‘The customer is always right’ is a hospitality command which is often sorely tested.
James Corden, the British star of the hugely popular Gavin and Stacey sitcom, has not been making many new fans of late. Keith McNally, owner of Manhattan’s Balthazar restaurant, recently wrote that the comedian had been unreasonable and rude to his staff on at least two occasions. In a series of widely shared tweets, McNally called Corden a ‘tiny cretin’ and accused him of being ‘abusive’ to waiting staff.
McNally briefly banned Corden from his restaurants although the ban was rescinded after the Carpool Karaoke star rang the restaurateur to apologise. Several UK restaurants have joined the fun and games and announced that they too have banned James Corden from ever darkening their door. The actor later addressed the spat on his TV programme The Late Late Show and he admitted he had been ‘ungracious’ and ‘rude’. All of which would seem to give the lie to the idea that the customer is always right.
The incidents were said to have been sparked by Corden first finding a hair in his food. Understandably, this would be cause for complaint. Then, during a different visit a couple of months later, a cooking error in his wife’s omelette triggered a new Corden huff. After it was explained to the waiting staff that Corden’s wife had certain allergies, she ordered an off-menu, all-yolk omelette.
Apparently, when it arrived, there was a trace of egg white in the dish. When the rogue omelette was returned and replaced, the kitchen had added the wrong side to the dish. Cue Corden making a snide remark that he would be better preparing the dish himself. Balthazar’s staff say he ‘yelled like crazy’ which Corden disputes.
Handbags at dawn
The Corden-McNally falling out has more than a whiff of handbags at dawn about it. It is a storm in an egg cup rather than a celebrity culinary apocalypse. A high profile customer finds problems with his restaurant meals and complains about it. The waiting staff find his attitude to be rude and an over-reaction to the problem. The situation is mollified with comped drinks.
None of it is particularly edifying but nor is it hugely out of the ordinary. Kitchen staff make mistakes. Customers get embarrassed about complaining and get angry. Staff get upset. None of it should happen but it does. Every day, in lots of restaurants, all over the world.
The difference with this case is that Corden is famous. And the public love to hear about celebrities losing their cool. Especially if it reinforces the idea that they are all demanding divas. You don’t have to be a celebrity to behave in an entitled manner but it helps. Corden is not the first person with a high profile to act in a high-handed manner and he won’t be the last.
However, it should also be remembered that McNally is rather skilled at generating publicity for his restaurants by fomenting verbal punch-ups. From the Sunday Times’ Marina O’Loughlin to New York Magazine’s Adam Platt, he has long cooked up beefs with prominent restaurant critics as well as former business partners such as the London restaurateur Richard Caring. There are more examples here. He is a man who loves to air his dirty laundry in public.
On Tuesday, the day after Corden apologised on TV saying that he had been ‘ungracious’ and ‘rude’, McNally seemed keen to reignite the Corden affair by alleging that an airline steward had confided to him that she did not care for Corden either. He then deleted the post after it came to light he had illustrated the post with publicity pic of a different airline hostess.
Since then, in a further Instagram post on Wednesday, McNally appears to have accepted Corden’s on-air apology and, bizarrely, banned himself from Balthazar. By the time you read this, the story may have descended into further madness. Or McNally and Corden might have agreed to stow their handbags and find new bees to insert into their bonnets.
The only lesson to draw from the sorry farrago is that there are no winners. Corden has come across as brattish and McNally looks like a prickly attention-seeker. Is the customer always right? No, but neither is the restaurateur. It seems safe to assume that, in this case, both are happy being in the spotlight even if for the wrong reasons. The only people who have genuinely had a hard time in all of this, as usual, are the waiting staff.
Feature image: James Corden at 2015 PaleyFest, By iDominick – https://www.flickr.com/photos/82924988@N05/16364434933/, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=39358813