We’ve all heard restaurant horror stories about nightmare customers. If you haven’t read the news by now, it turns out that celebrity talk show host James Corden is one of them. Corden was recently banned from popular New York restaurant Balthazar for exhibiting what sounds like some serious asshole behavior toward the staff. And while the ban wasn’t permanent, it has us wondering about all sorts of unacceptable behaviors while dining out.
But what did he do? McNally shared multiple experiences he’d had with Corden. In one instance, Corden allegedly found a hair in his food and demanded that he get an extra round of drinks to make up for it, but also demanded that his prior round of beverages be comped on top of that; McNally claims Corden said, “Get us another round of drinks this second. And also take care of all of our drinks so far. This way I [don’t] write any nasty reviews in Yelp or anything like that.”
On another trip to Balthazar some months later, McNally alleges that Corden’s wife ordered an egg yolk omelet with gruyere and some salad, but when it arrived, there was a touch of egg white accidentally mixed in with the yolks. Corden asked for the kitchen to remake it, but when the new omelet came out, it was accompanied by home fries rather than a salad, which allegedly set Corden off.
“You can’t do your job! You can’t do your job!” Corden allegedly told the server, per McNally’s recollection. “Maybe I should go into the kitchen and cook the omelette myself!” The manager, McNally says, was able to smooth things out by forking over some promotional champagne glasses.
Apparently that was enough for McNally, who unloaded on Corden via his instagram post, calling the talk show host a “tiny Cretin of a man” and banning him from Balthazar.
But the next day Corden reached out to McNally personally and was quickly forgiven for his misdeeds. McNally summarized the un-banning via Instagram post:
James Corden just called me and apologized profusely. Having fucked up myself more than most people, I strongly believe in second chances. So if James Corden lets me host his Late Late Show for 9 months, I’ll immediately rescind his ban from Balthazar. No, of course not. But....anyone magnanimous enough to apologize to a deadbeat layabout like me (and my staff) doesn’t deserve to be banned from anywhere. Especially Balthazar. So Come Back to the 5 & Dime, Jimmy Corden, Jimmy Corden. All is Forgiven. xx
When customers are bad, they can be really bad. Having worked in a restaurant myself, I’ve seen some misbehavior, usually alcohol related, but I’ve personally never seen a customer act so out of line that they got banned from the restaurant. What does it really take to get permanently banned from a restaurant? We talked to some restaurant owners and service industry employees about the dreaded lifetime ban.
Zoe Schor is the executive chef and owner of Split-Rail here in Chicago. She’s also a Chopped champion and a Michelin-starred chef, and throghout her years of experience, she has seen some less than stellar behavior in restaurants.
“I would just say the primary reason I might ask a guest to leave and not come back is if they were being disrespectful to any of our team members,” Schor told The Takeout via email. “There is a very toxic and backwards idea that used to reign our industry—‘The customer is always right.’ That philosophy has allowed patrons to treat team members poorly in many restaurants for many years. We have an expectation of mutual respect that works a lot better.”
Mistreating the staff doesn’t always take the form of screaming, either. Sometimes it’s just a lack of regard for the servers, or acting as though they don’t matter.
“If you’re rude or disrespectful, you won’t be welcome back in our spots!” Schor said.
Paul Fehribach, chef and owner of Big Jones in the Andersonville neighborhood of Chicago, said he had to go so far as to officially ban some customers once. It happened when a table of six diners, all of them white, were being unruly.
“Then the elderly man at the table referred to their African American server as ‘boy,’” Fehribach said. “That crossed a line. They were told to never return.”
For Fehribach, the issue is not just the disrespect inherent to that term of address, but all that the term implies, historically and socially.
“Servers deal with all sorts of microaggressions from guests constantly,” he said. “BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, and people of color] deal with them constantly in daily life. If you are going to mistreat one of our family you are not welcome in our home.”
For the most part, though, Fehribach said that the staff tries to stay empathetic and be friendly. Flirtation isn’t acknowledged, nor is any other potentially harassing behavior. But for a restaurant, Fehribach says, Big Jones holds its diners to a particular standard.
“We’re kind of a restaurant with a lot of haters because we expect people to behave like an adult, and as guests in our home,” he explained. “We don’t acknowledge or accept microaggressions. Some people really don’t like that. But they can fuck right off.”
Derrick Tung is my former boss and the owner of Paulie Gee’s Logan Square and Paulie Gee’s Wicker Park, both in Chicago. And while Tung hasn’t actually banned anyone (yet), he sometimes wishes he had, because theft has been a major issue. One incident in particular was a bizarre case of dining and dashing.
“A woman and her husband came in, dined, finished a nice meal, and then walked out with a few rolls of unopened toilet paper from our restaurant,” he said.
Then there was the time a customer came in with a group of his friends—I was working that day, and I distinctly remember them for being rowdy and suspiciously friendly. We caught him on camera stealing an iPhone that was charging at the server station, but only discovered this after he and his group had left.
Sometimes it’s even more sinister than that—Tung recalled one time when a pair of diners arrived with a coordinated plan.
“Two guys came in, one caused a scene at a table while another distracted staff by requesting where the bathroom was and wandered around into private areas until staff asked him to leave,” Tung said. Despite the staff’s best efforts, though, the “customers” still managed to steal stuff while the servers were distracted by the scene.
“The one at the table grabbed a purse that was sitting [in the dining room], and they both exited,” Tung said. “[We] recovered the purse, not the money.”
Tung has other stories about customers who deserved a lifetime ban: the one who deliberately coughed on him when the restaurant planned to close due to COVID-19. The one who, when asked to wear a mask at the takeout window, responded by body-shaming an employee. The one who called Tung an “asshole owner” because the restaurant was slammed and her pizza had come out late. He hopes he never has to encounter any of them again, for the sake of his staff as much as anything else.
Restaurant employees deal with a lot of bullshit, from verbal abuse (ahem, Corden) to racism and theft. If you’re dining out and you have to be told by restaurant staff to behave yourself, I have a suggestion: Learn how to cook at home instead.