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Witnessing violence in a restaurant: Should you get involved or keep your head down?

Ex-restaurateur and Food24 wine editor, Cathy Marston weighs in.

by: Cathy Marston | 23 Mar 2017

Like many of you, I watched appalled at the Spur video doing the rounds on social media this week. Wrong and disgusting on so many levels – bad parenting, racist language and behaviour, threats of violence to women and children – but it does beg the question of what could or should have been done to avoid the situation.

Could or should the management have done more? Was it up to the waiters and waitresses to intervene? Or should the people on the neighbouring tables have got involved to calm things down? It’s an interesting question of responsibility, etiquette and basic human decency.

To my mind, the least responsibility in this scenario is born by the waitrons. Although it is clear that some did try to intervene, a waitron lacks the authority to tell customers to be quiet and sit down – it isn’t their job and it is unlikely that it would be heeded. Their responsibility ends, in my opinion, when they fetch the manager as soon as a situation like this kicks off.

Without knowing all the details of this exact scenario, in general I would say that when a brawl or a fight develops in a restaurant, the person responsible for handling it is the manager. Managing doesn’t just involve working out a shift rota or ordering groceries, it involves a huge amount of people skills which must be applied not only to staff, but also to customers.

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In this case, the manager needed authority, confidence, bravery and quick reactions to be able to physically interpose themselves between an argument, use their tone of voice and strength of character to arrest the situation in its tracks and then resolve it quietly. It’s a ballsy and often quite scary job – I know, because I’ve had to do it – but this is what managers are paid for.

And then finally – should other patrons have got involved as well? When there was no clear intervention by management, does it become the job of right-minded citizens to stop abuse when they see it? Well yes, I think it probably does. Edmund Burke said “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing” and if we sit on the sidelines when a woman and her child are being threatened, we add to that evil.

The man in the video is a bully and if the other patrons stood together and condemned his behaviour, then this incident could have fizzled out before it even began. It’s scary, it’s unpleasant but also it’s our society and if no-one else is fixing it, then it has to be up to us.

What do you think? Should you get involved in an incident like this or are you better off keeping your head down and ignoring it?


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