, January 28, 2010 5:08 AM

To #10

Whoa! That's a whole lotta assumptions about a place you don't know! And a lot of heavy emotion there too!! "May his diner remain closed." Huh? That's pretty heavy, based on one story. " When an owner is that understaffed, there are usually mice or rats on the premises." Interesting leap. "In your restaurant, the top is very low, not good enough. Sorry." And you know this based on reading this story? Wow. "The waitress looking after a whole diner can easily find work at a better run establishment. The cook might have a few more problems finding other employment , but sushi is in so, it should be easy for him too." I see you feel you know a lot about the economic opportunities in that locale, and you'd like things to go your way... Methinks if the waitress is working here, she's glad for the job. Same for the chef. I think it's quite condescending for you to purport you know better than the waitress what's good for her, and where she should work. If you had respect for her, you would recognize that she is intelligent enough to make her own decisions, and you would respect her decision to be exactly where she is.

(11) Yitzchak, January 27, 2010 10:58 PM


Let's all convert Saturday Night Sushi into something like... a MOTZEI SHABBOS TORAH SHIUR! Then we won't have any chopstick shailos!

(10) Anonymous, January 27, 2010 7:13 AM


I like that the female customer went to bat for the waitress. The owner is to blame. One waitress for the whole diner !? On a saturday night when even you know kosher restaurants are packed ?! The owner should have been a second helper. May his diner remain closed. Someone else will open up a better run diner. When an owner is that understaffed, there are usually mice or rats on the premises. Take-out from this restaurant might be okay for you, but not me. It's a fairly common axiom. It's not only cleanliness, overworked staff are not as clean in serving. they are forced to cut corners. An accidental sneeze, a hair drops into food, you name it. Been there, seen ti happen. The waitress looking after a whole diner can easily find work at a better run establishment. The cook might have a few more problems finding other employment , but sushi is in so, it should be easy for him too. You would not catch me eating anything from this diner. I have been in very busy restaurants, and staff scurrying madly to keep up. You can see teamwork and professionalism. It comes from the top. In your restaurant, the top is very low, not good enough. Sorry.

(9) Rachel, January 27, 2010 2:43 AM

Maybe the customer wasn't just standing up for the waitress...

...but against a perceived pattern of sexual harrassment or gender discrimination. If a man throws an object at another woman, I am going to be offended because it seems to me that such a man might well treat me in the same manner, because saying nothing suggests that I have no problem with men mistreating women, that my daughter should expect to be treated as a second-class citizen who may be subjected to gender-based violence, that my son should understand that it's ok to throw things in a moment of temper as long as it's "only" at a waitress, etc. I am basing my comments on what I read in this article. If Ms. Braverman thinks the customer was wrong, she needs to do a better job of explaining why -- because as far as I'm concerned, we're all in this together. Sort of like Moshe Rabbeinu killing the abuser of his fellow Hebrew -- even though he then had to flee when he intervened in a dispute between 2 Hebrews, one of whom then accused him of the "Murder" of the Egyptian....

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