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Oct 13, 2008 10:13 AM

Dealing with Obnoxious Owner

I am having an ethical dilemna. There is a bakery in my community, The Bean Counter, that has fabulous pastries (fruit and marscapone tart) and delicious coffee drinks.

Twice I have observed and overheard the owner (who thankfully is not always present) loudly discipline and demean her staff. The first time involved a teenage counter person dropping a slice of cheesecake. The owner in the presence of customers announced in an elevated tone of voice that the employee would have to pay for the dropped slice. The employee visibly winced when she was addressed in this manner in front of a line of waiting customers.

This morning the owner referred to another employee as "stupid" (again in the presence of customers) for incorrectly making a coffee drink.

When should a customer who overhears such an inappropriate exchange say something?

I endorse the 'praise in public, criticize in private' philosophy for dealing with people and believe no one deserves to be demeaned.

Bottom line: I love this bakery, but am troubled by what I see/hear.

What would you do?,

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  1. Man, I hate that....makes everyone uncomfortable! I would write a letter telling the owner that you love the shop but seeing this kind of display is very painful to watch and may in the future keep you from wanting to come back....

    1. Stop going there, and let them know why.

      3 Replies
      1. re: Buckethead

        A 2nd on that. That's a real buzz kill. The pastries might be good but who needs to see that.

        1. re: Buckethead

          Agree, hit em where it hurts the most, the wallet.

          1. re: MattInNJ

            Right then and there on the spot, I'd say to the owner, I don't give my money to jerks (or a much stronger word) and I'd leave.

        2. "...a teenage counter person dropping a slice of cheesecake. The owner in the presence of customers announced in an elevated tone of voice that the employee would have to pay for the dropped slice.

          If I was in the employ of an owner or business that tried to charge me for such an incident or even a dropped entree/s, damaged dishware, glassware or other in a restaurant.....I would resign on the spot and notify the State Labor Board. Working for such a tyrant would be ridiculous to continue......and I do not believe it is legal to charge employees for mishaps.

          With regard to being in the presence of such a display of rudeness by the owner....I would interject immediately and let it be known I resent the behavior of the owner in front of myself and other customers.

          I would not stay too make a purchase.....and I probably would find an alternate bakery for future purchases as well. If I were in a position to do so, I would also offer any staff employment with me at my business if they chose not to continue working for such a tyrant.

          1. I think saying something on the spot would just cause a further scene and if the owner is already an a-hole, they may just curse at you (or worse) and the situation could get out of hand.

            I would probably turn and leave quietly and send them a letter (anonymous if you wish) telling them that you have repeatedly witnessed the owner being hostile to the employees and that you think it's a terrible management style and very unfortunate, and that they'll no longer have your patronage, or that of your friends, or family or co-workers if they continue to manage with an iron fist.

            4 Replies
            1. re: rockandroller1

              One of the benefits of being 6' 1" and 225 lbs.........all right 235 lbs, is you can be intimidating without raising your voice, just with a cold stare and a few choice words......just ask my son and his friends while they were growing up.

              I would agree with a letter if I actually cared about going back to the bakery, but I would not return. My experience with food industry management who treat their help poorly, is that they care even less what others think while reading something someone sends them in the privacy of their secure surroundings. In these specific scenarios/instances mentioned by the OP, the owner's insensitivity towards his employees and customers made others feel uncomfortable and embarrassed. This person needs to be knocked down a few pegs with immediate disapproval and disappointment.

              As the child's saying goes.......stick and stones may break my bones...but names will never hurt me......I believe the only thing that truly hurts these pompous people is the "wallet" factor. Expressing my displeasure and walking out, possibly taking a few others with me is the only thing that will make the tyrant think twice about his actions.

              What I might actually do is when it was my turn, I would ask the owner to help me personally, pester him/her with many questions, e.g. "how much is this? and how much is that?", place a very large order packaged in many boxes........and then, when the order is completed and the total price is given to me....... I tell them I changed my mind and no longer am interesed in being his customer due to the horrid treatment of their staff which I witnessed first hand.

              What can I say? I obviously have too much time on my hands.....that's why I am here on Chowhound.

