Every year, "fudgies" (as Michigan locals refer to tourists) descend on the town of Charlevoix, Michigan for the Venetian Festival. This year, their bad behavior apparently fudged up an entire night of service at one restaurant.
“I had come downstairs from the third floor to our main dining room, and one of my servers was breaking down in the server station. She was crying. And I just kind of took my kitchen manager to the side, and we both decided we had enough,” Larah Moore, the general manager of East Park Tavern in Charlevoix, explained in an interview with TODAY.
The 27-year-old has worked at the restaurant, described as a “down-to-earth neighborhood haunt” in reviews by locals, for six months. She’s worked in the food industry in Charlevoix since she was 15 years old and, as a result, has raked in over a decade of Venetians under her belt. Nearly 100,000 fudgies come through Charlevoix to take part in the jamboree of food concessions, regales and tourneys. The festival is eight days long and, according to Moore, is East Park Tavern’s busiest week of the year.
“Everybody in the service industry knows that we’re gonna get slammed (by the festival) but that it’s gonna be worthwhile,” Moore explained. “Everybody in town is there to celebrate and have a good time, and it usually rubs off on your restaurant staff or, you know, just about any other business in town. We all try to keep good spirits up. It’s a fun time for everybody, or at least it’s supposed to be.”
This year, East Park Tavern experienced so much rowdiness and disrespect from customers that Moore decided they'd had enough.
This past Saturday at 9 p.m., an hour before the restaurant usually stops service, Moore consulted her staff and then, after hearing their thoughts, closed shop and hung up a sign.
“Due to the mistreatment of our servers, our kitchen is closed,” reads the sign Moore hung up in front of the host stand and subsequently shared on Facebook.
“I’ve worked in downtown Charlevoix most of my adult life during Venetian. It’s usually great, busy, but fun and worthwhile,” Moore wrote in a caption for the image. “I’m so incredibly disappointed and embarrassed by the Fudgies we have this year. My staff took a BEATING all week. Last night was our last straw. Too many rude comments. Too many arrogant individuals acting like they can throw money at us to get their way. Too many cocky jerks.”
“No one gets to treat my staff like trash. They are the absolute shining stars in my life, and I love and appreciate the hell out of the few of them that I am lucky enough to have,” she added. “If you push your servers, watch them start to push back. We are here to ensure great food, drinks, and quality of your time spent with us. We are not here to be abused. We will not tolerate that anymore.”
By Tuesday, Moore’s words went viral with thousands of likes and shares on Facebook, and many commiserated with her experience.
“We have had a really difficult tourist season here, too,” one Facebook user replied to her post. “People have just been a whole different breed this year! It’s insane.”
“I’m so sorry. In 2016 I had my last fill of Venetian crowds and a--h----. I can’t do it anymore,” another replied. “I have watched them get more and more entitled and rude as the years have gone on.”
“I’m angry/sad for you and your coworkers,” read another comment. “Embarrassed for Charlevoix and completely enraged that grown adults think they can act like children with daddy’s money throw fits and get what they want. You’ve put up with so much already I can’t imagine how truly awful it was to make this decision!!”
Not all the comments were so supportive, though. Some commenters accused Moore and her staff of being lazy.
"I’ve read comments saying we took the easy way out because we wanted to close early," said Moore. "That’s not the case. We all love our jobs. And we performed to the best of our abilities. We give 100% all the time."
Moore explained to TODAY that there wasn’t one instance in particular that pushed her to make the decision — it was a combination of factors.
“It was just a week of my staff working doubles. So that’s 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. And just being beaten down every day by the amount of people that were coming in, plus just the disrespect people were giving to them,” she explained before listing off a number of quarrels that occurred during the week.
During one instance, after telling a party that there would be a 30-minute wait for a table, they bypassed servers, commandeered two tables, and demanded to be served.
“They told me that they were just going to sit there and wait for half an hour until somebody would come over and take care of them,” Moore recalled. “I had to ask the woman two or three times to stop moving the tables. And then she crossed her arms and sat in a chair and told me that she wasn’t going. She intended to stay there. At that point, I just told her whether or not that table would be available, and a half an hour, my staff would not serve her and her party, just due to the blatant disrespect.”
Overeager and sometimes crabby customers didn't ease the stress of keeping up with the tavern's three-story structure, which takes a physical toll on servers, particularly during the summer months. That Saturday, one of the restaurant’s servers, who is diabetic, ended up in the emergency room.
“It was 90 degrees. It was super hot. She was so sweaty, and her insulin pump slipped right off her, and she didn’t even notice,” Moore explained. “She wound up in the ER on Saturday night because her sugar had bottomed out, and she collapsed. She put her own health aside to keep moving forward with our job, and that’s sad to me.”
Moore hopes that if there's one lesson to be learned from this, it's that patrons continue to remind themselves that servers are people.
“People need to realize how much the service industry folks give up to be there to perform that job," Moore, who gets home at 3 a.m. and is up at 7:30 every morning in order to be up with her three children, explained. "To do it every day with a smile on their face, even when they feel like nobody cares and nobody appreciates them … Somebody cares about that person that's waiting on you just as much as you care about the people you have at your house. And I don't feel like you would go to your mom's house and treat her like trash when she serves you a meal."
About the now-viral sign she hung up, she said, "It was a statement."
"The 'professional' choice probably would have been to simply have a sign that said: 'Our kitchen is closed for the evening,'" said Moore. "But I felt like people needed to be aware of what was happening. People needed to be aware of their actions and how they impact others."