Good Food, Bad Service! What Really Happens at Karen’s Diner in Sydney

I’ve been here ten minutes. The waiter has insulted my dress, complained about my beer order and flounced off muttering ‘whatever’ once I placed it. He’s now standing looking at his phone ignoring all demands for attention. Normally this would be time to call for the manager, but this is Karen’s Diner in Sydney – and rude service is all part of the fun.

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But is it fun? And if you really can’t complain because everyone will think you’re just in on the joke, what happens if they serve really rubbish food? My friend Paula who runs the Sydney Expert blog was invited along to try it out and I hopped along as her plus one, to find out.

inside of Karen's Diner Sydney, with a jukebox and coloured pictures of Karens on the wall

Karen’s describes itself as ‘a place where you can complain until the cows come home because we literally don’t care.’

The waiters are all actors, rather than fed-up actual wait staff, and as such, they’re having fun with the whole thing rather than secretly wanting to spit in your dinner.

They have a slightly camp, OTT way of delivering their barbs, insults and thrown-down menus that means you know they’re taking the mickey – and, because you’re in on the joke, it does take all the sting out of the type of behaviour that would normally see you running from the door (or at least muttering quietly to your dinner companion about the idea).

Yes, there might be a little bit of personal insult – I wore my new ‘cats dressed as ghosts’ dress and was told ‘it wasn’t (insert NSFW expletive here) Halloween’, a food blogger at another table had brought his ring light to photograph the food – big mistake, as it was basically like having a ‘pick on me’ written on his head and when a guy turned up in a suit, the staff all nearly exploded with overdressed jokes.

You are expected to give as good as you get back, but, at this point, myself and Paula realised that we don’t have a ‘Karen’ bone in our body. We couldn’t be rude back to our waiter because, you just don’t do that.

Admittedly, I’m also British, as a nation we’re known to mutter under our breath for an hour rather than moan. Literally the only time I ever complain about anything is if my Prosecco is flat (I really hate flat Prosecco).

To prove this, two days earlier myself and my buddy Kendall, had been out at another bar owned by the same group that own Karen’s and we actually watched what we suspected were our wedges go cold on the counter opposite us. Did we complain when they eventually were carried 2 metres to us? No, we just ate cold wedges.

So, with all of this in mind, no matter how much our poor waiter and waitress tried to bring out our inner Karen, we couldn’t bring oursleves to moan – even the staff resorted to calling Paula a Susan and realising it was never going to happen. They decided to serenade us with their ‘best’ singing instead.

burgers and fries at Karen's Diner Sydney

Is the Food Good At Karen’s Diner?

Themed restaurants aren’t normally known for their food and in light of my experience a few nights earlier, I admit I wasn’t expecting the food to be great.

The menu fits the American diner theme – there’s a whole menu full of burgers was various Kareny names and a side panel of wings and fries. I am very fussy about my burgers and so I was nervous.

I choose the Firey Karen, mostly because it had jalapenos – Paula had Karen’s American Cousin which had bacon, cheese and caramelised onions.

The food arrived fast and hot, and thankfully my burger was up to scratch. And even asking for ketchup didn’t seem to cause too much of a tantrum from our waiter.

My theory is that the world is divided into two types of burger eaters – those who think In-n-Out is the best burger place on earth (and therefore like their burgers fairly thin) and those who are wrong; these people like big hulking burgers.

Thankfully actual Karen’s must like the hulking burgers, because the ones at Karen’s Diner are of the thin variety – meaning I couldn’t even moan about that.

They do need to add some more jalapenos though – but that’s generally true about spice levels in Sydney rather than a criticism of Karen’s itself. The only slight let down was the wings which weren’t amazing but I’d definitely go back for a burger.

Bring on the Boozy Milkshakes

There’s a big cocktail list on the menu at Karen’s and so we decided it would be rude not to have one (see, completely rubbish at being a Karen).

Cocktail is an interesting word for the Nutty Karen that turned up.

It was basically a massive ice cream sundae with added vodka. Sugar, fat, booze and a sparkler on top. What’s not to love?

ice cream sundae cocktail at Karen's Diner Sydney

About four slurps and a massive rise in my blood sugar levels later I was even more happy that I’d had a beer when I first walked in (they sell Pabst beer, I really like Pabst beer – the waiter told me off for that too) and saved the cocktail for dessert. If you had this first you really wouldn’t need your burger.

They ice creamy cocktails also arrive with a flat rendition of Happy Birthday, sung painfully by the wait staff.

I’m not going to spoil the surprise of other things that happened – but, there may be some audience participation involved in your evening if you’re (un)lucky. .

However, sadly, despite spending two hours in Karen’s, no-one asked to see the manager.

So now you’ve read my Karen’s Diner review – you might have questions – and here, hopefully, are the answers…

Where is Karen’s Diner?

The Sydney branch is in the World Square complex off George Street in the middle of the Sydney CBD. You’ll find it on the second floor.

They’re opening branches in Melbourne and Brisbane soon

You can make a booking via their website here.

Inside the waiting area of Karen's Diner in Sydney

Is It Free to Get In?

There is a $10 holding fee when you make a booking that isn’t refunded if you cancel at the last minute or don’t show up. Other than that, you just pay for what you buy.

Is It Expensive?

No. I was expecting to pay over the odds for the themeing,but the prices are pretty good.

The burgers cost from $17 for the Royale Karen chicken burger and that comes with chips. I’ve got a pretty big appetite and my burger was enough. Especially once I downed the milkshake!

Said milkshake cocktail was $19.

On which note, actual people named Karen get a free drink if they show their ID.

Do They Have Veggie Options

There are two veggie/vegan options on the menu – expect grief if you order them.

They also do gluten-free buns – good luck with that one!

What Should I Wear?

Anything you like – but, dressing like a Karen, or in your best 50s outfit, is suggested in their webpage.

If only I’d read that first I’d have worn my cat prom dress – yes, I have a lot of dresses with cats on!

staff say goodbye at Karen's Diner in Sydney

Will You Enjoy It?

I don’t know – are you a Karen?

You do have to have a sense of humour to enjoy it and, I’m not sure what training they have to determine who they are going to actually personally insult so, just be aware that might happen and don’t actually take it, erm, personally.

I did however notice that they tended to pick on people who gave off signs of being a bit more outgoing – let’s face it, mad cat-lady dresses are asking for sarcasm and I had wondered if it was the best idea when I pulled it out of the cupboard (it not being Halloween and all).

They also choose another girl (who turned out to be from Time Out, once I read her review) who was wearing bright blue eyeshadow and Mr Suit screamed self-confidence when he walked in so I do wonder if they size you up a bit first.

And yes, the waiters are rude – but I’ve had ruder service in actual bars and restaurants in Sydney so….

How Many Calories are in the Boozy Milkshake?

I don’t ever want to know the answer to that question.

So, there you have it, a brief glance into what happens on a night at Karen’s Diner – do you have any more questions? Let me know in the comments and I’ll see if I can answer them for you.

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