If you've ever worked in hospitality, you'll know that customers are annoying as a whole. They're whiny, rude, and more than happy to run off without paying. But maybe that's just humanity in general? Maybe if you worked in a restaurant that catered for a nicer, more ethical demographic, everyone would be nice.
With this in mind, we asked people in vegan restaurants around Australia what's like to serve vegans. The people we spoke to were all vegans themselves, so it should have been an objective study. But a very different picture emerged. It quickly became clear that working in hospitality sucks regardless of who you're serving. But it's also a story about how vegan cliches are cliches for a reason.
And a note: everyone we spoke to wanted their name changed so they weren't fired for complaining about their customers. We obliged.
VICE: Hey Sarah, how long have you been at your job?
Sarah: I've been at a vegan cafe for two years. It's in the suburbs, so I guess we attract a lot more of the country vegans.
What kind of customers do you guys get that might not appear in regular cafes?
It's the vegans who try to catch you out. I find it's the big groups that are the worst, the vegan Facebook meetups or something. Most of them seem to become part of these groups not because they believe in veganism, but because they just want something to belong to. They show up and just want to out-vegan each other.
So they try to catch you out, and test if you're as vegan as they are?
All the time.
Tell me more about that.
I mean, they probably love still love animals or whatever, but what's weird is how they lump all this pseudoscience bullshit in with loving animals. Like we had this dude come in to promote these "vibration frequency harmoniser" things. They send out these vibrations to "harmonise" your room but they have nothing to do with veganism, it's just some fucking weird shit. I don't know why and how it's all come together.
Any other memorable customers?
A guy once told me he was immortal. He came in with feathers in his hat, wearing like a black roll neck, kind of like an old hippie. He asked me if everything was organic, I said no. He then told me he couldn't buy anything if it wasn't organic. I told him it said "vegan" on the shop door, not "organic." He just ended up telling me that he was immortal and had been living for a thousand years, all because he ate organic.
There's a lot of anti-vegan sentiment around. Do you think these kinds of characters contribute to that problem?
Totally. They treat it like a religion, and tell the whole world "I'm a vegan, and I follow the rules strictly." I've been a vegan for like 10 years, and even I don't even know why people think you can eat some things but not others. Like honey, why can't I eat honey? And I guess that's how I differ. I've recently started eating eggs, because I thought about it and I feel that practically and ethically there's no problem with eating home-farmed eggs. And if that makes me not vegan anymore, then whatever, I'd prefer to not be called a vegan.
If there was a message you wanted to say to the anti-vegan group, what would it be?
I'd agree that 99 percent of vegans are morons. Most of them are really annoying. I hang out with them and have to listen to them yabber on, so I know.
Tell us a bit about the vegan cafe you worked at...
I worked at a whole plant-based cafe for about a year. It had a full breakfast and lunch menu– everything we had on the menu was vegan. All of the staff at the point when I was there were vegan. Even the chefs in the kitchen, and the managers.
So you're vegan yourself?
I personally don't tell people I'm vegan. I think it's boring to tell people you're vegan. Nobody gives a shit, to be honest.
Tell me about the typical customer at the cafe?
[A vegan cafe] attracts a different archetype of person. "Finicky" is probably the best way to describe them. A typical customer asks a lot of questions regarding veganism. There's a certain level of assurance they want. Even down to the sprinkles we use on the cupcakes. Once people are comfortable it's vegan, then it becomes a big thing about sourcing and where the products come from.
Can they get away with it?
No, I think it's overdone. I get it to an extent, but I think people go over the top.
So you think vegans like this contribute to the stereotype?
Yeah, totally. But having said that, anti-veganism confuses me. You'd think the antidote to a social movement is to ignore it, or to not care. But to actively fight against it? There are stories of blood being thrown on windows at vegan restaurants. That's not cool. Just be nice.
Hey Janet, tell me about your hospitality experience.
I just quit working at a vegan cafe last month. I was there for two years. All up, I've worked in hospitality for five years at vegan and non-vegan places.
Can you describe the vegan cafe?
Literally everything on the menu was vegan. The only thing they did serve that wasn't vegan was cow's milk, for coffee. It was for people who had never been vegan before and wanted to try the food, but liked their coffee [with cow's milk].
Did you ever have to deal with difficult customers?
Yeah I found a lot of the difficult customers were just fussy. Obviously we were a vegan cafe, so we were already ticking that box for them. But when they came in, they were very self-entitled– they almost demanded the stuff they wanted. It wasn't a friendly ask, it was "I deserve this latte more than the next person. And I deserve it first." A lot of the time they would be very impatient, and if things weren't done to their exact liking, all hell would break loose.
What was your most memorable bad-customer situation?
I actually had a really confusing situation. This lovely elderly couple came in and chose to sit outside. At this cafe dogs were allowed on the balcony, and a dog kept barking, as dogs do. The man said, "somebody should put that dog down." I was shocked because he'd just been telling me how long he'd been vegan for. I said, "That's not very vegan of you." He responded with, "I'm only an animal advocate for animals who deserve it." It was so bizarre. You're a vegan but you'd put a dog down for barking?
So customers had weird ideas about veganism?
Oh yeah. We had another guy try to convince us that coconut oil wasn't vegan. He couldn't explain why when we questioned him, he just said, "Oh, just go look it up." People would pick the most basic they've heard about veganism and run with it.
Where do you think this sense of superiority comes from?
There was just no tolerance for people who weren't vegan. They would think, "You're a terrible person for not being vegan." People were actively saying that, too. Because I was vegan and I worked in a vegan restaurant, people would joke with me saying, "How good are we? I can't believe people aren't vegan." They would try and pat me on the back and say we're the better part of society. They'd almost do it for the bragging rights, instead of actually giving a shit about what veganism means.
Seems like people preached a lot to you about veganism...
I feel like they believe, in their hearts, they are doing the right thing by being advocates for something they believe in. They think [preaching] is the right way to go about it. They feel like it's the only way to express what they're doing, and the movement. I just think that they see it as the be-all and end-all. That's the only way they can be the best vegan they can be.
Any final redeeming statement for vegans?
We're not all bad. Most of us are pretty grounded and let you do whatever the hell you want to do with your life. Not all of us are going to beat you down with a stick because you're not vegan.
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