“Sometimes it is necessary to fire your customers” was one of the pearls of retail wisdom passed on to me years ago by a shop owner.
There’s a fine line between trying to please people and allowing yourself and your staff to be used as doormats for overindulged entitled customers. At the Pub we try to find the balance and I think for the most part we succeed.
Mardi Gras, and in particular the last 24 hours, have made me think of this in terms of our city. Recently, a discouraged Mother’s blog post about her experience with drunken parade-goers harassing her & her daughter rallied many of us to help. Muses, Rolling Elvi’s, Pussyfooters — all came to the aid of a young lady who had been treated cruelly at the parade. We all did the right thing and made the young lady’s experience a good one. I don’t think, however, that anything we did today will create a different atmosphere for her on the parade route next year.
New Orleans has branded itself. The product we are selling is one of excess consumption and no rules. It’s not surprising to many of us Mardi Gras veterans that this happened. Disappointing, but not surprising. Rules of behaviour have changed during the 40-plus years I’ve been watching parades in New Orleans. Rules of behaviour have changed in the French Quarter and on Bourbon Street in the last 40 years, too. Despite what many new New Orleanians think, drinking till you throw up or pass out was not the norm — either on the parade route during Mardi Gras, or in the French Quarter — any time of the year. OK, maybe on Mardi Gras day things got a little wild, but not ever so wild that my parents would hesitate to take me down to The Quarter on Mardi Gras day to see the beautiful costumes fashioned, even then, primarily by the gay community.
My father grew up in the French Quarter and I spent my young childhood there. Even Bourbon Street was classy by today’s standards. The music clubs hosted live jazz, the tacky t-shirt shops and strip clubs were less plentiful and a little more discreet in their advertising. There were no “Big Ass Beer” signs. There were no “strongest drink in New Orleans” billboards on I-10 or Hand Grenades. You had to go into Pat O’s to buy the drink that made The Quarter famous…and for the most part, you sat and drank it!
There is plenty we can do to alter or control our culture, but we are our own worst enemies. Attempts at noise control in The Quarter are met with “don’t stop the music” campaigns run, as far as I can tell, by locals who are not old enough or haven’t lived here long enough to remember that amplified rock and rap wasn’t the standard on Bourbon or any other street in The Quarter 20 years ago. I can imagine what an attempt at an open container law revision or drink size control would bring: marching in the streets, no doubt. Or what about requiring a customer to actually walk inside a bar in order to purchase? Or control the unlicensed sale of beer out of coolers on street corners. What about requiring a customer to purchase a drink only for themselves — not for the gaggle of teenage girls standing outside? Letters to the editor would ensue from bar owners.
The fact is that we sell alcohol in many places in order to get drunk , get drunk fast, and get drunk as cheaply as possible. Every teenager knows where to buy liquor. My 7th-grader’s school warned the parents this year of the notorious hot-spots on the parade routes, but I would have had to have my head under a rock not to already know them. We allow, and even celebrate, camping out on the neutral ground. What do you expect to get when you allow that? It won’t be just families with cold cut sandwiches in their coolers. It will and has been taken over by 24-pack drinking college kids that we have encouraged and by the way NOT provided facilities for. We complain that people pee in our streets – well, what do you expect people to do when you let them camp out for days and don’t provide bathroom facilities? The rules for “Occupy New Orleans” seemed more stringent than anything we enforce during Mardi Gras!
Please understand that I’m not suggesting the NOPD has time to control all these things. They have their hands full keeping the real crime at bay. I’m not even certain which measures would strike the right balance between encouraging fun and discouraging massive public drunkenness. I think we could figure it out, however — but we’d have to give up our sense of entitlement first. Our demand that we be able to do whatever we want, whenever we want , however we want.
Over the last five years I’ve seen behaviour accepted at bars that would never have been tolerated when we opened more than 24 years ago. Customers hurling crude, scatological language at staff they don’t like, a trend of flaming bars or business you are unhappy with on the Internet, denied requests for special orders we can’t accommodate being met with nasty pouting and a complete lack of basic human politeness. Customers treating staff like servants in an Edwardian household rather than as human beings. Even asking customers to follow basic rules; like bringing an ID when they visit, or not literally throwing money at us to get our attention, is considered rude on our part. To some extent I think we are allowing our city’s “customers” to treat New Orleans the same way. We want our neutral ground campsites, we want our tents/ladders/coolers/tables and chairs where we want them…we want the money that the drunken frat-tastics bring down on Bourbon Street…we want music regardless of licenses, or noise levels…we want, we want, we want….
At the Pub we’ve built a community. In that community certain behaviours aren’t accepted and a newcomer learns quickly or leaves for another spot that is less picky. Sometimes that means we just aren’t overly welcoming when a customer’s behavior is rude, and sometimes that means “firing our customers”.
But guess what I’ve noticed? For every person I’ve turned away for poor behavior, two more nicely behaved people have replaced them..and as a rule, nicely behaved people spend more money.
For those of you who don’t know me I own a 24 hour bar on the parade route. I grew up in New Orleans have spent much of my adult life here. The Avenue Pub (my bar) has seen 25 Mardi Gras.