'The seagulls don't work for us': Sign outside restaurant sparks timeless debate

Tom Flanagan
News Reporter

They are the ever-present threat that can derail the perfect day to the seaside.

Armies of seagulls are constantly eyeing-off unsuspecting people’s food across Australia, whether it be Bunbury or Bronte.

It could be a fine-dining venue or an order from a fish and chip shop, but you probably know someone who has had their food stolen by a sneaky seagull.

And the problem isn’t reserved for Australia as a recent viral post highlights.

This sign about stolen food as a result of swooping seagulls has gone viral. Source: Reddit

An image of a badly worded sign, similar to one which appeared at a Cardiff train station telling customers they aren’t entitled to a refund if their food is stolen, quickly began to spread across the internet last month.

“Once the food is give it to you, if a seagull take it from you, will be no refunds (sic),” the sign reads.

“The seagulls don’t work for us, sorry for the inconvenience.”

The post sparked heated debate as to whether a venue had an obligation to provide a refund or at least a direct replacement.

When the image was recently shared in a community Facebook page in Perth this week, a similar response ensued.

“A seagull knocked a plate of fish and chips out of my hand at [a fish and chip restaurant] and they replaced the meal no questions asked,” one woman pointed out.

Seagulls stalk a man eating takeaway food in Sydney. Source: AAP

Another suggested patrons shouldn’t expect to have their food replaced.

“I find it more comical that someone would actually expect a refund if a seagull did take any food. But then some people do have the cheek!” they said.

While people were evidently split on the matter, most were in agreement seagulls are a major problem for Australian seaside venues offering al fresco dining.

“I once had my entire subway footlong stolen from me from seagulls it broke my heart,” one person noted.

Varying stances from restaurants

The problem of seagulls has become so severe that some establishments have taken drastic action to make sure hungry seagulls are kept at bay.

Perth restaurant 3sheets made headlines last year when they provided water guns to customers to deter seagulls.

The water pistols used at 3Sheets to keep the seagulls under control. Source: Supplied

The restaurant’s current owner Nick told Yahoo News Australia that customers aren’t entitled to replacement meals at his establishment due to the ample signage in place warning them of the dangers.

He said customers should be streetwise when heading to such beachside venues and are told about the presence of seagulls.

“It’s like going to Fraser Island and a dingo stealing your food... it’s going to happen,” he said.

He said he hadn’t had an instance where a customer strongly refuted such a policy – which he said was most likely down to their persistence to advertise that seagulls can be a problem.

Sydney’s iconic Opera Bar with panoramic views of the Harbour Bridge is plagued by seagulls daily and has resorted to using a number of dogs on leashes to scare them away.

Another popular Sydney venue is Watsons Bay Boutique Hotel, where thousands flock on weekends to enjoy the expansive beer garden in the city’s affluent eastern suburbs.

Two seagulls grab chips at Sydney's Opera Bar. Source: Getty

A former operations manager at the venue told Yahoo News Australia that the business had tried numerous techniques to deter seagulls from its outside areas.

“We put vinegar on the tables and ended up getting a giant fake eagle for the roof,” he revealed.

When it came to food orders which had been attacked by the birds, in the majority of cases, they would replace the meal.

Opera Bar now uses dogs to patrol the area and minimise the risk of seagulls. Source: Getty

“As a gesture of a goodwill we would replace the meal,” he said.

He said each incident needed to be assessed individually and that “a couple of chips” stolen might not warrant a replacement.

Venues wise to help customers, expert says

Hospitality expert Max Hitchins told Yahoo News Australia while there isn’t anything forcing venues to replace meals or stolen food, they’d be wise to do so.

“I think the quick answer is no,” Mr Hitchins said when asked if restaurants have an obligation to replace meals attacked by seagulls.

However he said that venues in coastal suburbs must be aware they are operating in seagull territory and should cater for their patrons as best they can.

“Its certainly not the operators fault but you’d be hoping they’re doing something to try and miminise [the threat from seagulls].”

He said for establishments to ensure a happy experience for its customers and maintain a strong reputation in the industry, a level of compassion must be shown.

“I just think it’s poor not to [replace a meal],” he said.

Mr Hitchins said customers purchasing over the counter food naturally had to show more awareness when it came to protecting their food from seagulls where businesses may be less likely to replace stolen food.

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