Recently, while on my dinner break, a discussion broke out among my coworkers in the staff room. As is common when working in retail and hospitality, we chatted about the various customers we had endured so far that night. A typically vitriolic barrage of complaints were spat out by each of us as we compared stories, each hoping that all this condescending, soul-crushing, impatient, demanding and rude treatment really would turn out to be character building one day.
In the middle of all this self-pity I was amazed to hear an employee say, “You know, I had no idea that it was like this. I only just realised that my waiter doesn’t give a shit. He doesn’t want to be getting me another drink. He’s probably hating it, it’s the last thing he wants to do.” As naïve as this statement may be – no one actually thinks that waiters are delighted to be summoned by a snap of the fingers to refill the feeding trough of some ingrate who refuses to speak at a natural volume – it did however strike me as something of a tragedy that this friend of mine (or anyone) could think service staff are simply there to serve others.
People say bad things about those who work in customer service – snarky complaints about slack-jawed teens behind the counter and dim-witted slackers on the end of the phone; they are called lazy, stupid, inattentive and unhelpful. But these people have obviously never experienced what it’s like to work a ten-hour shift in hospitality or retail. These people have no compassion for the overworked, underpaid, used, abused, bored, ignored, anonymously numbered and unmonitored masses.
I would like these people to work the Boxing Day sales, or a Saturday night in a drunk-filled fast food outlet – or any day someone has vomited in the toilets and you, as the newest employee, must clean it up. My various experiences in retail and customer service have conditioned me to be kinder to others in the same predicament. I want to protect them and shield them from the horror that is dealing with the public on a daily basis. I hope you can assist me by also being a more sensitive customer, so for your perusal I offer twelve tips for treating workers like human beings.
1. Feel free to ask questions, but be prepared to hear ‘no’.
2. Remember, pretty much everyone who you deal with in front-of-house is merely the messenger of whatever management is telling them. They don’t like passing it on just as much as you don’t like hearing it.
3. Don’t blame them for what they can’t control. Sometimes stock runs out, machines break, and things just don’t work. The employees are not doing this on purpose: if it was up to them everything would be running smoothly.
4. Management is in control and to the employees wishing to stay employees, they are always right – not the customers.
5. That said, asking to see the manager is not as impressive sounding as you think it is.
6. Not making eye contact is rude. So is ignoring a ‘hello.’
7. This isn’t a drug deal, there’s no need to slide your money along the counter. Hand it over, you’re not going to catch prole germs.
8. Listen to your server’s suggestions. They’re not trying to rip you off, and if they are then you probably deserve it.
9. If you book, be on time. If you turn up late for your movie you have no right to complain. The same goes for your table; it’s no longer yours if you don’t claim it on time.
10. If it wouldn’t be OK at your workplace, assume it would be inappropriate for your server, as well. We can’t mind your kids, not even ‘just quickly.’
11. No sulking for not getting something for free, even if you ask nicely.
12. And finally, if flirting with your server is not working for you, stop it; you’re embarrassing yourself, you goof.