Jan. 21, 2010 — -- We've all seen overweight people eat things they shouldn't and thought, "Do they really need that?" But whose right is it to decide what someone should eat? When you're dining out, should the waiter or waitress make healthier suggestions?
"I just feel like a person of your size might want to eat healthier," scolded a waiter when an overweight customer placed an unhealthy order.
Other customers looked on, horrified, wondering if they should get involved.
What they didn't know was that hidden cameras were rolling at Six Brothers Diner in New Jersey and that the waiter, Jeremy Holm, and the overweight customer, Kathryn Gerhardt, were both actors. ABC News' "What Would You Do?" wanted to learn if restaurant patrons would find our meddling waiter's suggestions helpful or hurtful.
It's a scenario taken from the front lines of the war against unhealthy eating and obesity. At some restaurants, there are mandatory calorie counts on the menu. There was even a bill introduced in Mississippi to prohibit restaurants from serving obese customers.
Our actress, Gerhardt, started her day with an order of chocolate chip pancakes, bacon and a side of home fries. This seemed to annoy our waiter, and he suggested halving her order as he broke down the calorie intake. Would the customers who noticed say something or look away?
No matter how upset Gerhardt appeared to get by his unwelcome food suggestions, the waiter was relentless and brought her a plate of "healthy" fruit to fill her up before her real order came out.
When Gerhardt asked the waiter why he was insulting her, he explained that he was just trying to be helpful.
However, nearby customers found our waiter's actions anything but helpful. One couple invited Gerhardt to join them. Another customer told Gerhardt she should just ignore the rude waiter and enjoy her food.
They consoled our overweight actress, but would they say something to our waiter? As he brought over a check to a nearby table, Joseph Martin, spoke up and told him it was not his job to insult people and that he should be fired.
'None of His Business'
In the next scene, as the lunch crowd rolled in, Gerhardt ordered a bacon cheeseburger, onion rings and a milk shake. Again, the nosy waiter commented on the huge, unhealthy amount of food.
At the next table, customers Sarah Levine and Steve Rechtman were horrified when they overheard his comments. Levine reached over to Gerhardt to comfort her and said, "It shouldn't matter to him what you're ordering -- it's none of his business."
They also confronted the waiter by demanding an apology for Gerhardt. When the waiter just shrugged, Rechtman could not sit still any longer. He stood up from his table and complained to the manager about Holm's callous treatment of Gerhardt.
The whole incident was so troubling to Levine, it brought her to tears. When ABC News correspondent John Quinones made his entrance with our camera crew and explained what was going on, Levine opened up about her concern for Gerhardt.
"It was just so jolting and upsetting," she said. "I couldn't believe it hearing it and sitting there. My heart went out to you."
This table's response surprised our actress, Gerhardt, who said, "I thought no one would come to my rescue."
There were others who would also come to Gerhardt's rescue that day. In another scene where our actress ordered a bacon cheeseburger, she was surrounded by tables of female patrons. When they heard the waiter's healthy food suggestions, the surrounding women were outspoken in their support for Gerhardt.
One customer, Cyndi Crawford, shook her with disdain and said, "What business is it of his? He's going to wear that menu because that was very rude."
When our waiter brought out tonic water instead of the milkshake Gerhardt ordered, the support turned into anger.
From a neighboring table, Cheryl Zwaroch minced no words.
"You better get into another line of business," she snapped.
Crawford agreed: "Do what you're paid for. It's not your business."
All the women were relieved when our cameras appeared. Crawford told John Quinones they were ready to put up a fight, saying, "Big girls unite!"
'The Waiter Had Good Intentions'
But not everyone shared in their outrage. One man who witnessed this scene thought it was Gerhardt who was being difficult. "I thought she was being too hard on the waiter and I thought the other people should mind their own business. I thought the waiter had good intentions. [The waiter] thought she had a weight problem -- try and encourage her," he said.
But he was in the minority. Most customers, especially women, jumped to the defense of our overweight actress.
For the second half of this experiment, our waiter was replaced by Ashley Michaelson, an attractive, thin actress. Would having a pretty woman waiting on Gerhardt make a difference?
Coincidentally, the majority of the restaurant tables filled up with men while our waitress took Gerhardt's order. As Gerhardt requested a bacon cheeseburger, Michaelson looked concerned as she gave Gerhardt a barrage of healthy food suggestions. "You could get a side salad instead of the onion rings."
Her comments went on: "I have a lot of overweight friends and I try to help them, too. I exercise and I eat right. I figured I could be your inspiration."
Although Gerhardt was visibly upset and pleaded with Michaelson to stop insulting her, no one came to her defense. Instead, Michaelson was met with smiles and encouraging comments from men at the neighboring tables. One man even invited our waitress to join their table. At another table, men offered words of support to Michaelson but said nothing to Gerhardt.
This reaction did not surprise Gerhardt, who said, "I had a feeling when I saw a room full of men that they weren't going to stand up for me and sort of accuse her. It's just the way it is."
But when the patrons were women, they did confront Ashley. Unlike the men, Julie Campo gave Gerhardt words of support, "Oh my God -- that is so rude. They should pay for your lunch at least."
Not only did Campo offer advice to Gerhardt, she also had words for our waitress as well: "That was very rude what you just did to this woman. She's the customer."
'I Feel Like I Did Something Good'
All eyes were on this confrontational scene between this real patron, Campo, and our actress, Michaelson, when John Quinones made his entrance. Campo gave a sigh of relief as she embraced both actresses with hugs and laughter.
"I sometimes let things go, so to stand up -- oh my goodness! I feel like I did something good today!" exclaimed Campo.
Our overweight actress, Gerhardt, agreed and said, "People have stood up for me time and time again so that gives me real hope."