So, Martin Duncan, owner of the Brisbane, Australia restaurant Freestyle Tout, asked on his Facebook page that diners order a drink and either a meal or dessert during peak hours. "Sorry to put it plainly but large groups not eating or drinking does not pay our rent or the wages of our fabulous staff," he wrote.
"We can't survive with people using us as a meeting place," Duncan said to local newspaper the Courier-Mail. "It doesn't sustain my business if they just drink tap water."
The restaurant has been open since 1996. It focuses on desserts, small individual servings of food called tapas, and cocktails with a quick lunch menu, according to its Facebook page. According to the Courier-Mail, light meals are priced from $8.90 in Australian dollars (about $8.30 US) and desserts run between $12.90 and $25. Drinks start at $7.50.
Duncan told the paper that at busy times there is often a line of people waiting for tables taken up by people spending little. "When people are waiting to get in, when you have big tables having only a couple of desserts and water, I feel for the customers [outside]," he said.
His Facebook comments had some support from customers. One wrote, "What? People come and don't order a coffee or food? That's a bit strange." Another said, "Yes, fair enough. Also don't linger forever when you have finished your meal; others are waiting."
|It’s rude – I wouldn’t dine at a place like that.||1002 (5.8%)|
|Makes sense -- it's a restaurant, and he has employees to pay||16188 (94.2%)|
But there were many more comments that were negative. One person wrote: "What a joke. Not everyone in a group always feels like dessert! Do they have to wait outside? You are very lucky to have the patronage you do and I find this totally ridiculous and rude! I say boycott!"
Another said: "You have now lost us as customers. We regularly go to get desserts but do not want to buy drinks or even consume anything other than water with my dessert. Off to look for an alternative now."
Struck by the tone, Duncan said in an additional comment on the discussion that his initial remarks had been "a little misconstrued" and that he was talking of extreme cases:
The issue I am speaking out about is when large groups of say, 8 or 20 people share for instance, 2 meals/desserts, or share 4 coffees or even worse, trying to bring in their own food from home, especially when there are customers waiting for a seat. This is an issue not just limited to our business, many of my fellow restaurateurs have shared similar stories with me.
However, the responses following it were still largely negative.
Duncan eventually wrote another Facebook post in which he called the experience a "major lesson learnt here for me on social media." He said that "the past few days have been upsetting and certainly a ride on the social media roller-coaster." Duncan also noted that the tone of his original note was changed in some media coverage, like turning what he tried to phrase as a request into a "demand."
Freestylers know that Freestyle has been built around the very essence of sharing yummy food and company. Half our menu is share plates and of course our desserts are all sharers! It does upset me that this has been forgotten by the headline hunters. However, as mentioned above, it's a lesson for me in social media!
And one that he ended up sharing with a pretty large party.