Believe it or not, at one time in my life, I thought about a career in conflict resolution. True story. I think I’d be good at it. I know all the tricks!
- Don’t make Universal Statements (ie: “You’re always late!”)
- Don’t assume to know what others are feeling (ie: “You’re gonna hate this, but…”)
- Don’t use insulting language (ie: “Libtartds and the Democrat party… yada yadda”)
- And above all, do NOT under any circumstances seek to cajole strangers with sarcastic jabs at their lifestyle (ie: “ATTENTION VEGANS Please do not waltz into our cafe with no advance notice and look at us as if we have ten heads when you realise [sic] that there aren’t 50,000 items on our menu that suit your idiosyncratic dietary requirements.”)
If that last example seems a little, shall we say, specific, that’s because it is a direct reference to this story, which I shared on FaceBook recently…
You can take a look at the story as reported by Buzzfeed for the details — it’s definitely entertaining — but essentially the scoop is as follows:
A restaurateur named Paul Stensen of the White Moose Café, in Dublin, Ireland posted a status update on the café’s FaceBook page that took a sarcastic swipe at a large group — though a small demographic — of people whom he identified as “Vegans.” As a consequence, Mr. Stensen has been embroiled in a back-and-forth war of the words with several hundred, if not several thousand people who practice a Vegan diet, and/or took offense at his original post, and his continued “sarcastic” remarks.
At first glance this can be seen as the story of a guy who made an innocent joke on line, and then a bunch of angry Vegans freaked the fuck out on him. That seems to be the meme. I see it a little differently. I see it as the story of a business man who thinks he’s a comedian, and as a result he laid a turd in public, and doesn’t know well enough to just cover it up and back away from the sandbox.
On top of all that, in my opinion, Mr Stensen has also exposed — or at least presented — himself as an angry, passive-aggressive, self-righteous, food snob, and kind of a dude-bro douchebag.
PR TIP #1 FOR ALL BUSINESS OWNERS EVERYWHERE: Public forums such as FaceBook are great places for patrons to lodge their complaints about you, nahhhht so much for you to lodge your complaints about them. Yeah. No. Don’t do it. Ever.
Keeping in mind that with this essay I am not attempting to resolve any conflicts, and that I will probably break all four of my rules above, let’s tear Mr. Stensen a new one by parsing the fuck out of the rest of his douchey FaceBook post…
It is in its entirety:
Please do not waltz into our cafe with no advance notice and look at us as if we have ten heads when you realise [sic] that there aren’t 50,000 items on our menu that suit your idiosyncratic dietary requirements. Our chef will be more than happy to prepare a number of dishes for you, but a little heads up in advance of your visit would be appreciated. Fair is fair like.
The White Moose Café
To me, words are super important, and Mr. Stensen has made his first douche-step on the second word of his post when he wrote in all-caps: “ATTENTION VEGANS.”
Let’s set aside the well-known fact that the all-caps aka the caps-lock key is the angriest key on the keyboard, and the official key of trolls, dicks, asshats, and Libertarians the world over, and focus instead on the fact that Mr. Stensen has started right out of the gate with language that seeks to “Identify and separate,” rather than “include and unify.”
By addressing his post exclusively to “VEGANS,” he has sought to divide the world into two groups: Something called Vegans… and everybody else. He basically says, “This post is directed at one small group of people that I have identified as being separate from the rest of us.” That’s just not a great way to start any conversation, let alone a bitchy little bit of snark posted by a business owner on a public forum like FaceBook.
More inclusive language might have read something like this: “To our patrons who practice a vegan diet…”
The group being addressed here is “patrons,” all patrons, then more specifically those who are currently practicing a vegan diet. This language acknowledges that all of Mr Stensen’s patrons have the potential to be on a Vegan diet, and that we are all the same in that way.
I am a Vegan.
Well, not presently, or ever in my past, but as a human being, I certainly have the potential to one day switch to a Vegan diet. People choose to “go Vegan” for all kinds personal reasons that might have to do with health, humane and environmental issues, or even religious or spiritual beliefs. Some people do it for their entire lives, others for a brief period in their 20’s, or they go back and forth between Vegan, Vegetarian, and Omnivorous diets depending on how they feel emotionally or physically. I knew a chick who usually practiced a Vegan diet but every once in a while she’d say, “I need liver,” and she’d go buy a piece of liver, cook it, and eat it up. Yum! She interpreted the craving for liver as her body calling out for iron. She was probably right.
