Do you dream of being a massive jerk to people around you?
Well, of course, you do. We have all had moments where you want to speak your mind or simply get stuff off your chest because you had a crap day. Thankfully, there is a magical place where you can be accosted by mean-spirited waitstaff and hurl insults right back: Karen’s Diner.
Heads up: these videos contain strong language. So don’t play them out loud while you’re procrastinating at work by reading this.
Karen’s Diner is a restaurant franchise built on the firm foundation of bad behavior. Drawing its name from the Karen meme that surfaced during the 2020s, staff at Karen’s Diner are meant to be, well, Karens. That means complaining, always having to be right, and being downright rude.
On the surface, it sounds like a terrible idea. Like you’re asking for 1-star reviews on Yelp. But that’s the whole gimmick, and it’s working really well and generating quite a bit of buzz.
The staff will verbally assault you, slam your food down, and generally give you a lot of hell. But the best part is that you can push back. Their website even describes the chain as “a place where you can complain until the cows come home because we literally don’t care.” So don’t expect to win – these are pure T-1000 Karens, and they can withstand your feeble attempts at standing up for yourself.
So you might be wondering… “Why on earth would I want to voluntarily be verbally assaulted?”
In this post, I’ll talk about how this restaurant chain is flourishing because of its sheer commitment to being assholery.
Gimmicky restaurants have a built-in “unique selling propositions”
The hospitality industry is really crowded. You have to do something to stand out. You have to have a unique selling proposition. Something has to set your restaurant apart, and a gimmick is as good a unique selling proposition as anything else.
Karen’s Diner has a very easy-to-understand gimmick. It’s “the place where the staff will be brutally rude to you.” Another example would be cat cafes, or coffee shops where you can pet cats while you drink coffee. Given the two, I think I’d take the cats!
Until recently, you could be served a meal by ninjas in New York. In Japan, you can be served by waitresses cosplaying as maids. All of these restaurants work because you can easily say to someone “hey, want to go to the restaurant where [fill in the blank] happens?”
As just under half of people go out for dinner multiple times a week, there is a good chance they will visit a gimmicky restaurant. This is especially true for Gen Z, which tends to enjoy fun twists on food. Hence gimmicks.
In other words, Karen’s Diner has – in a perverse sort of way – product-market fit. People want to go to restaurants that do something interesting. Karen’s will serve exactly that to you, and they don’t care if you like it or not.
Some businesses know their gimmick will run dry, so they aim to make money while possible and then move onto the next thing. Other places know that their gimmick will keep you there a long time, buying more things, such as cat cafes, where people tend to stay for a long time.
Karen’s Diner is so rude that you can’t look away
But beyond just getting customers in the door, gimmicks are also great for creating a spectacle. Karen’s Diner is racking up hundreds of thousands of views on each TikTok, regularly breaking into the millions at times, because it’s just so interesting to see. Whether viewers are attracted to or repulsed by their gimmick doesn’t matter – the views do.
When you are subjected to something amazingly good or bad, you will talk about it. This is brilliant for the company since 78% of people talk about their recent experiences with businesses. Karen’s gimmicks are part of the experience, which is both amazingly good and amazingly bad.
Talking of Gen Z, this generation also likes to show off what’s going on in their lives. A massive 61% of them have been specifically seeking out more video content. With the power of TikTok, YouTube Shorts, and Instagram Reels, Karen’s Diner can generate a ton of attention really quickly.
Ever the trend chasers, news websites, travel blogs, and even sites like our own, can see that Karen’s Diner is racking up views. So of course they want to cover the subject too. That’s why Karen’s Diner has a ton of press and a ton of videos online, all of which you can freely view. It’s free marketing and damn funny at the same time, such as we see in this video of some grandkids taking their grandad to Karen’s Diner without telling him and he gives them a right earful back.
Why Karen’s bad behavior is so watchable
If you speak to Karen’s manager, you’ll find the company, Viral Ventures Global. Karen’s Diner is the 13th restaurant franchise in their infinity gauntlet of a portfolio. This is a company that lives and breathes themed restaurant experiences. It has an Alice in Wonderland restaurant, wizard- and video game-themed bars, and even movie theaters where you sit in hot tubs. The company lives and breathes shareable social media experiences.
