Rude Food: Would you pay to be insulted while eating dinner?

FILE: Interior of a Karen's Diner restaurant in London, April 2023
FILE: Interior of a Karen's Diner restaurant in London, April 2023 Copyright Estelle Nilsson-Julien
Copyright Estelle Nilsson-Julien
By Estelle Nilsson-Julien
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Menus are thrown at customers, vegans shamed and dares dished out: a night at Karen's Diner is not for the easily-offended.


“What do you want now?”, scowls the waitress standing outside Karen's Diner. 

This is a restaurant like no other - where waiters are purposely rude to customers - and diners happily pay for this abuse.

A group of customers torn between fear and intrigue scuttle into the chain’s latest branch located in north London. Over the course of the evening, menus will be thrown at customers, vegans publicly shamed and a range of embarrassing dares dished out.

The 'inhospitable' business

“I like to say that we’re in the inhospitable business rather than the hospitable one”, laughs Paul Levin, Head of Karen's Diner for UK and Europe. “We’re the only dining chain in the world where people don’t come for the food, they come because they find it funny”.

With more than 1.4 million followers on TikTok, social media is key to the chain’s marketing. The platform’s most viral videos showcase unsuspecting grandparents and friends, facing a torrent of insults upon their visit to the restaurant.

“An astonishing amount of families come dine here, however they need to know what they’re in for. We’re not worried about the kids, we’re more worried about the parents whinging.”

@karensdinerofficial “Who booked this?!” Oh granny granny granny, youve come to the wrong place! #karensdiner♬ original sound - Karen's Diner

What is a 'Karen'?

Karen’s Diner is based around ‘Karen’, the caricature of a middle-aged privileged white woman which went viral on social media in 2018. ‘Karen’ refers to American baby boomers born in the 1960s - a time when the name was highly popular in the United States.

"I could easily train you to be a Karen: never smile, scowl and make fun of everything”, Levin tells Euronews Culture. The personnel here are waiters first - and then actors. At Karen’s Diner, most of the waiters are women, "it goes down better when a woman, or a more effeminate man plays a Karen, rather than a menacing man hurling abuse at customers," he points out.

“‘Karen’ emerged on “black Twitter” and refers to privileged white women who are perceived as racist and entitled. It is also a caricature of a woman who complains when she doesn’t get the service she expects”, explains Professor Diane Negra, expert in Film and Culture at University College Dublin.

A safe-haven against 'wokeness'

Tonight, 25 year old Jack is wearing a gold party hat. As he delivers a veggie burger to a customer, he rings a bell which signals the start of a humiliating ritual. Shouting into a megaphone, he orders the customer to stand up while accusing her of being "woke". Riling up the room, he incites the rest of the diners to follow him as he proceeds to give the woman a middle finger and shout "f*** you veggie!". Despite this, the tone is light - the woman and other customers laugh.

"The place attracts customers who want a safe place to rebel against political correctness," says Professor Negra.

Estelle Nilsson-Julien
Abusive waiting staff interact with customers at a Karen's Diner theme restaurant in London, April 2023Estelle Nilsson-Julien

However, Karen has also become a sexist and ageist caricature, according to Professor Negra. "The term has been feasted upon and expanded from its original usage. It has become a tool of the patriarchy, used to discredit middle-aged white women, who dare to complain or assert their authority by labelling them hysterical", explains Professor Negra.

“Quality customer service is increasingly reduced and Karen soaks up the rage that customers would otherwise direct towards corporations. Restaurants, banks and hospitals increasingly require customers to do tasks themselves, corporations have become experts at eliminating customer help.”

Despite the restaurant's transgressiveness, a list of house rules are printed on a chart and presented to customers upon arrival. Homophobia, discrimination and racism are not tolerated - and if customers or staff don't abide they will be cautioned before being removed. At Karen’s there is always a plain-clothed manager on site - the only member of staff Is who is out of character.

Are staff protected?

“They call me the Chihuahua, I'm less aggressive than the other waiters", explains Hannah, a 22 year old waitress. Despite her softer touch, she explains that employees must have a thick skin here "I don't take it badly when someone insults me, frankly I don't care. It's part of the job but if you're sensitive, it's hard to work here”.

"We see Karens who get dropped by management after a few shifts because they don't have the right dynamic with customers. The idea is not to make people too uncomfortable, if I see people are having a bad time, I leave them alone" says Hannah, before snapping right back into character with a flick of her braids “okay, is that all your questions now, will you leave me alone?”

Darcy Starr/ Karen's Diner
Waiters pose in front of diner food.Darcy Starr/ Karen's Diner

Is there such a thing as too far though? In an interview with Australian public broadcaster ABC, multiple former staff members called out the abuse they faced from customers. One ex-waitress alleged that a group of young men - who did not appreciate the restaurant's concept - physically threatened and intimidated her.

Karen’s Diner told Euronews Culture “we had a couple of disgruntled ex-employees who we terminated for performance and behaviour reasons. These employees labelled us unsafe and forced an investigation by the relevant governing bodies. On investigation, the investigating parties were very satisfied with the standards and procedures within the venue and the claims of being ‘unsafe’ were rejected.’


Who is behind the concept?

Karen’s Diner was launched in 2021 by Viral Ventures, an Australian events firm. It has since been rapidly growing, boasting branches across the UK as well as in Indonesia.

"Concept restaurants are increasingly developed by people who don't have a food background, for instance tech entrepreneurs or investors. They are trying to create a niche for themselves in a highly competitive industry”, explains Professor Marc Stierand, an expert in management and innovation at the world renowned EHL Hospitality Business School.

Asides from the Karen paraphernalia, the diner's chequered tables and neon lighting mimic a kitsch US diner. "It is reminiscent of a Disney movie with its soft colours and funny decor. These touches were carefully chosen. If the decor was too dark and gloomy, the customer’s experience would be too intense when combined with the experience," says Professor Stierand.

Estelle Nilsson-Julien
References to 'Karen' fill the walls.Estelle Nilsson-Julien

The hospitality industry proved to be fragile when it was devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic, with restaurants across Europe subsequently struggling to recruit personnel. However, according to Professor Stierand, Karen’s Diner may have a clever ruse by “attracting people to a job that they may not otherwise be interested in, if they were working in an ordinary restaurant. The mockery needs to be done in a way that staff ridicule themselves rather than customers”.

Will customers go back for a second helping?

“Hospitality is an experience and if there is no engagement from the customer, the restaurant can’t work. Waiters must be able to think ‘oh I cracked this joke with this customer last Wednesday’, otherwise it won’t be funny", explains Stierand.


Diners are divided on whether they will return. "I spent the evening being humiliated and yet I still want to come back - I can’t understand my own thinking!" laughs Kai, a 25-year-old architect who made the unconventional choice of coming to Karen’s for a date night.

For 22-year-old Nicky Wojakovski it’s a firm no "I must admit that after 20 minutes I got tired of being insulted and the food isn't even particularly good. It's a bit surreal, I am leaving wondering why this place even place exists!”

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