After working in the service industry for almost two decades, I firmly believe everyone should have to work in customer service once in their lifetime, not only for the firsthand experience but to learn to appreciate those who do every day for a living.
The reality is there would be no one to stock store shelves, make your six-dollar latte, make your pizza, or wait on you in a restaurant without the people who work in the service industry.
Before enrolling in college, I worked every position in a restaurant, including waiting tables full-time, to support myself. When the money is good, it’s good – ask any server, and they’ll have the same answer. But, of course, like any job, people eventually burn out. Waiting tables isn’t for everyone. I have trained new servers who cracked under stress and didn’t last two weeks. Dealing with the public is a lot, and it takes someone with thick skin to survive it.
Encountering rude customers is an occupational hazard, and that’s entirely accurate when it comes to waiting tables. Try having someone snap their fingers at you or shake a glass of ice to get your attention and see how quickly you want to lose your cool.
When the pandemic began and the world started to shut down, people began praising “front line workers,” and rightfully so. Politicians and everyday people working remotely from home acknowledged the work of doctors and nurses, teachers, the retail worker who stocked shelves, cashiers, truck drivers, delivery drivers and restaurant crews for showing up to work and helping maintain some sense of normalcy.
When restaurants in Arkansas closed their dining rooms to the public last spring for a few months, carry out and delivery business boomed for the pizza restaurant I still worked for at the time. Suddenly customers were extraordinarily appreciative of the staff for just showing up to work amid the pandemic. Some nights when I worked, there were cars wrapped around the restaurant waiting to pick up their order.
Things started to shift when dining rooms reopened in Arkansas with limited capacity and mask mandates in place. There is no doubt that the last year has put a strain on everyone. But having to make sure customers wore masks when entering the restaurant and when they got up from a table and followed social distancing posed its problems. I often joked with customers I knew that I felt like a bouncer at a bar. Most customers were just happy to sit down and eat inside a restaurant again and realized as civilized adults that the protocols weren’t something an hourly employee had control over – especially a waiter.
Sometimes customers would refuse -- which is their rights -- and leave, and some felt the need to lash out. A married couple told me last summer they would sue me for trying to make them wear a mask as they sat down at a table. I handed them menus and asked for their drink order.
Here’s the problem with working in customer service, people assume they are always right, even when proven otherwise, and somehow have the right to yell at anyone for whatever reason they seem fit. But people who work in customer service can only take so much before they won’t anymore.
The customer isn’t always right – I’m sorry to shatter that myth.
Recently, I’ve noticed people posting on social media about wait times in restaurants because they are short-staffed and how no one wants to work. There’s no denying that there are people who don’t want to work, but plenty of people who work in the service industry through COVID are just fed up and tired of dealing with rude customers.
People need to remember to treat others how they want to be treated.
Respect works both ways.