"People are always rude to restaurant workers, but this far exceeds anything I've seen in my 20 years," the restaurant co-owner said.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on July 19, 2021. It has since been updated.
The owners of a farm-to-table restaurant on Cape Cod sent a strong message to the local community earlier this month after they noticed a worrying trend in customers' behavior. Ever since Massachusetts allowed restaurants to fully reopen on May 29, several of Apt Cape Cod's employees had been on the receiving end of verbal abuse from rude customers on a number of occasions. Speaking to The New York Times, Brandi Felt Castellano — the co-owner of the establishment — explained that the final straw was when a man lashed out at one of their young employees for simply informing him that they could not take his breakfast takeout order since the restaurant had not opened yet.
"I never thought it would become this," she said. Determined to put a stop to such incidents and to give their staff a break, Felt Castellano and her spouse, Regina Felt Castellano — who is also the head chef and co-owner — announced on Facebook that the restaurant would not open for breakfast that same day. They would treat their employees to a "day of kindness" instead, they said. An "astronomical influx" of customers had been screaming at employees, threatening to sue, arguing, yelling, and making team members cry, the owners explained in their post.
"This is an unacceptable way to treat any human," they added. "We will be open again for breakfast tomorrow. Please remember that many of my staff are young, this is their first job or summer job to help pay for college. We have had to make adjustments due to the increase in business volume, size of the kitchen, product availability, and staffing availability, we are not trying to ruin anyone's vacation or day off." As the Felt Castellanos' decision drew widespread attention in the community, other restaurateurs took to social media to share similar anecdotes which they said demonstrated the strain that fully reopening has placed on an industry that's been battered by the pandemic.
A Massachusetts restaurant closed for a “day of kindness” after customers behaved rudely toward its employees. The verbal abuse had worsened since the eatery was allowed to fully reopen.— The New York Times (@nytimes) July 14, 2021
“I never thought it would become this,” the co-owner said. https://t.co/fRZLALEwnS
"Many of us didn't survive the pandemic," Felt Castellano said of restaurants. "For people to be this aggressive towards the ones that have is disheartening." She explained that this wasn't always the case as in pre-pandemic days and even during the initial stage of the health crisis, customers overwhelmingly exhibited kindness to the staff. However, ever since the state fully reopened restaurants, indignity after indignity has allegedly plagued Apt Cape Cod's 24 employees, many of whom are young and also include the couple's two children.
Cape Cod restaurant closes for "day of kindness" after customers' rude behavior made employees cry https://t.co/r8ALPVJT1i pic.twitter.com/ABfuV86J01— The Hill (@thehill) July 15, 2021
"It's like abuse," Felt Castellano said. "It's things that people are saying that wouldn't be allowed to be on TV because they would be bleeped. People are always rude to restaurant workers, but this far exceeds anything I've seen in my 20 years." The 39-year-old believes this problem rose from some customers assuming that things would be back to pre-pandemic "normal" without grasping that restaurants are still grappling with problems associated with staffing and supply shortages. Felt Castellano revealed that longer wait times and some items on the menu not being available have been a source of some of the verbal abuse toward the restaurant's employees. In one case, a group of diners allegedly threatened to sue when they didn't get the table that they had requested.
Restaurant closed for ‘day of kindness’ after staff abused by rude customers https://t.co/X2NLi3zW15— The Independent (@Independent) July 16, 2021
"I would say that it is its own epidemic," she said. Tyler Hadfield, a co-owner of The Rail, a restaurant in Orleans, Massachusetts, said that he and his brother, Cam Hadfield, had experienced similar issues at the restaurant when they opened this spring. A group of diners allegedly took out their frustrations on the restaurant staff this month after having to wait more than 40 minutes for a table because of a computer problem. Hadfield said the group asked for the food to be boxed up after it had been brought to the table and then dumped all of it in front of the restaurant when they left. "That's just about the worst behavior I've ever seen," he said.
https://t.co/u1uszulwZw— Corby Kummer (@CKummer) July 17, 2021
Fed up, the Castellanos posted a sign outside their restaurant making their expectations clear: “If you cannot be kind, you cannot dine!” The new mantra joins Apt’s tone-setting motto of “Come as strangers, leave as friends."
"I think we just need to remind people that we are all doing the best we can with the resources that are available to us right now," said Dale J. Venturini, the president and chief executive of the Rhode Island Hospitality Association. "I think it's pent-up demand. People do not have the same patience that they may have had in the past, and I'm hoping that's going to change." The association, which represents some 900 restaurants and hotels, recently released a "Please Be Kind" toolkit, "to gently remind your clients and customers to be patient and kind with your employees." It includes signs that restaurants can post asking for customers' understanding and a poster with links to mental health resources for hospitality workers.
Meanwhile, Felt Castellano revealed that since their "day of kindness," many of her customers and other businesses have expressed solidarity with her restaurant and its employees. While one regular customer dropped off a gift card for the staff to use at a local ice cream shop, a parasail and Jet Ski shop in the next town offered a day of fun on them. "A lot of people," she said, "have been like, 'Thanks for saying what we've all been wanting to say.'"