Are U.S. Restaurants Shifting Away From 'The Customer Is Always Right'?

A man hoping to celebrate his girlfriend's birthday is singled out and shamed by a restaurant on Twitter. Eager Instagrammers are scolded by a wait staff for snapping pictures of runny egg–topped steak tartare with their iPhones. Diners hoping for a fun night out are repeatedly told to quiet down by management, even though none of their voices are raised. These are examples of a shift that has been visible — ever so slightly — in the past few months: a shift away from the traditionally American belief that "the customer is always right."

The concept of dining out varies slightly, of course, from country to country. A trip across the Atlantic Ocean, for example, reveals a somewhat differing sentiment. In nations known for fine dining such as France, a night out at a restaurant is akin to a trip to someone's home: there is the feeling of the establishment playing host, preparing an exquisite meal for its grateful consumers. While it goes without saying that a restaurant will always seek to please its clientele to the best of its abilities, there is generally less push back from individuals, less back-and-forth. And hence why Americans are often stereotyped as coming across this way overseas. Let's take a look at some national restaurant headlines from the past few months that showcase the possible shift in U.S. restaurant-client relations.

  • Back in January, CBS New York reported on a "food porn" crackdown, noting that a handful of city restaurants had started to ban photography. Reasons for barring pictures ranged from the distraction of other diners to the restricting of bad photography; the belief being that it is impossible to properly capture food properly in a restaurant's low lighting. Establishments went so far as to allow customers to take photographs in the kitchen (where there is better light), or to provide them with a photo upon payment of the check.
  • Restaurants in cities such as New York, Chicago and Los Angeles have also begun to enact various policies aimed at cutting down on reservation no-shows. Measures range from requiring the purchase of non-refundable tickets to publicly criticizing those who fail to appear on social media sites.
  • And just last week, the New York Daily News wrote about an ongoing initiative to turn down the volume in city restaurants. In order to "encourage people to take care of their hearing," several establishments will turn down their music, mute their phones and train staff to keep both their voices and silverware and glassware clatter down. They will also pass out information about hearing loss.

Sure, many of these regulations are being passed with the interests of the consumer in mind. Flash photography and loud volume can be perceived as inconsiderate to fellow diners, and no-shows prohibit other individuals from securing reservations. But is there something deeper going on with these new rules going into effect in a handful of our nation's restaurants? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section.

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