Businesses on the New South Wales Central Coast have reached out to a family after a woman took to social media on Sunday morning claiming that a local café had requested her elderly father no longer be left alone to have a coffee there because the business was “not a respite centre”.
On Sunday Penelope Beveridge took to Facebook to let friends know about a “horrendous morning”, in which she left her 84-year-old father Len Fuller, who uses a breathing apparatus, at Terrigal Surf Café while she went for a walk on the beach, reports news.com.au.
Beveridge claims on her return, the owner of the café “screamed abuse at us for leaving him there as its bad for business,” and said “he is too old to be left alone and they are not a respite centre plus, he doesn’t appreciate an old man sitting there with a concentrator for breathing”.
The family has since spoken to the media and the initial complaint has been shared 7,500 times on Facebook. However, the business owner has also hit out with his own account of events.
“The old gentleman was never asked to leave,” the business said on Facebook.
“He had come to café on other occasions and the same thing happened every time. The man and woman sat him down, they ordered him a coffee and then left.”
The business said the owner of the cafe had approached the family as they went to leave on Sunday, expressing concern that Fuller had been left alone without a carer given that the business was not equipped to provide assistance to those in need of specialised care.
“I said: ‘Excuse me, may I have a word’ no raised voice no abuse! ‘I am not comfortable at you leaving your father for such long extended time’,” the business owner said on Facebook.
The response has generated hundreds of comments, with opinions split on what the responsibility of a café should be to care for those with additional needs if they are alone in the space.
This morning Beveridge posted an update on the situation, thanking the community for support and saying a number of other cafes and RSLs in the area had reached out to say her father was welcome to spend time alone there any time.
She drew SmartCompany’s attention this morning to a number of inflammatory comments that have been made online after the incident became public, and said she stands by her version of events.
“My dad would like to thank everyone who reached out and offered their support and understanding,” Beveridge said in a post on Facebook on November 29, which has since been deleted.
“Dad never intended to be the centre of attention that was between us and the owner of the cafe about the ban. It is time to put this to rest and get on with our lives.”
SmartCompany contacted the café this morning for further comment but has not received a response.
Social media pitchforks help nobody
The incident represents an “incredibly difficult” conversation that a business owner might feel they have to initiate, says crisis communications expert Nicole Matejic – and while all the details of the incident are not clear, the one truth in this case is that social media isn’t the best way to resolve emotive customer issues.
“It’s a really hard one—businesses are trying with the right intentions to have those conversations, and you hope that it’s taken in the right way,” she says.
But if an issue has been raised with a customer and they have had an emotional reaction, there’s little to be gained in taking your rebuttals online, Matejic says.
“I wouldn’t be entering into the social media pitchfork that’s evolving,” she says. While an initial public comment might be required, fighting the issue solely through social media won’t help a resolution.
“Have your say and leave it at that – don’t buy into it any further,” Matejic says.
“People are very quick to get their pitchforks out either way, so say what you need to say and walk away.”
If you encounter a situation in which you have to have a tough conversation with a customer, it’s worth thinking about framing this with a solution in mind, says Matejic. In the case, Matejic suggests the business could have suggested the family ask a friend to come sit with Fuller so that he has a companion.
“It is time to put this to rest and get on with our lives,” Beveridge says of the incident on Facebook.
“We would love to thank all the owners of clubs restaurants RSLs and cafes who wrote to us directly and offered my dad their premises to enjoy coffee and meals.”