Late last week, our inbox was deluged with emails asking us to write about a story from the National Post in Canada, our fair neighbor to the North. The story pertained to a customer who won a $12,000 judgment against a steakhouse, supposedly for refusing to accommodate the customer’s germaphobia. The heavy implication was that our tipsters couldn’t wait until we started angrily shouting about it. Yeah … not so much, actually?
The story itself: an unnamed customer at Baton Rouge Steakhouse in Oakville, Ontario (Ontario is a province, which is like Canada’s version of a state, except none of them would be dumb enough to elect Tom Cotton), has received a pretty decent-sized judgment after he claimed he was mistreated by the restaurant. The customer, identified only by his initials “P.G.,” and his wife patronized the restaurant weekly for an unspecified but implied-to-be-significant amount of time with no issues. It wasn’t until September 2013, after the restaurant came under new ownership, that they started to have issues. P.G. apparently suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and germaphobia. He had a series of what he calls “very simple accommodations” including being sat away from other customers, cleaning the seats thoroughly before he sits down, serving his water without a lemon or straw, bringing his cutlery on a plate, and serving him his baked potato “how he liked” (articles are unclear how specifically he preferred his oven-roasted tuber, but given his other requests we are going to assume he required it be served by a left-handed clown who speaks only in limericks).
These are in no way “very simple accommodations.” These are, in fact, hugely annoying accommodations that would drive every server I know up a wall. That a court — the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal, no less — chose to side with him to the tune of $12,000 also, on the face of it, seems somewhat absurd.
So then why aren’t we yelling about this? Because of how the restaurant allegedly handled the issue when things finally came to a head:
[The customer] said the manager eventually came out and told him he was “high maintenance” and the staff no longer wanted to serve him.
He claimed the manager uttered words to the effect: “Now I know why the police shoot crazy people like you.”
NOPE. NOPE NOPE NOPE. BIG OLE NOPE. NOT OK. In no way is this acceptable, and if this did actually happen, it is 100% grounds for a lawsuit. Were a restaurant to say something like this on the basis of race or sexual orientation, they would be rightfully sued and buried in the court of public opinion. But they say it to a guy with mental issues and somehow that’s okay? Nah. Not there with you at all, if that’s your stance. And if you’re going to claim PSTD, OCD, and germaphobia aren’t real conditions? Get the fuck out of my office.
Now, that being said, this does not mean every restaurant has a responsibility to cater to every customer’s needs. If a customer were to ask for something like these not-at-all simple accommodations, in a just society, the restaurant has every right in the world to say to the customer, “I’m sorry, sir, but we’re unable to meet your needs. Perhaps it would be best if you tried another restaurant.” Indeed, though the law seems to be against this point (in Canada, anyway — it’s unclear how this would apply to US law), the restaurant should have the right to make that statement even after meeting the customer’s needs for an extended period of time, if they so choose. But they don’t have the right to say horrible, hurtful shit while doing so, as they’re alleged to in this case.
At the same time, we have a hard time believing servers wouldn’t have been willing to jump through these hoops if P.G. and his wife were great customers. The rule in this, as in all things, is simple: the more hassle you cause for your server (like, to name another example, if you have very destructive children), the nicer you are and the better you tip to make up for it. This is especially true if you’re a regular somewhere. The vast majority of servers don’t mind having to do extra work or accommodate a table’s unusual needs if they know the table is going to take care of them — and if things like these are your requirements, you damn well need to be taking care of them. You’re making your server go above and beyond for you, and if they’re willing to do that for you, you should be willing to do the same for them. That’s what the social contract is all about.
To sum up: customers who require special accommodations should be nice to their servers, you still shouldn’t be a hateful asshole even if the customer isn’t nice to you, and this story isn’t nearly so cut-and-dried as that Texas lunatic trying to sue a restaurant over a $2.25 cup of soup, the end.