My point: Being a “Vegan” is not like being a poodle. A poodle is a poodle and can never be a boxer or a pit bull. A “vegan” is a person, and can choose to eat any way they want at any time in their lives. It’s a diet. Not a genus. Mr Stensen seems to think that Vegans are poodles, a separate breed from me, you, him, and the rest of us. That’s a very douchey attitude, especially towards one’s patrons.
Okay, that’s just the header, let’s move on to the main body of his post…
• First sentence, 1st word: “Please…” – In the context of the words that follow, the use of the word “please” becomes so insincere, that it ceases to be a politeness, and is instead part of the insult to come. Would any of us think it polite for one person to tell another to “please go fuck yourself?” No. Somehow that’s even more insulting that just “go fuck yourself.” So, Mr. Stenson’s very first word is an insincere, passive-aggressive little bit of confrontational BS-politeness that only serves to salt the wound which follows.
• First sentence, 2nd and 3rd words: “do not…” – Even before the reader figures out that Mr Stensen’s smarmy “please” is as insincere as a Hollywood kiss, we are immediately put in a defensive position by the command that we “do not” do something. Again, every word is important when seeking to effectively communicate with strangers. Even if you must warn patrons of a potential danger, it is better to use the contraction “don’t” than the barking, fascistic command “do not.” For example, I think a sign that reads “please don’t pet the electric eel,” is much more effective than, “DO NOT TOUCH.”
Also, to address all Vegans as one entity, and then admonish them NOT to do something, is to assume that every “Vegan” will do that thing, unless so admonished. It is to say, “I know you’re going to do this thing that I don’t want you to do — because you’re a Vegan — so I’m warning you now: DO NOT do it!” I don’t think there’s a person alive who reacts well to the assumption that they will commit an offense they had no intention of committing in the first place. I fuckin’ hate it, personally.
• First sentence, 4th and 5th words: “Waltz into…” – Again, assumptions are being made, in an intentionally insulting way, that the group being addressed, in this case a breed of poodle-people called Vegans, are not going to walk into the cafe, as the rest of us average lovable mutts would, but they are going to “waltz” in, like some sort of privileged fancified show dog with an upitty attitude.
Mr. Stensen claims again and again in his defense of his words, that he was only joking, and that his FaceBook page (which he runs himself) is “tongue and cheek.” Based on the first five words of his post, I am of the opinion that he has an actual disdain for people with Vegan diets, and is hiding behind humor to passive-aggressively express that disdain, thus providing himself with the old “I was only kidding” defense, when those he seeks to insult are actually insulted. It’s Trollish behavior for sure.
• First sentence, 6th and 7th words: “our cafe…” – Not your cafe, not the cafe, but our cafe. This cafe belongs to us, not you. You’re a guest here, with your fancy waltzing ways, and your predetermined propensity to do things we don’t like, so y’know, DO NOT forget your place. Metaphorically speaking, Mr. Stensen has lifted a leg and peed on the front door jamb of his restaurant to mark his territory. Later on, when he “bans” vegans from his restaurant, and then threatens to shoot them in the head should they enter his establishment he really lays down the boundaries.
PR TIP #2 FOR ALL BUSINESS OWNERS EVERYWHERE: Refrain from using social media to post death threats against your patrons. Just joking? Yeeeaaah… not funny.
• First sentence, continued: “with no advance notice…” – Am I wrong in thinking to myself “who the fuck needs advance notice in this day and age that a fucking Vegan is coming into their restaurant???” I’m gonna ask my friend Chef Joe Scully about that. I have a feeling his restaurants could handle that situation effectively without any advance notice, and without having to post a pissy little screed about it on FaceBook.
Let’s take on the rest of that sentence, ignoring the typo (one that has apparently remained uncorrected on the White Moose FaceBook page since August 13th) and get to the real meat (ba-dum-pah!) of the matter:
• “…and look at us as if we have ten heads when you realise [sic] that there aren’t 50,000 items on our menu that suit your idiosyncratic dietary requirements.” – Okay, first of all, “idiosyncratic” is just not a word that is going to win you any friends among the people whom you use it to describe. Let’s face facts, it practically contains the word “idiot.” And people do tend to use it in a way that seems to hide their true feelings, and one gets the idea that what Mr. Stensen really means is “your idiotic dietary requirements.” It’s just not a word people use kindly, or take well, and should be avoided at all costs when describing the habits of strangers, especially to those very strangers. I believe it is another example of a passive-aggressive little tell, indicating that Mr. Stensen actually hates the very idea of “Vegans.” They seem to represent a real issue for him.
