Turns out Karen’s Diner isn’t just a shitty experience for customers, but employees too: staff of the notorious restaurant are taking formal action after not-so-shocking allegations of sexual harassment and unsafe working conditions.
Former worker Kaliya Arumugam told the ABC she took a job at Karen’s Diner, owned by Viral Ventures, because it seemed like a fun way to combine her hospo and acting experience. Instead, she claims she found herself the subject of racial slurs and sexual harassment from customers.
“These incidents have ranged from my personal image, like insults about my physical appearance, body shaming, racial slurs and sexual harassment and physical assault,” she said.
“I had a group of young men physically threaten me, and once they left, they waited outside the front of the venue for me for about an hour or so.
“There were incidents where we had to call the police and get people removed … and they just were never really taken seriously by management.”
The ABC reported six former staff members of Karen’s Diner are now taking formal action against the franchise due to the harassment they endured.
In case you aren’t across the concept of Karen’s Diner, it’s a burger chain restaurant where staff get to act like Karens — AKA the privileged, rude, entitled white women that anyone who has worked in the service industry has come to fear — and roast you.
The premise is supposed to be fun and playful, and you’re encouraged to dish back any flack you get from the servers. And record it of course, since a huge part of the venue’s appeal is its virality.
The guy at the end was sooo out of line! #karensdiner #restaurantreview #brisbane
But this concept, unsurprisingly, has led to situations where either workers or customers have crossed the line between teasing and abuse.
When this happened to Kaliya, instead of protecting her, she said management told her to leave offending customers alone.
“[Getting] a bad review was constantly a huge concern from them … the public appearance and viralness of the concept was always a top priority,” she said.
Molly, another Karen’s Diner staff member, said a customer reached up their dress on their second shift, but management didn’t do anything about it.
“That kind of thing happened regularly,” they said.
Molly said the company introduced a system to help mitigate harassment, where offending customers would be shown the handbook and which rule they broke before being given a “yellow card” by staff. If they broke the rules again, they would be given a “red card” and kicked out of the venue.
“They very quickly realised they were losing a lot of revenue because a lot of the customers were not following the house rules,” they said.
The system changed again so managers were the ones who carded offending customers, instead of serving staff. But Molly claimed that since managers weren’t listening to staff, it “defeats the whole purpose”.
A great investigation into restaurant chain Karen’s Diner by my colleague @ZillaGordon. Former workers Molly and Kaliya will be speaking to @LaTrioli on @abcmelbourne at 9am about their experiences.
Listen live: https://t.co/ypiXEjUBKc pic.twitter.com/Dc49KSTSB1
— Kelsey Rettino (@kelseyrettino) November 8, 2022
Kaliya also alleged staff were told to sign a handbook which essentially waived their right to pursue injury claims. She claimed those who refused were fired.
“[It] basically said that we would waive any rights to pursue injury claims, even in the case of negligence,” she alleged.
“The manager of this venue at the time told us that we had a deadline to sign it and it was non-negotiable.
“Some staff members that raised concerns with managers and then had their shifts cut and then subsequently were fired.”
Staff were also required to sign a media release which meant customers were always allowed to record them at work, presumably to maintain the brand’s TikTok fame. For Kaliya, this meant she couldn’t escape the harassment she endured once she left work because it followed her online, too.
“I was getting harassed and heckled and bothered in my personal life and people would think they could treat me like in my daily life how they would treat me at Karen’s Diner,” she said.
Viral Ventures operation supervisor Mark Smith has maintained that Karen’s Diner has a “zero tolerance” policy regarding harassment and rule-breaking customers would be kicked out.
“We’ve only had to do that on a few occasions where we’ve had some unruly customers, and that’s mainly been in terms of customers causing a bit of damage in the venue ,” he told the ABC.
He said the company was aware of some nasty comments body-shaming workers in the past, but denied they were subjected to more serious inappropriate behaviour.
“We’ve got no reports or incidents of that ever happening” he said.
Smith also admitted an early draft of the employee *did* have a waiver about injury claims, but said staff weren’t required to sign one.