Last month, on a near-perfect autumn day in New England, throngs of people arrived at Stone Cow Brewery in Barre, Massachusetts. Located on a dairy farm, Stone Cow is famous for its barbeque-heavy kitchen, which brought patrons to the property long before there was a brewery on site.
But on this particular weekend, a series of bad customer interactions led brewer and owner Sean DuBois to take to Instagram to beg for kindness. After a customer went on a profanity-laced tirade about kitchen wait times and rules requiring him to stay at his table while eating and drinking, DuBois posted a black-and-white photo of masked employees with tired, frustrated eyes.
“Enough…is…Enough!” read DuBois’ caption. “If you are going to be a total jerk…stay home…we don’t even want your business! We have so many loving customers and YOU are the ones we so VERY-MUCH WANT-TO SERVE! WE are real people…and so are YOU…let’s start acting like it (again).”
“It’s almost like they forgot that we are real humans with real feelings, and they forgot their manners and how to act in public.”—Sean Dubois, Stone Cow Brewery
DuBois says that 99% of patrons have been “fantastic” and adhere to safety regulations surrounding the novel coronavirus pandemic without complaint, but “that 1% who don’t care about the rules or get angry at them have been very difficult to deal with. They have been over-the-top rude and when they explode, they seem to take it out on our staff here at the brewery in a way that is not kind at all.
“It’s almost like they forgot that we are real humans with real feelings, and they forgot their manners and how to act in public.”
As the pandemic has disrupted life, breweries across the country have worked to adapt to keep the lights on, taps flowing, and staff and customers safe. Most patrons follow the rules, but the ones who refuse impact hospitality workers already beleaguered by changing guidelines, safety concerns and, in many circumstances, reduced hours and wages.
Horror stories abound. At Fifth Hammer in Queens, New York, one customer refused to sit down when drinking a beer per state rules, or wear a mask while standing, recalls co-owner Mary Izett. That person walked away from the establishment, leaving friends behind, rather than comply with the rules.
Another Fifth Hammer patron was so agitated by the health mandates that they wished both Covid-19 and death on their bartender before storming away from the brewery’s beer pickup counter, Izett says.
The staff at Funky Picnic Brewery and Café in Fort Worth, Texas keeps a box of paper masks by the entrance and sells them for $1 to any patron who forgets, intentionally or otherwise, to bring their own mask. There are eye rolls and grumbles, and some patrons call staffers “Covid cowards,” says co-founder Collin Zreet. More concerning, however, are the people who refuse to leave information for contact tracing should the brewery record any Covid-19 outbreaks.
In San Diego, a customer at Kairoa Brewing Company refused to wear a mask when walking from the table to the restroom, as required by the state. Instead, he closed out a $214 tab with no tip, and left a mocking message for his server.
It’s not all bad behavior, of course. Brewers say some customers tip generously, bring beer from their own private stash to share, and leave notes or online reviews praising employees for grace under pressure.
“There are eye rolls and grumbles, and some patrons call staffers ‘Covid cowards.’ “
DuBois believes that the stresses of the last seven months are wearing on everyone. On the same day the customer berated staff because of pizza wait times, another patron threw a temper tantrum over dirty plates.
“We tried to explain that we only bus tables after patrons have left so that the used dishware left behind can indicate that the table needs to be cleaned and properly sanitized for the next customers coming in, which is another state mandate,” says DuBois. “This guy didn’t want to hear that, so he threw his cheese slate on the ground and watched my 18-year-old employee pick up the mess he had purposely made out of anger.”
Such behavior is “insulting,” DuBois adds, and anyone who might act in such a way should probably just say home.
“We truly don’t want these types of people to come to our brewery if this is how they are going to act. We will forgo their business and put our energies toward serving those who are understanding and kind,” he says.
“We know it’s been a difficult time throughout Covid, but there is really no excuse for rudeness.”