Rude For Thought.

In the September 2009 issue of Travel+Leisure, Peter Jon Lindberg considers The World’s Rudest Restaurants. He does mention a few restaurants that are actually known for their rudeness, places where rudeness is part of the décor, such as London’s Wong Kei. It’s a Chinese restaurant where, so he claims, you can expect to be greeted with ” “SIT DOWN THERE YOU ORDER NOW NO MORE DUCK!” The place has even gained a cult following, although the problem with becoming known for such performances is that they may have started off as spontaneous outbursts but it’s hard to be rude to patrons when they expect it. Lindberg explains that “some veterans have even complained that the new employees are ‘too nice.'” What really interests Lindberg, though, is why people would go to a restaurant where they’re yelled at or treated rudely. He suggests maybe it’s ” to atone for our guilt over stuffing ourselves”, but then adds,

maybe it’s not so twisted and Freudian. Knowing the rules is a way of showing you belong, that you’re an insider—not some clumsy neophyte who thinks he can ask for ketchup. I remember being paralyzed with fear while waiting in line at the Beacon Drive-In, a greasy spoon in Spartanburg, South Carolina, where the scowling counterman shouts “TALK!” at each new customer and then sends him off to the pick-up area with “WALK!” Making it out of there with my burger alive was like surviving a skydive; my first thought was, Wow, I want to do that again.

An article from a January 1999 issue of MacLean’s called Dishing Up Rudeness describes Toronto’s Elbow Room Café, a place where the owner claimes “people will pay to be insulted”, and where customers also sometimes complain when staff are “too polite”.

Personally I don’t want to go to a place where I’m treated rudely–there’s a sushi place where my wife and I regularly get dinner. Maybe a little too regularly, but I love it that I can call them and as soon as I say, “Hi, I’d like place a to-go order” the guy who usually answers the phone replies, “Hi Chris, how are you?” As far as I know they’re polite to every one of their patrons, but being called by name–and sometimes having to say, “I’d just like the usual”–makes me feel more like an insider than some guy yelling, “ORDER AND GET OUT!” would. If I knew it was all an act, if it was all being said jokingly, it’d be easier to take, but I still won’t pay to be insulted. In that same MacLean’s article, Michael Pearce, director of the University of Western Ontario’s undergraduate business program, points out that by cutting customer service companies often undermine themselves. He says, ” [L]ook at the department stores…They cut back the service because sales were down, they were hurting, so what do they cut back? Payroll. You cut back the service and the sales go down more.”

People may actually be willing to pay a little more, and go a little further, for better service. There’s some real food for thought.