Last week the Associated Press reported on a business (a cheesesteak shop) in Philadelphia where the owner posted two signs requesting all customers to speak English. The owner said he was making a political statement about immigration. The signs say:
“This is America: WHEN ORDERING PLEASE SPEAK ENGLISH,”
The shop owner was subject to a city complaint that his signs are discriminatory and in violation of city ordinances. Ultimately, the signs were ruled non-discriminatory and the shop owner was allowed to keep them. Politics and legal issues aside, was this the right outcome?
Easy answer: No.
It’s plain and simple, this guy does not understand customer service. That he would post these signs, tells me he’s more focused on his needs and issues than on taking care of his customers. He has made it clear he does not care about helping his customers get what they came for. He’s more interested in having them behave according to his standards and his values.
He is confusing dictating with serving.
You could argue he needs customers to speak English so he can help them. I would argue he could (and should) make accommodations so they can order without being able to speak English. They could use pictures, they could have multi-lingual menus or they could hire people who speak the same languages as their customers.
You could argue he has a right to make a political statement. I would argue he should not force his political views on his customers. They are there for a sandwich, not a lecture. This is like the Dixie Chicks debacle a few years ago. Since then, most entertainers have learned to politic on their time, not on their customer’s dime.
Finally, you could argue this shop owner has simply decided people who do not speak English are not a good fit for his business. He had made a tactical decision not to cater to them. I would argue he does not want to stay in business for the long term. If his neighborhood is becoming home to more and more Asian and Latin American residents, then he is missing the boat. Any decision to ignore this new market will probably be a death-knell to this business.
Eventually, this shop owner will find his growing base of new customers (who don’t speak English as a first language) will stop growing. They will stop coming to his shop. They’ll take their money elsewhere, to competing businesses that appreciate and accommodate them. And, his business will shrink.
If he wants a smaller business, that’s his right. But I think this goes beyond the issue of business growth and planning. This guy should think about why he’s in business.
When you do things that focus on telling your customers how to behave (and possibly offending them) you’re not serving them. Every business needs to be in the business of serving their customers. When you take your focus off serving them, you risk doing things that will drive them away. And that’s no way to build a business.