In the years following the initial COVID-19 outbreak, they shook up their strategy. They subsequently saw a whopping 150% growth in revenue in the year 2021, casually generating over $5 million. Even if you heavily adjust this growth to account for restaurants in general springing back to life, this is still an impressive level of growth,
After working in the hospitality industry for over five years, I’ve found that one thing is true for certain: you must look after your guests, treat them kindly, and pretty much act like their butler for the night. And even if they’re a rude and terminally unhappy happy customer, an absolute prick, you just have to smile through your teeth.
Karen’s Diner flips the tables. The staff don’t give a crap about you, which gives the whole restaurant a carnivalesque vibe. As soon as you walk into the restaurant, they will drop the menus and tell you to pick them up. This dynamic switch from being treated so nicely to so terribly is shocking and that makes it funny.
But there’s also a sort of catharsis for everyone involved too. Waiters no longer need to give a crap about you, and as a customer, you also get to speak your mind and not take any bullshit too. The removal of etiquette boundaries between customers and staff means everyone can have a little fun if they’re so inclined.
This fun can come from sending your order back, being difficult, arguing with the staff, or simply telling them to go away. There is no other restaurant where you can be like this without getting chucked out – either from the kitchen or from the dining room.
It’s theater. Not a show for everyone, mind you, but theater all the same.
Karen’s Diner can even be psychologically beneficial, believe it or not
A funny thing happens when you remove etiquette boundaries. Karen’s Diner provides unnatural experiences which become rather intimate and fun in a way. Stepping into a world where everyone is mean to one another is just a step away from a world where you don’t have to take anyone’s crap laying down.
Being able to complain, in particular, requires confidence. Being able to complain correctly requires skill and, as it stands according to a survey by the FCCA (a conduct regulator for around 51,000 financial services firms and financial markets), 28% of Brits put up with bad behavior without complaining because they don’t know how to speak out.
Not surprisingly, less than half of the youngest generation of 16 to 24-year-olds feel comfortable standing up for themselves. This is a shockingly high figure. So imagine how freed some of them may feel in the unsafe-safe space of Karen’s Diner, where they can freely complain without negative consequences.
Again, Karen’s Diner is not for everyone, but for those who can handle some mean and crude humor, it can be therapeutic…at least slightly.
Expanding the Karenverse
Because Karen’s Diner is a franchise, this allows the Karenverse to expand out to every corner of the world, for better or, mostly, for worse. Anyone who wants to open a restaurant can open a Karen’s Diner, pay a small fee for the rights to use the brand, and set up shop. Easier than starting from scratch because there’s a lower risk of failure and a built-in support network.
A franchisee must follow some rules set by the franchisor. They can’t just set up their own hours or layout, for example, and they can’t open the restaurant in some random location with no oversight. Plus, Karen’s corporate will always be manager of the decor and the basic gimmick, allowing them to maintain brand control. But aside from the basic ground rules, franchisees are free to run the restrauants as they see fit, freeing up the franchisor to focus on big-picture strategy.
As Karens (the meme) are known around the world, Karen’s Diner could potentially grow around the world. It started off in Australia and has now expanded in the UK and will be expanding into America in the near future.
Karen’s Diner is not the first restaurant of its kind
Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Dick’s Last Resort, the masculine equivalent of Karen’s Diner’s asshole service. Dick’s has been around since 1985 and it’s still going hard in 10 states across America.
As the owner says “All servers must go through a live audition before being hired. “They already know the basics of serving, but we must coach them on the unique Dick’s culture,” he adds. “Our servers are personable and can be sarcastic, rowdy, irreverent and off-the-cuff, but it’s all in the name of fun and not meant to be rude, nasty or mean-spirited.”
Karen’s Diner is probably the more superficially mean-spirited of the two, but the restaurants are very similar in nature. That means that it’s very possible that Karen’s Diner has not merely tapped into a gimmick that will fade away, but a lasting niche that could keep them open and complaining loudly for decades.
Sometimes gimmicky restaurants work. Karen’s Diner is an example of that, as they’ve had much success capitalizing on the 2020 meme. There’s a strange thrill to be had in subverting norms of good behavior, and that makes it a memorable experience you can barely find anywhere else.
Not bad for a place restaurant where the staff insult you for existing.