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“Rude Guests Will Be Eaten Whole”: How a Hollywood Hangout Is Dealing With a Crush of Awful Guest Behavior


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Sunset Tower, the iconic hotel and beloved stomping ground for A-listers, is dealing with a crisis that has become all too familiar as of late: rude and unruly customers.

“People have been terrible, terrible, terrible,” says hotel owner Jeff Klein, who is quick to point out that it’s not regulars but rather new clientele. “It’s always first-timers and they’ve been disgusting and awful to my employees. You would think that after all that we have been through together, collectively as a society, people would be kinder and nicer, especially to hotel and restaurant employees, who have had such a hard time making a living during the pandemic, but that hasn’t been the case.”

It was at first, he says. When the hotel reopened following an extended shutdown imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Klein said people were on their best behavior, presumably happy to be out of the house for the first time in many months. “Then, all of a sudden there was this insane sense of entitlement,” he explains. What has most baffled the veteran hotelier, who also owns the membership-only San Vicente Bungalows in West Hollywood (that has been free of such issues), is the anger fueling the fire.

“It usually has to do with requests for a specific table,” says Klein. “Most of the time, it’s not even a realistic request. We’ve had people say, ‘I want that table,’ while pointing to a table where someone is currently seated. They also claim to have specifically requested certain tables when they made a reservation even though we don’t take table requests, so there’s usually some lying involved. The irony is, they already have a great table to begin with.”

Tensions have escalated so much that some unruly guests have been asked to leave the premises or worse, been escorted out by the hotel’s well-trained security staff. “When they are mistreating my team, that’s never going to be tolerated,” he added. “We’re lucky in that we are a hotel so we have a security team.”

Klein wasn’t sure how widespread the issue was until he read a story in The New York Times. Reporter Neil Vigdor’s story — “Restaurant Shuts Down for a ‘Day of Kindness’ After Customers Make Its Staff Cry,” published on July 14 — detailed how the owners of Apt Cape Cod responded to similar waves of abuse lodged at their staff, so much that some were left in tears.

The farm-to-table restaurant, run by couple Brandi Felt Castellano and Regina Felt Castellano, closed down briefly for a “Day of Kindness” as a way to honor staff while also reminding customers of what is important. The duo stressed the challenges facing the restaurant and hospitality industries amid staffing and supply shortages in the wake of a pandemic that claimed hundreds of thousands of small businesses.

“When I read that article, I realized that it wasn’t just us, there’s clearly something going on in the world,” Klein continued. “I don’t know if we’ve lost our social graces or the understanding of our social contract with each other in a hospitality setting.”

As a way to remind customers of the consequences, Klein commissioned a painting from artist Donald Robertson that has been hung near the host stand, placed on the menu and posted on Instagram. It shows a “Lovely Staff” member being berated by a “Stressed Guest” who has caught the attention of “Sunset Tower Security” disguised as a menacing Tyrannosaurus rex. “Rude guests will be eaten whole,” reads the piece. “This is Hollywood afterall!”

Posted on Instagram last week, the image has skyrocketed to become the most-liked image on Sunset Tower’s account next to a caption that reads: “As we emerge from the pandemic, we are asking our guests to respect our staff and hotel/restaurant policies. Rude behavior, derogatory comments and disavowing management request will not be tolerated and you will be asked to leave the premises. Future reservations will not be honored.”

When customers begin to lose their temper and tensions begin to boil, staff members politely point to the cheeky image as a reminder of the consequences of bad behavior. “It has helped a lot,” Klein notes. “It hasn’t helped 100 percent but previously there may have been 10 situations that elevated to a crazy, yelling or screaming situation. Now, we only have that with one or two out of 10. What’s really helped is that many people don’t know they are behaving so ridiculously because they’ve been out of touch with social norms. People are dying and others haven’t made money in more than a year. It’s just a table, calm down.”

A version of this story first appeared in the Aug. 4 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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