There are two sides to every story, including those posted to Yelp and the like. And for those disputes, court is now in session.
The Post and Courier Food section weekly features a complaint that first surfaced online, along with testimonies from the patron and restaurateur.
You, the readers, are the jury. Join us in our Facebook group to weigh in on whether the customer is indeed right, or if the case should be resolved in the restaurant’s favor. Let’s enter the courtroom.
Not much is known about A.Z., a Washington D.C.-based Yelper who also lists his or her name as “Zedo.” Zedo did not return messages from The Post and Courier seeking comment.
Eran Maron opened the first Black Magic Café on Folly Beach in 2009, aiming for a “ hippie-healthy-naughty vibe that appeals to people of all backgrounds and ages.” The café in 2017 added a James Island location and is in the process of putting together a third Black Magic in West Ashley.
Although Zedo used particularly direct language in a Yelp write-up of a recent visit, he or she wasn’t the first online reviewer to point out that Black Magic doesn’t welcome laptop computers.
“(I) was immediately scolded like a child by waitress for carrying a laptop and warned their use was not allowed,” Zedo posted. “Sorry: Didn't realize this was a Michelin star restaurant...what a joke.”
Laptops aren’t a joking matter for Maron, who says their constant use threatened to upset his business model.
When Maron first opened Black Magic, he didn’t mind if people sipped their lattes by the light of their laptop screens. He even provided a Wi-Fi password for that purpose. But his attitude changed in 2013 when he switched from selling coffee and pastries at a counter to offering full-service breakfast and lunch.
“People literally came and sat for hours, taking a whole four-top and drinking a $2 cup of coffee with a few free refills,” he recalls. “At some point it became unbearable. We were losing business because customers didn’t have a place to sit. That was the breaking point for me.”
Maron considered imposing time restrictions but there was no easy way to ensure customers abided by them. So rather than rid the room of laptops through unenforceable policies and polite suggestions, he decided to ban them outright.
He explains, “I wanted to promote a different culture than Starbucks: People eating, drinking and conversing with their friends and family.” (Black Magic makes an exception for children watching shows on tablets, since rowdy kids can also interfere with peaceful eating, drinking and conversing.)
Although Black Magic has posted signs outside of the café alerting potential patrons that they’re about to enter a laptop-free zone, Maron says, “Some people don’t want to see them, or think they can get away with it.”
Who’s right in this situation? Should laptop users be trusted to work at their tables and then leave after a reasonable amount of time? Or is Black Magic justified in protecting its ambiance and bottom line by prohibiting portable computers? Join the discussion at bit.ly/PCfoodFBgroup.