2023 Newsfeed

Getting Karen’d

An account of the strangely enjoyable experience of being treated like sh*t

I enter the grungy and grimy halls of the Kaleen community club, and I recheck the address on the ticket. It’s definitely correct, but I’m still not convinced that this where I’m meant to be.

I trudge further into the shadows, my mate hanging apprehensively behind. We reach an obscenely lit bar and take another look around. And then, the voice of God bellows down upon us:

“Are you LOST?”

I turn to see a petite, red-haired girl with heavy eyeliner and Doc Martens peering lifelessly at us over a megaphone. Yep – we’re in the right place.

“Karen’s Diner?” I squeak. She motions us forward without a word.

I ask if they would like to see my tickets as I begin to fumble through my phone. My mate is already taken over by chuckles when the dark-haired, equally-as-emo waiter tells me to “Shut the f*ck up and read the flyer”.

The flyer basically outlines all the parameters within which we were about to get Absolutely Roasted, and then establishes that we cannot sue. It’s always a great sign when that’s spelled out from the outset.

To be clear, though, these Karens were only doing exactly what they were getting paid to do. I did, in fact, pay good money to be treated like sh*t. An international franchise with over 1.5 million hits on TikTok, Karen’s Diner has blown up as a result of their particularly niche, but incredibly genius marketing technique – the staff treat you like the worst kind of customer (a.k.a., a ‘Karen’). So, when I heard that Karen’s Diner was running a pop-up event in Canberra, my self-deprecating nature could not resist the opportunity to be involved.

Karen’s Diner hits Canberra.

After being matter-of-factly advised that I was dressed like a ‘walking picnic’ (in hindsight, wearing gingham invites just as much slander as wearing ripped jeans), the waiter very kindly points us in the general direction of our table.

We sit ourselves down – no pulling-out-of-chairs here – and the festivities begin. “Helloooo, Canberra,” the red-head groans into the microphone. “F*ck, this place is a sh*thole.”

As she continues to begrudgingly explain the activities that we are all obliged to participate in for the evening, the dark-haired waiter sits down silently next to my mate. I look over to catch the waiter’s side-eye, and his reassurance that “if it comes to it, all [my mate] needs to do is order an angel shot at the bar”.  

The signature pose of Karen’s Diner’s staff

It dawns on me how wonderfully ruthless this event is going to be, and I become increasingly nervous to order my vegan burger. Staff storm around, filling water glasses until they overflow onto the table and throwing menus around as if they were discuses. Finally, a heavily-tattooed man in an apron approaches us with a notepad and mutters, “What do you want,” – expressed as a statement, and not a question.

The seconds feel like years as I wait to expose myself as a vego. The waiter’s eyes look up at me from beneath a well-cemented frown, and I confess; “Can I have the tree-hugger burger, please?”

He stares at me for a good five seconds and I’m about ready to eat a beef patty for the first time in 8 years. He finally concedes with a relatively harmless, “For f*ck’s sake.”

A Karen’s Diner TikTok on the most annoying things that customers say. Spoiler alert – being vegan is one of them.

The event becomes exponentially funnier as the heat shifts from me to everyone else in the room. A waiter sarcastically congratulates an elderly woman for standing up “all by herself”. A waitress scowls in disdain as an older man with tattoos approaches her: “Don’t touch me! I’ll catch a disease!” A girl in her early teens gets a paper bag tacked on her head that reads, “SPONSORED BY GLASSONS”.

My favourite part, however, has got to be when a young boy – his name was Stephen, and I remember that because they ridiculed the absolute daylights out of his mother for calling him that – lost in one of the activities. His punishment? Clearing all the tables. And they weren’t joking. For the next 15 minutes, I watched Stephen scuttle back and forth with dirty dishes and soiled serviettes. Don’t worry – his mother found it as funny as I did.

A Karen re-diverts the heat from myself to the other customers

All in all, I’ve never so thoroughly enjoyed such rudeness. I am an exponent of kindness and manners, but when it’s all in good fun, a little derogatory humour is absolutely therapeutic. I laughed harder than I did when I saw Carl Barron.

So, if you’ve got the skin for it (or even if you don’t – I certainly didn’t), go and pay Karen a visit. Especially if your name is actually Karen – they’ll give you a free drink!