Impatient Denny's customer torches Christmas tree

A Texas man sets the holiday decor ablaze after waiting for his check. It's another day in a tough year for the diner chain.

By Jason Notte Dec 20, 2012 3:52PM

File photo of a Denny's sign ( Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)Usually the "War on Christmas" is restricted to pundit rhetoric and anonymous online complaints, but apparently the conventions for Christmas warfare change if you've been waiting too long for a check at Denny's (DENN).


Such was the case in San Antonio, Texas, where a customer, reportedly fed up with waiting for his check, decided to get the staff's attention by heading up to the cashier's station and setting a Christmas tree next to the register on fire. Local ABC affiliate KVUE said the man was angry about waiting "several minutes" for his check and caused about $150,000 in damage.


If the gentleman was taking a principled stand over the merits of service and prompt payment, he nullified it somewhat by immediately fleeing the scene, according to San Antonio NBC affiliate WOAI. If he was just upset over having to pay for Denny's menu items tied to "The Hobbit" films, torching a decoration that looks like one of the Hobbits' living tree friends, the Ents, likely won't get the signal to Middle Earth.


With WOAI reporting that the incident occurred at 4 a.m. on a Sunday, there's a chance the customer's motivations weren't all that clear. His whereabouts are still unknown, though local fire officials have restaurant surveillance video showing him turning the tree of leaves unchanging into a roasting, open fire.


Though the holiday season and Christmas itself are some of the biggest business days on Denny's calendar, this is a particularly bad year for the chain to lose business because of an impatient customer's inflammatory gesture. Sales in 2012 thus far are up only 1.1% from last year, while foot traffic through Denny's restaurants is down 1.8%.


If anything, Denny's has had its hands full putting out figurative fires after the November elections. John Metz, who owns 30 Denny's locations in Florida, proposed tacking on a 5% Obamacare fee to each bill and told Huffington Post, "Customers have two choices: They can either pay it and tip 15 or 20%, or if they really feel so inclined, they can reduce the amount of tip they give to the server."


Denny's managers in Florida were left to deal with the slumping sales and angry customer phone calls that followed and, eventually, aired their complaints to the chain's corporate offices. Denny's chief executive John Miller scolded Metz into an apology in mid-November and admonished him for putting Grand Slam Breakfast-sized words into the company's mouth.


Irate customers don't help matters, either. The retail world already found that as customers at an Alabama mall were unwittingly pepper sprayed on Thursday morning after a scuffle broke out in a line outside a Nike outlet, according to AL.com. On Black Friday in 2011, a woman waiting in line at a Wal-Mart in California pepper sprayed shoppers waiting for a video-game special and injured 20 people.


No one was hurt in the Denny's incident, but with casual dining chains already locked in a profit-killing price war, the last image Denny's wants associated with a holiday trip for cheap french toast are the burning embers of a disgruntled consumer's war on Christmas.


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34Comments
Dec 20, 2012 5:00PM
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"If the gentleman was taking a principled stand..."

 

Two things:  The verb should be "were," as we're talking about the subjunctive.

 

And, "gentleman"?  Certainly, you're kidding, right?  "GENTLEMAN" ??

Dec 20, 2012 4:38PM
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seriously this article is nothing but spelling errors. IN LINE NOT ON LINE. Why do you have a job.
Dec 20, 2012 5:45PM
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The guy who lit the tree was probably some combination of drunk and stoned.



Dec 20, 2012 8:00PM
Dec 25, 2012 2:49AM
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I can understand his frustration. I stopped into a Denny's (Loop 410 at Ingram Rd.) for a quick bite for dinner. Stood at the door (I'm the only customer there) while 3 waiters all tried to get a 4th waiter to seat me. He kept looking at me and then turning away and talking to the only table of customers there. Not orders, just yakking in general. The other 3 waiters all refused to come seat me because I heard them say, "It's his turn to get the customer seated." So I stood there for a freaking 5 minutes while they had a pissing war between themselves! The manager finally came and sat me at the counter (why there, I have no idea, since all the other tables were open!) and the meal was not that great. So that's the last time I go to Denny's.
Dec 20, 2012 5:53PM
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Another story on Texas. If it's not cops assaulting women by the roadside it's nut cases at Dennys.
Dec 21, 2012 1:28PM
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WE MUST BAN CIGARETTE LIGHTERS IMMEDIATELY !!  LIGHTERS CAN KILL !!  WHERE ARE

OBAMA, PELOSI, FEINSTIEN AND PIERS MORGAN WHEN YOU REALLY NEED THEM ???

Dec 21, 2012 6:13PM
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No matter where you go, Denny's has terrible service. However, torching the Christmas tree is a bit overreacting.
Dec 25, 2012 10:55PM
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Well, that's one customer survey that won't have to be filled out.
Dec 25, 2012 5:32PM
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I hope they threw him jail and made to pay the $150,000 plus loss of business costs. 
Dec 24, 2012 3:37PM
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Orlando college student...the woman was in a line up of people called "waiting in line"  not on her laptop  "online".  Why are you in college if you can't read?
Dec 24, 2012 6:44PM
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I can understand being upset at Dennys, I went to one in Frederick Md a few weeks ago, went to the mens room an found the previous occupant had missed the hole in the comode but plastered the seat with uhhh you know what. I aske THREE time could somebody clean the toilet, then the manager got out of her office and said it would be done asap. well 15 minutes later it was. I NEVER got even a lousy apoligy from them. I will NEVER go to any Dennys anywhere.
Dec 21, 2012 12:44AM
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Maybe someone said that was a "well-done" Christmas tree and the guy got the wrong impression.
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i thought food was high in dubai 150000 dollars for a breakfast i hope he got kobe beef with it i couldn't afford the tip
Dec 24, 2012 4:19PM
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Shari's tops my list as the worst, overpriced and bad service
Dec 20, 2012 11:39PM
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Being that it was Tejas, I would have thought someone would have put a slug in him before he got out the door......
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I think that the days of places like Denny's is numbered. Who has the time anymore to stop & actually set  down to a meal when the family goes out on the weekend? Also, with the prices that many establishments charge for their goods, it's no wonder that many families are opting for either going to the local burgwer joint or for cooking a frozen pizza at home, assuming that they choose to actually cook a meal from  scratch.
Dec 21, 2012 10:33AM
Dec 23, 2012 11:17AM
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What`s everybody`s opinion of their steaks?
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NO CHRISTMAS PRESENT TO DENNY'S! THEY SHOULD HAVE GONE TO HOOPLA! BAD AND FAITH OF BUSINESS! NEXT TIME, DO A QUICK SERVICE CHECK TO THE CUSTOMERS ON TIME!
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