‘Difficult customers a minority’

By Emily Hawkins

- Last updated on GMT

Vocal minority: pubs have said the majority of customers have been guidance-compliant and respectful
Vocal minority: pubs have said the majority of customers have been guidance-compliant and respectful

Related tags Coronavirus Tripadvisor Review mental health Cornwall Abuse Branding + marketing Food

Since reopening, many pub operators have taken to social media to lament experiences of customers being rude to pub staff or leaving unreasonable reviews online.

Some operators have said the level of abuse staff have experienced has been unprecedented, be it someone taking issue with Covid-secure protocols or complaining about delayed services.

Chef owner Nick Hemming said he had never experienced anything like the treatment of staff since reopening in his years at the Heron Inn at Malpas, Cornwall.

Abusive behaviour was particularly bad during the Eat Out to Help Out (EOTHO) scheme, which the operator ultimately decided to stop participating in after he had safety concerns about the numbers of people turning up.

“Since we have done that [EOTHO] the backlash on TripAdvisor and the abuse we have received from people that just want the offer has been pretty disappointing,” Hemming explained.

“We have been here for four years and never seen that kind of behaviour from the public, the operator said."

Shouting abuse

Hemming has also experienced the frustration of customers not turning up for bookings.

“People can pick up the phone, people don't need to shout abuse at staff because they don't want to order online, they don't see the point in it," he said. "Well, actually it is the safest way of placing orders and to minimise contact. It works. But some people don't like the change and don't want to try it.

“I have had people say to me ‘no we are not doing contract-tracing, we think it is a Government conspiracy, they're trying to spy on us’. It's just ludicrous.”

“I'd be happy to get this year out the way and focus on what Cornwall's really about, people who appreciate good food, drink, hospitality service and the county itself.”

Another pub to implore customers to show more courtesy was Tyne and Wear pub the Cliff in Sunderland. While the majority of customers had been supportive and considerate during busy days, the team had “fell victim to rudeness, walk outs, many no shows and the phone being put down on us,” it said in a Facebook post.


Kris Hall, founder of hospitality mental health initiative The Burnt Chef Project, noted the Government’s discount scheme had upped the pressure for pubs still adjusting to ‘the new normal’.

"While the Eat Out Help Out Scheme has been instrumental in driving business at a time when hospitality was on its knees, and consumer confidence was at an all time low, it has put many teams under immense pressure due to reductions in operational capacity and a noticeable increase in trade,” he explained.

“It's difficult to say if [EOTHO] has resulted in an increase in customer complaints or if it's being noticed more due to the circumstances but I do believe, from what we've been reading, that the majority of customers have been accommodating and understanding,” Hall added.

Many people in the sector related to a Facebook post from the project, which urged customers to have compassion for busy staff when leaving online reviews.


Hall said: “There are obviously going to be those who reserve their right to raise, what they feel, are inadequacies in service but it does seem to be that a percentage of those are waiting until they get home to use the medium of digital feedback (Trip Advisor) to air their grievance rather than speaking to staff at the time and giving them an opportunity to address the problem."

“The Burnt Chef Project thinks that the hospitality industry, especially the staff, coped incredibly well with the increase in trade given there was very little notice."

Thankfully, the British Institute of Innkeeping’s (BII) members also said they had only experienced small numbers of customers being difficult or rude since reopening.

“We’ve only really had two difficult customers, one was as a result of our staff politely asking him to adhere to social distancing guidelines. Thankfully our staff were well trained and confident when attending to this,” one anonymous BII member said.

Respectful space

Another anonymous operator said they had become more confident to withdraw service to customers not respecting staff or following Covid-secure guidance.

They said: “There have been very few occasions where we’ve had customers not wanting to adhere to the guidelines, and in the end, their fellow customers helped back us up. 

“The pub feels like my house, I invite people into it and welcome them in, but if they can’t respect the Government guidelines then I’m afraid we will withdraw service. Once you do that, and other customers are complying with using hand sanitiser and distancing, then after a few moments they feel a bit silly and leave by themselves.”

Complacent behaviour

BII chief executive, Steven Alton said August trading had been stronger than expected thanks to Government incentives and staycations.

“However, this has come with real challenges with many operating with smaller teams, trading at significantly reduced capacity and having to engage their staff and customers in new operating procedures," he said. "Customers in the main have played their part in working with pubs to enjoy great hospitality safely, however, there have been exceptions with some customers increasingly becoming complacent on following the guidelines within pubs.  

“The industry needs everyone to play their part in allowing our pubs to continue providing great hospitality safely for everyone.”

His words echo those of a joint letter from industry chiefs and operators in Greater Manchester published last month which urged the public to follow social distancing guidance when visiting pubs in the area.

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