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A&E >  Food

James Corden incident a lesson in how to complain with class

James Corden attends the “Mammals” World Premiere on Oct. 7, 2022 in London, England. The late-night TV host was called out on social media recently for exhibiting rude behavior at a New York City restaurant.  (Jeff Spicer/Getty Images)
James Corden attends the “Mammals” World Premiere on Oct. 7, 2022 in London, England. The late-night TV host was called out on social media recently for exhibiting rude behavior at a New York City restaurant. (Jeff Spicer/Getty Images)

James, James, James.

I’m talking Corden, of course, the late-night TV host and actor who got into hot water last week when the owner of Balthazar in New York accused him of being a world-class ingrate at the French dining magnet in SoHo. Restaurateur Keith McNally initially banned “The Late, Late Show” star for, among other things, allegedly screaming at staff for getting bits of egg white in Corden’s wife’s all-yolk omelet and demanding free drinks.

James, James, James.

As someone who eats out an average of 10 meals a week and hosts a weekly online dining Q&A, where rants tend to outnumber raves, I’ve learned a bit about human behavior and how to conduct oneself in a restaurant. Based on a manager’s report from June, the only thing Corden did right when he found a hair in his main course was to immediately bring it to the attention of staff. Complaining in the moment gives a restaurant the chance to right a wrong; after the fact lets a problem marinate, and not in a good way.

Let me be clear. It’s OK to complain. Conscientious restaurants use feedback from customers as a way to improve their performance. Loud music can be turned down, cushions might be added to hard seats, a table might be removed to give customers elbow room, and a lighter touch with salt or spice can translate to plates being licked clean.

In the face of shorter menus, curtailed hours and higher menu costs, diners who have been loyal and patient with the people who serve and feed them deserve to be heard – provided they do it with honey rather than vinegar. According to the June manager’s report, Corden became “extremely nasty,” demanding another round of drinks “this second” and insisting earlier drinks be comped. The TV host also allegedly used a four-letter word sure to rattle a restaurant: Yelp, and the threat of a bad online review. There’s a special hot spot for diners who not only berate workers in person but also pile the bile on social media.

On the recent brunch visit to Balthazar, Corden allegedly became irate after home fries were sent out with his wife’s remade egg yolk omelet when a salad had been requested. “You can’t do your job! You can’t do your job!” a manager’s report quoted the celebrity as yelling at his server. “Maybe I should go into the kitchen and cook the omelet myself!” (Really, sir? Does that work in reverse, when one of your jokes falls flat?) Yet another etiquette violation.

The best complaints stick to the facts and use a civil tone. More empathetic yet are diners who sweeten an issue with a compliment: “We’ve really enjoyed everything up to now. Thank you for that. But is it possible to share this (insert disappointment) with the (chef or whoever is responsible) and (correct the problem)?”

In what felt like a snap of the finger, Corden supposedly reached out to apologize to McNally, who then lifted his ban on the Brit.

But! But! But! Corden subsequently told the New York Times and others that he hadn’t done “anything wrong, on any level” and that the allegations were “silly.” McNally responded by encouraging Corden to admit his mistakes and apologize to his staff: Demonstrate sincerity.

Like the savvy restaurateur he is, McNally used a carrot rather than a stick to appeal to the celebrity. If Corden apologized, said McNally, “he can eat for free at Balthazar for the rest of the year.” No word about how that offer went down with staff.

Tom Sietsema has been the Washington Post’s food critic since 2000. He previously worked for Microsoft Corp., where he launched; the Seattle Post-Intelligencer; the San Francisco Chronicle; and the Milwaukee Journal. He has also written for Food & Wine.

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