May 16, 2013

Publisher's Notebook: Mistreated at restaurant doesn’t warrant a story

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — The man strode into the office with a purpose. He had been wronged, and he wanted the newspaper to do something about it. But regrettably, I had to inform him that we couldn’t help him.

We get requests all the time from people wanting the newspaper to do stories about personal issues they’re involved in with other people or businesses. Basically, they want us to bring their story to light so they can punish the other side and feel vindicated.

But unless it involves a violation of the law, or a public official, or an issue of public interest, the newspaper can’t take sides in a dispute. That’s the purpose of small claims and circuit court — to decide who’s right and who’s wrong.

This man’s quest for a story was unusual and the first of its kind in my experience. He had been treated rudely and asked not to return to a local Chinese restaurant. His offense? He apparently ate too many crab legs.

 When I asked him what he wanted the newspaper to do, he said he wanted a story blasting the restaurant for refusing to serve him again, when he was just taking advantage of the all-you-can eat buffet. He accused the restaurant of false advertising.

The next question obviously had to be exactly how many crab legs did he eat. After calculating the number of plates he used, and the number of crab legs on each plate, he figured the total to be about 40.

I couldn’t help but chuckle a little, because the man didn’t look like he could put away 40 crab legs at one sitting. He looked to be in his mid 60s. His halting breath and the accompanying oxygen tank pointed to some underlying medical issues. He did confirm he had cancer.

I’m glad he laughed with me after I found out how many crab legs he ate, because I didn’t want to give him the impression I was making fun of him.

I told him I had eaten many times at that Chinese restaurant, and agreed with him the employees weren’t particularly friendly. Maybe it’s the language and cultural differences. But the food is always good.

The restaurant, I believe, has a sign below the cash register that says something about not wasting food and about food portions. Perhaps the restaurant was overly sensitive to the number of expensive crab legs being consumed on this particular visit.

I also explained to the man that restaurant may have been within its rights to refuse to serve him again. It’s a private business, and he wasn’t being discriminated against. But businesses who offer poor customer service and don’t strive to make customers happy will not survive. The competition in the restaurant business is just too tough.

I told him to not visit the restaurant again, and to tell his friends and family not to patronize it as well. The restaurant may save a little money on crab legs, but it will lose in the long run.

The man understood why we couldn’t do a story. He was embarrassed by the restaurant management and he wanted the public to know. But if we did stories on everyone who gets mistreated or upset by restaurants and big-box stores with too few employees and terrible customer service, that’s all we’d be writing about.

I felt sorry for the man as he walked out the door. Personally, if I owned a Chinese restaurant in town and read this column, then saw a frail man with an oxygen tank walk through my door, I’d let him eat all the crab legs he wanted.


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Now that school is out, what are your family’s summer vacation plans?

A. No major plans. We will probably hang out around Laurel County.
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