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Karen’s Diner: ‘Sit down and shut up!’ one waiter shouts as I eat my flavourless burger

Waiter addresses me as ‘Nanny’ - whether this is because I remind him of a goat or a grandmother, I don’t know

Karen's Diner: now open in Dublin for "five-star food and one-star service". Photograph: Karen's Diner/Facebook

It is almost 4pm, and there is a queue outside Karen’s Diner on Upper O’Connell Street in Dublin. For those who don’t know what Karen’s Diner is, it’s a fast-food chain restaurant, solely notable for deliberately rude staff. The outlet opened in recent days.

I am in this queue, along with several parents of small children, and groups of mainly young women. I turn to the two women friends behind me and ask what brings them to Karen’s.

TikTok,” they chant in unison. “We saw it on TikTok and it looks such fun.”

There is a printed set of “Rules” stuck to the front door. “It’s just banter, we are actors, so suck it up!” it declares at the bottom. Along these eight Rules are “Do not touch our staff or other diners,” and “No C*** word – it’s not funny!”


The door opens at 4pm, and people are admitted by group, the door slamming after them each time. When it’s my turn, there is amazement and ridicule that I am here by myself.

“SCARLET FOR YOU,” yowls the young man who is going to be my server. His badge says “Smiley” and his T-shirt is an emoji of a scowling face. I am shown the worst possible seat in the place: squashed in the middle of a six-seater table. The tablecloths are black and white check oilcloth. Slightly sticky. So far so fast-food caff. The decor shouts at you.

Along with the predictable old LPs stuck to the wall, and various “Be a Karen” posters, there are two signs in neon. They are in shades of blue, like the tenor of their words. One says “Póg mo Thóin”. The other says “F*** O**” – and yes, the word is spelt without asterisks. I guess they think this is so “funny”, they want to write it in neon, unlike the “C*** word”.

Smiley comes over and slaps down a menu in front of me. He addresses me as “Nanny”. Whether this is because I remind him of a goat or a grandmother, I don’t know.

There is a minimum spend per person of €20. You have to agree to this when you book in advance, via Open Table, which I did, while paying €5 as a deposit. I am perusing the menu when someone else comes over to me.

“How did you get a booking for one?” says this chap.

I assume this is part of the general be-rude-to-customers stuff, and reply pretty sharpish that I booked via Open Table.

“You’re not supposed to be able to book for one,” Your Man says. “Show me your booking.”

I had already explained to the deliberately surly receptionist I had booked via Open Table and my name had duly been found.

It’s all trying very hard to be funny, but I am not finding it funny at all. It’s an embarrassment

He puts his hand out for my phone. I don’t like this at all. At all. I do not want to give Your Man my phone, or at this stage, even show him my booking on screen. I flash the Open Table confirmation to him. “You’re not supposed to be able to book for one,” he repeats, and finally leaves.

The menu is variations of burgers, chicken, wings, pizza, garlic bread. Sides are fries, onion rings, coleslaw. I order the “Basic Karen” burger (€14.95), regular fries (€5.50), and a sparkling water. The priciest burger is a whopping €23.95, called “‘I want to see the manager’ Karen”. It has bacon and an extra meat patty. Twenty-four quid for a burger at a fast food joint on O’Connell Street? Are you having a laugh, Karen?

The 4pm crowd are all seated now. I have a dad and a daughter on one side of me, and a mother and a daughter on the other. There are a lot of children under 10 present. When the orders are taken, the show starts. Smiley and his equally smiley colleagues take mics, and pick willing victims from the diner to pick other victims to participate in a catwalk competition around the restaurant, being catcalled at all the time.

“Is there a birthday in the house?” one waiter calls. Squawks from a corner party of six. A small girl who can’t be older than six is hauled up to have “Happy Birthday – F*** O**” sung to her, while encouraging the other diners to chorus “F*** O**” too. I am actually genuinely horrified. Who thought it was a good idea to associate a birthday ditty for children with a swear word even adults try not to say in front of each other?

Everyone has been given a page with a scowly Karen face to colour, and there are pencils in containers on tables. I make mine into a paper aeroplane and toss it across the restaurant. Right away, someone comes over and tell me it is Against The Rules to throw anything. What the Rules actually say, is, “No throwing food or drinks”, but I decide not to argue the toss. Literally.

The food starts coming out. Waiters plonk it down on tables adjacent to diners and tell them to fetch it themselves. My bottle of water and a red plastic bowl with the burger and fries are whacked down in front of me. There is no cutlery, no condiments, and no napkins. “Get them yourself, Nanny!” I go up to go and get these myself, at the counter. I have to ask the young girl beside me to pull in her seat. Am I meant to say, “Get your bloody chair out of my way!” ?

“Excuse me,” is what I say.

My burger arrives. It’s like a recently-dead grey corpse in a coffin of two white cold buns. There is coagulated white cheese over it, and nothing else I can see, although I was promised lettuce and a slice of tomato. The burger patty tastes grim. The fries are entirely flavourless. The cold sparkling water is the highlight of my horrible meal.

I have been wondering about tipping the entire time I have been at this over-priced stupid ‘concept’ of a place

I ask the mother and daughter on one side of me what brought them here. The mother replies, “She saw it on TikTok.” Her daughter says, “It looked such fun!”

Other diners are laughing and filming the goings on, and clearly enjoying being yelled at. “Sit down and shut up!” one waiter shouts.

It’s all trying very hard to be funny, but I am not finding it funny at all. It’s an embarrassment. I still can’t get over the staff encouraging small children to chant swear words that parents usually try very hard to not expose small children to. And the expensive food is the worst joke of all.

I have had enough in more ways than one. I get up and go over to pay. The surly receptionist is joined by another woman in a pink apron, and they are unfunny in their forced hostility at my dining alone, and my clothes, and my general appearance.

I have been wondering about tipping the entire time I have been at this over-priced “concept” of a place. The waiters might delight in insulting their customers, but every waiter wants a tip. So what about the theory that good service equates a good tip, and vice versa?

A man who is not a waiter, as far as I can make out, appears to take my card. “Would you like to add a tip?” I feel like laughing for the first time since I arrived. I tip a fiver, just to surprise them. And to make sure they open the door and let me out.

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