James Corden's outburst at restaurant staff shows the customer is not always right – Stephen Jardine

In the countdown to the crucial Christmas trading period, the hospitality sector is still facing critical staff shortages.

James Corden was banned from New York's Balthazar restaurant for being rude to staff, then unbanned after he apologised (Picture: Mike Coppola/Getty Images)
James Corden was banned from New York's Balthazar restaurant for being rude to staff, then unbanned after he apologised (Picture: Mike Coppola/Getty Images)

A survey of bars and restaurants reported 40 per cent vacancy levels, forcing many to cut opening hours and restrict service. We know Brexit and employment changes post-Covid are key factors but now we have another to add to the list, James Corden.

The comedian was banned from Balthazar restaurant in New York recently for reportedly shouting at staff and being “extremely rude” to those serving him. The move followed two incidents, one of which involved the ultimate first-world problem of Corden spotting some egg white in the yolk-only omelette his wife had ordered.

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The whole incident offered a valuable insight into what bar and restaurant staff have to deal with and the kind of entitled customer behaviour that makes people walk away from the job. Most places just put up with it as a cost of sales but not Balthazar owner Keith McNally. On social media he regularly posts the reports he receives from duty managers outlining the triumphs and tears that come with serving the public. He also has an admirable track record of banning, or 86ing in New York restaurant parlance, difficult guests.

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If you want a sneak peek into the very soul of a person, look at how they treat restaurant serving staff. For most of us, the opportunity to eat out and have someone cook and serve your food and wash up afterwards, is a treat to be savoured and appreciated. But for a miserable few, it is an opportunity to try to elevate their status to something beyond what they perceive life has dealt them by belittling and mocking staff.

As a student, I once worked in a restaurant where the chef physically threw two men out for touching the leg of a waitress as she took their order. She’d been reduced to tears and he wasn’t having it. The whole restaurant applauded as he walked back in from the street and I thought at the time, that’s the way to do it.

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For too long we’ve held onto the ridiculous mantra that the customer is always right. Of course they’re not. Simply walking into a place with money to spend does not give you carte blanche to behave in a way that would receive short shrift if you tried it at home.

Instead, there is a contract. In exchange for goods and services in the form of food and drink brought to your table, you agree to treat those delivering that with dignity and respect. Break that and you should be shown the door. Put simply, hospitality is a two-way street.

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Right now, we need more employers to back their staff and call out unreasonable customers. The world is angrier than ever. Psychologists have noted how the anxiety surrounding Covid led to a rise in rage and that is now being exacerbated by the cost-of-living crisis.

If we want to solve the recruitment shortage in hospitality, we need to pay staff well and look after them properly. James Corden has a new career in the America but his legacy here is Gavin and Stacey. If it also becomes galvanising bars and restaurants to ban bad behaviour then that can only be a good thing.

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