Sally Quinn, who recently had lunch at the Sydney diner with four friends and relatives, said a waiter screamed at them to sign in and threw their menus on the table. The waiter also walked off halfway through taking their orders, tipped over Ms Quinn’s handbag, mocked her daughter’s hair, swore and made rude gestures when diners asked a question.

However, Ms Quinn spoke up when her daughter was served a chicken burger, instead of the beef burger she ordered.

The instructions for diners. In fact, patrons are encouraged to fire back at their servers.

The instructions for diners. In fact, patrons are encouraged to fire back at their servers.Credit:Renee Nowytarger

A waiter refused to take the dish back, so Ms Quinn told staff to “fix the order, or we’re not paying”, and asked if they wanted a tip.

“Overall, it was super fun. We had a good laugh,” she said, although there was “a lot of nervous laughter” around the restaurant.

Ms Quinn said she wasn’t offended because she knew what she was in for – her friend’s daughter had watched a TikTok video featuring the Sydney diner. “I’d hate to walk in there blind, like a tourist, not knowing what it was about, just thinking it was a cool ’50s-style burger joint.”

The first Karen’s Diner opened in World Square shopping centre in Sydney’s George Street in October 2021, and another will open in Brisbane in April.

The chain’s owner, Viral Ventures (a name created before the pandemic referring to “going viral” on the internet), plans to open 10 more in the next year in Australia and the US, including in New York and Los Angeles.

The Carlton site opens on March 16, in the former Trotters bistro that closed a year ago.

Karen’s Diner is the latest listing for the City of Melbourne’s $2.6 million shopfront activation program.

The council matches prospective tenants with landlords that are willing to offer vacant properties in the CBD, Docklands and Carlton for short-term leases with no rent or low rent, and the council helps with fitout.

Aden Levin, a Viral Ventures director, said the program was a key factor in choosing the Lygon Street spot.

Karen’s Diner in World Square, George Street, Sydney.

Karen’s Diner in World Square, George Street, Sydney.Credit:Renee Nowytarger

He said the emphasis at Karen’s would be on “tongue-in-cheek, light-hearted jovial banter”, with staff presenting guests with pathetically small birthday cakes, hosting contests for worst-dressed customer and chastising people who whinge about too many pickles in their burger.

Mr Levin said the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic meant a lot of people wanted to go out and engage in different, novel activities.

“It’s a space where you can say anything, really. Be yourself and enjoy a casual and fun dining experience,” he said. “I hope people leave the place feeling like, ‘That was really fun, I want to come back and bring some friends to experience it’.”

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