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 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.

More from Money Now

Dec 20, 2012 5:53PM
Another story on Texas. If it's not cops assaulting women by the roadside it's nut cases at Dennys.
Dec 20, 2012 5:45PM
The guy who lit the tree was probably some combination of drunk and stoned.

Dec 20, 2012 5:28PM
It's not surprising this happened. Dennys has the worst service of any chain restaurant on the planet. I have had multiple customer service issues at multiple restaurants. I think they recruit waiters at trailer parks.

Dennys is my last resort if I need to eat out.
Dec 20, 2012 5:00PM

"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
seriously this article is nothing but spelling errors. IN LINE NOT ON LINE. Why do you have a job.
Dec 20, 2012 4:31PM
The only thing keeping me alive. Is that hell has a special place for all u thieving murderers . I t sure isnt the below cost of eating, medication, the thieving medicaid and medicare specialist. Satan has a special place for all you selfish thieves.
Please help us to maintain a healthy and vibrant community by reporting any illegal or inappropriate behavior. If you believe a message violates theCode of Conductplease use this form to notify the moderators. They will investigate your report and take appropriate action. If necessary, they report all illegal activity to the proper authorities.
100 character limit
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?


Copyright © 2014 Microsoft. All rights reserved.

Fundamental company data and historical chart data provided by Morningstar Inc. Real-time index quotes and delayed quotes supplied by Morningstar Inc. Quotes delayed by up to 15 minutes, except where indicated otherwise. Fund summary, fund performance and dividend data provided by Morningstar Inc. Analyst recommendations provided by Zacks Investment Research. StockScouter data provided by Verus Analytics. IPO data provided by Hoover's Inc. Index membership data provided by Morningstar Inc.

Trending NOW

What’s this?


[BRIEFING.COM] S&P futures vs fair value: -5.50. Nasdaq futures vs fair value: -13.00. Nasdaq at... NYSE Adv/Dec 0/0... Nasdaq Adv/Dec 0/0.