Reading the whole sentence with its invocation of ten-heads and 50,000 items naturally causes one to wonder, “how big of an issue is this for The White Moose Cafe?” I mean, Jesus, is poor Mr. Stensen beset upon daily by a steady stream of these Waltzing Vegans with their super-extreme demands for many thousands of choices?!? Irish Vegans must exist in huge numbers, and be a lot more fucking dick-headed than over here in the states. One can’t help but wonder these things… until one reads this part of the story:
“Stenson told BuzzFeed News that the woman he wrote about discovered the post last week and shared it…”
Oh. Wait. Okay. That’s a game-changer entirely. So this was not a constant issue that needed addressing, as throngs of bossy Vegans demanded dish after dish of their idiosyncratic favorites, but rather it was one unhappy customer, who was perhaps a pain in the ass — or not — about the lack of Vegan choices offered by Paul Stensen at his White Moose Cafe. It was personal. A gripe he had against one, lone, woman. What a prat.
PR TIP #3 FOR ALL BUSINESS OWNERS EVERYWHERE: Don’t use your business’ FaceBook page to attack people personally.
So it aaalll becomes clear to me now. This passive-aggressive little princess had some sort of unpleasant or uncomfortable interaction with a patron, who happens to be on a Vegan diet, and the interaction bothered him so, that after the patron was gone, he just couldn’t contain himself, and decided use his business’ social media to vent his spleen against her on a public forum. He essentially went on line and called her out, and then… he got exactly what he had coming, when she heard the call, and summoned her posse to her side. Swords were drawn. Lines were drawn. Even drawings were drawn…
All is fair in food and war, so the verbal attacks, the attempts at Yelp position sabotage, and the counter-strikes by those who leapt to Paul’s cause, either because they love meat, or hate Vegans, or simply support his right to shoot people in the head, were unwarranted and ill-mannered on both sides. I do not believe in giving Yelp reviews, good or bad, to places one hasn’t been to, but that’s what’s gonna happen when you go stirring up shit-storms on the internets. One of the unfortunate results of this whole cluster-fuck is that now the White Moose Cafe’s Yelp page is completely useless to the viewer, as it does not reflect any actual food or service standards but rather a political point of view. Good job, Paul. I’m sure business partners love that.
PR TIP #4 FOR ALL BUSINESS OWNERS EVERYWHERE: Don’t stir-up shit storms on the internet, and if you do, back away from them as quickly as possible.
The question remains of course, was all of this PR good or bad or indifferent for the cafe’s bottom line? Answer: We’ll see. This story is ongoing, but we know for a fact here in Asheville (ahemwakinglifecoughcough) that not ALL publicity is good publicity, and businesses do not automatically benefit from all news coverage, good or bad. If a large enough portion of the public decides, yeah, you’re an asshole, your business will fail. It’s a guarantee. For now Paul Stensen has dug in his heals, standing behind his original post, and the jokes about murdering people that followed, and positioning the White Moose as an establishment that is staunchly anti-Vegan. He’s made a conscious decision that it’s okay to alienate a portion of the public, and in my opinion that is always a dicey position for any business to take.
Getting back to my theme of conflict resolution, I want to point out an example of a conflict that popped-up here in Asheville just about two years ago, and how a business handled it in a way that I think was perfect.
Do you remember Biscuitgate? Yeah, man. Biscuitgate. It was (at one time at least) the most commented on thread on WAX (West Asheville Exchange) and was the very definition of a shit-storm, though not one started by any business owners, but rather by an all-caps Troll seeking to attack a local business by posting this:
“ATTENTION HEALTH CONSCIOUS FOLKS: BISCUIT HEAD USES A SOYBEAN OIL MARGARINE-BUTTER BLEND IN THEIR BISCUITS AND THEY ARE TELLING PEOPLE THEY USE BUTTER. PLEASE PASS ON THE WORD. THANK YOU!!!!”
Holy crap, the comments section caught on fire, and it quickly degenerated into a full-blown cluster-fuck of self-styled comedians and humorless boobs arguing about nothing forever until finally… no one cared.
At the NC Cheese Fest last year, I met one of the owners of Biscuit Head and I asked him, “Did you guys ever respond to that whole Biscuitgate thing?”
His answer: “Nope.”
Sometimes resolving a conflict simply means not participating in it. I’m happy to report that Biscuit Head is doing great.
Stu Helm is an artist, writer, and podcaster living in Asheville, NC, and a frequent diner at local restaurants, cafes, food trucks, and the like. His tastes run from hot dogs and mac ‘n’ cheese, to haute cuisine, and his opinions are based on a lifetime of eating out. He began writing about food strictly to amuse his friends on Facebook.