(This post originally appeared on The Guardian)
We all know that Basil Fawlty ran the worst hotel in the world. But who’s got the worst cafe? Karyn Cullingford might be in the running.
The Springfield Store and Café, which is owned by both Cullingford and her husband, made national news in New Zealand this past weekend not because of her great food. It was because of her terrible customer service.
According to New Zealand’s Stuff, the cafe – which is located outside of Christchurch – has been dubbed the “F… Off Shop” by the locals and Cullingford is called the “Wicked Witch of Springfield.”
While the cafe has won awards for its pies and good reviews for its food, not a lot can be said for its ambiance. In fact, 71 of the cafe’s 101 reviews on Trip Advisor since 2014 have given the owners “terrible” ratings and accused them both of being grumpy, rude, abusive and a “disgrace to hospitality.”
Just how bad is the customer service at the Springfield Store and Cafe? So bad that people have been reportedly chased out of the cafe and others were forced to leave in tears after being abused by staff members. So bad that the police have actually been called and so bad that some of the local residents boycott the restaurant. “It’s an embarrassment to our community,” resident Graeme Dawson told Stuff. “You don’t have to talk to too many people before you come across somebody who’s had a bad experience there. I want them gone – the whole town wants them gone.”
Cullingford doesn’t seem to be bothered. “If you come in here and treat me like a bit of s… you’re going to get it back,” she says. She also refuses to read the online reviews. “I know I make damn good food,” she says. “And when people diss my food I do get a bit upset. People should come for the food, not my wonderful personality.”
Unfortunately, the backlash has had its impact. Because of the media attention she received, the New Zealand Herald reports she and her husband have gone into hiding.
Frankly, I hope they come back to work soon.
In this age of empty gestures (“all operators are busy but we APPRECIATE your call”), vapid store clerks and fake/nice servers it’s kind of refreshing – and hilarious – to encounter a surly and rude cafe owner giving customers a rough time. I’m going to bet some of them even deserve it too!
Cullingford correctly believes the customer isn’t always right and she’s more than happy to remind them of that. Perhaps the experience of getting abused at a roadside cafe in return for decent food and an amusing experience is a unique draw. Some people agree. “We generally stop purely for the entertainment,” said one reviewer. “The lady is so grumpy … but she can cook. We recommend stopping by. If you’re feeling brave, make a complaint.”
For sure, that approach has also had some unintended benefits for the owners. Tourists, likely knowing of its reputation, flock there.
“The people of Trip Advisor, my lunch date, and myself can all agree the pies are marvelous,” said a recent reviewer, who lamented the fact that the owner wasn’t there after what was likely “a busy weekend of trade”.
Come back to work Karyn Cullingford. Make great pies. Be yourself. You own the “F… Off Shop.” Good for you.