              1. re: fourunder

                I agree that the most effective (though not necessarily the most tactful) thing to do would be to confront the owner -- and despite being a scrawny 5' 1", I've learned to perfect my stink eye, as well. :) Very few situations like this degenerate into something physically violent, though I wouldn't be deeply surprised if it degenerated into something verbally unpleasant.

                I'll be the first to admit I'm fairly untactful, though. I just think that a situation like this would irk me so much I'd have to say *something* to the owner or at least glare mightily. Depending on how egregious the situation was and how badly it irked me, I might catch the owner's gaze and say, "That is NOT acceptible", and walk out. In a less eggregious situation, I'd glare at the owner, be very sweet to the abused employee and tip very, very well. Either way, I'd post the name of the place and the owner's name on every board I could find -- including your local Chowhound board, Yelp, Citysearch -- EVERYTHING.

                And I'd organize a letter writing campaign among all of my friends and family and all the Chowhounds in the vicinity, to complain about employee treatment.

                [I know this would never happen, but wouldn't it be great if the entire line of customers had walked out upon seeing the incident? That would be a powerful statement.]

                Mistreatment of those in a weaker position gets me hot and bothered like nothing else.

                1. re: cimui

                  yes, it is a nice idea that having the entire line of customers walk out would teach they tyrant a lesson. instead i suspect the owner would watch the customer's walking out, then turn to the employee and say "now look what you've done".

                  put it in writing - in very explicit terms, and don't go back.

                  1. re: KaimukiMan

                    you and the other pro letter writers make good points.

                    but consider: if you describe the incident clearly enough in the letter, it wouldn't be a shocker if the owner were to retaliate against the employee, later. tyrants still like scapegoats. would you describe the owner's unacceptable behavior only generally?

                    also, there is something to be said for never allowing yourself to sit by passively when you see injustice. there are theories that say it kills a little bit of your moral capacity each time you do nothing (and other people's to see no one else acting) and that each public action, no matter how small, strengthens your own, as well as other people's, ability to behave morally.... on the other hand, i do understand that it's easier for people to change behind closed doors when they don't feel as though they're losing as much face!

                    i just wish there were a way to shame the owner a bit in that moment, but not so much that he/she had to act out by firing the employee / mistreating the employee further; later make it clear through a written letter exactly what it was that was objectionable; and convey a credible threat of loss of your and others' business if that behavior continues.

                    fantasy #2: wouldn't it be great if all of us had been in that store and some of us had walked out, while the remainder wrote letters?

                    btw, would anyone give the owner a second chance and go back after writing a letter or expressing face-to-face disagreement?

            2. That is such a shame. Many times I have patronized an eating establishment where I have thought to myself "this place rocks but boy, I would so not want to work here." If it is a place I frequent a lot I can tell if the owner is not there because the food and service is off by quite a bit. Many owners are passionate and perfectionistic about their food and drink. By the force of their personalities they make everything line up perfectly so that the customers get an amazing experience. I suspect that at many of the places I go where everything is divine that some of these scenes play out, just not in front of the customers. I would have just walked out shaking my head but I would have felt a guilty twinge of regret for missing out on yummy food. If you had said something at the time, the owner might have just waited until later to really lay into the employee. There are two other things to consider at least. There are cultural differences in the amount of emotion that is acceptable to display publically, and also, could the employees be her relatives? At one place I love to go the sister of the owner usually takes the orders and frankly she is a moron. The owner, her brother, is angrily impatient with her constant demands for help with the register, but you can tell it's all in the family and these two have been at each other for a very long time. One other thing, on the thread Decline in Home Cooking on this board, chowhounders have expressed concern that parents are not preparing their children for life by not teaching them life skills. While it doesn't excuse her behavior, the owner is probably very frustrated at having to teach her teenage employees everything the parents should have taught them long ago. I doubt the owner will change, the best you can hope for is for is for her to take it to a private place. My own experience with this was when I went to a place that makes it's own chocolates around Easter. The owner was putting the finishing touches on a gorgeous four foot tall rabbit. I drew closer, fascinated. As he worked on his masterpiece I could hear a foul stream of curse words flowing endlessly at the rabbit. I turned away smiling and thinking yeah he's an artist. But the rabbit wasn't having it's feelings hurt.