Eek! 2020 Restaurant Nightmares
Halloween has a long and creepy history, dating back to the Celtic Festival of Samhain some two millennia ago. During that time, cultures have collided. There have been numerous pandemics, plagues, wars, and plenty of other real-world horror shows that evolved the celebration, including the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918. Unless you’re a centenarian or a mummy, you probably don’t remember much about the previous Halloween gatherings around the world. Fear not (teehee!), we’ve gathered a mixed bag of 2020 restaurant nightmares to give everyone some juicy campfire stories to share, along with ways that you might be able to avoid them the next time around.
The Little Rock Brawl
Even before the pandemic, it was no secret that restaurant work is stressful. There’s an approximately 70% annual turnover rate to highlight this, a rate that 2020’s pandemic-related lockdowns have increased. Restaurateurs have endured tighter budgets and greater expectations for public safety, which has led to the National Restaurant Association to devise training protocols to curtail the potential for conflict.
This was likely inspired by events like summer 2020’s brawl that broke out in Little Rock, Arkansas,. The fight occurred between guests with differing opinions on the value of social distancing, with restaurant staff in the middle. Imagine working there during the incident, unaware of what to do. If you intercede, you run the risk of further angering customers — or even retaliation. If you don’t, you may be implicated as complicit by your safety-minded guests. What to do?
To start, properly mark off different areas in your business by removing unnecessary tables. Second, consider requiring patrons to get on a waitlist before seating or delivery pickup. You can do that through contactless technology that utilizes smartphones and QR codes. The added benefit here is that your restaurant technology can communicate with guests via SMS texting, alleviating the need for any gathering at all.
-Syd Bishop, Content Marketing Skeleton
Bad Employees = Bad Press
There’s no debating that unmotivated and unpleasant employees can cause issues for your restaurant. Just ask this pizza chain. In 2009, employees took videos of them contaminating food, including sneezing on it and putting it up their noses. This was a press and legal disaster for the brand. Soon after the video took wind, a lawsuit was filed against the chain for the employee’s actions, costing the company large cash sums.
Keeping your employees happy should be paramount to your business’ operations and is pivotal to avoiding more 2020 restaurant nightmares. You rely on them to provide superior service to your customers, fuel return visits, and increase sales. Given the 21st century technology, you could suffer the consequences of unpleasant employees more than ever through social media and bad press.
Does your restaurant have a strategy to keep your employees happy and motivated at work?
-Forrest McCall, Digital Marketing Wizard
Is It Something You Said?
We’re in the midst of weird times. Saying the wrong thing is itself a 2020 restaurant nightmare and can cost operators their business. Sometimes the general public’s reaction is out of operator control, but it never looks good when operators don’t address the issues promptly. Sometimes it’s hard to tell how to correctly toe the line in the world of social media where restaurants want to stand out from crowded platforms.
A specific example happened this summer with a Baltimore restaurant, seafood restaurant. The restaurant is known for baiting fights with vegans on Twitter. In this instance, they retweeted an image of vegan crab cakes with a photo of Will Smith looking on disapprovingly. In response, the restaurant owner that tweeted the crab cakes received a slew of hateful messages, some that were racist in nature.
The restaurant posted an apology and removed the tweets, condemning unsavory comments. However, not before digging into the criticisms and throwing in a few more jokes. Our take? Social media is a place to be unique and stand out with a specific brand voice, but there needs to be a balance between standing out and setting the scene for hateful comments.
What’s your restaurant’s social media strategy? How can your restaurant handle conflict on social media?
–Devyn Nance, Marketing Coordinating Vampire
The Best $1.49 Buffet Money Can Buy!
Here’s a 2020 restaurant nightmare story that could just as easily fit into our article about fictional restaurants. It’s about a cheap eatery on the Las Vegas strip, featured in the 1997 comedy National Lampoon’s Vegas Vacation. Moreover, the scene illustrates the preferences of Cousin Eddie (Randy Quaid), the eccentric inlaw to protagonist Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase). In this scene, Eddie tries to give Clark “his” version of Las Vegas fun, including a budget casino (featuring games like “rock paper scissors” and “guess which number I’m thinking “). The merriment culminates in a trip to “the best $1.49 Buffet money can buy!”
The buffet itself, a ghastly confection of jiggling protein byproducts and unidentified bins of gelatinous mush, makes my skin crawl. In one moment, we see Eddie deliberate over “chicken” (a yellowish slop) and “beef” (A chunky, blue slurry), identified only by small, hand-written labels. An attendant takes note of this, realizes someone has mislabeled the foods, and promptly switches their signs — though, not before sneezing into his hand. It would be funny if it weren’t so revolting!
While poking fun at Las Vegas’ lauded casino and buffet culture, the scene singes the proverbial nostrils, presenting a genuinely nightmarish restaurant: a cheap, filthy buffet serving foods of mysterious origin.
The hilarious scene occurs at the Sands resort and is famous for being one of the last films to shoot there. There’s some timelessness about the scene, as buffet anxiety is an old trope. Given our current landscape and newfound awareness towards surface bacteria and airborne transmission, it provokes an incredibly visceral response.
-Dylan Chadwick, Manager/Warlock
In Hot Water (or Lack Thereof)
Though a restaurant’s primary services are food and customer experiences, their “nuts and bolts” are the same as any brick and mortar business. Restaurants, especially their kitchens, tend to be high volume, high-temperature environments, with stress running at a fever pitch. Utilities like water, electricity, and gas keep the restaurant habitable, but they’re key in creating meals! One general manager described a nightmare scenario involving a holiday weekend and a failing water heater.
Upon arrival at the site, the staff couldn’t get hot water from any of the faucets. Someone quickly discovered a crack in the water heater, with contents flowing out of it rapidly. Because of the heater’s size, installing a new one took two days, taking the restaurant and any potential sales out of commission on one of the year’s busiest days. Nightmarish. Not to get all “cautionary,” but try to remember that a restaurant is a building and is subject to the same fates as all buildings. A restaurant maintenance plan cannot prevent the unforeseen, but you’ll have a map to follow when something happens!
-Dylan Chadwick, Content Manager/Warlock
2020 Restaurant Nightmares — Conclusion
These are just the first five of the 2020 restaurant nightmares that immediately jumped to mind. We’re scared to think of what might come next. Did we miss anything? Are you haunted by any choice that you’ve made this year or something that’s happened in your restaurant? Let us know in the comments below.
We don’t know exactly what Halloween will look like this year, but you can still read our guide about Restaurant Halloween Promotions!
About the Authors
The QSR Automations content team comprises the writers, editors, designers, and digital strategists (AKA the QSR Superstars) who work to bring you fresh, weekly restaurant content. When not in their creative cocoons, you can find them in spirited (remote!) debates over which Dorito’s flavor is best.