“You wanted the Gaucho burger without cheese and tomatoes with a side of sweet potato fries?” I ask the customer.
“No, I just do not want tomatoes on the burger,” the customer replies.
“Oh, I’m sorry. Let me fix that right now.”
“It’s alright.” The customer smiles.
This is a typical exchange I have with a customer when I am ringing up their order at work. Even if the customer gets their food only to realize that one of us messed up their order, they respectfully ask us to fix it. This is my first job, and I am grateful that this has been my experience so far.
I always heard from my friends and family members that customers are sometimes be extremely rude, and there is not a thing you can do about it besides respond in a respectful manner. I mean, you could go off on them, complain about how much you hate your job and how you do not get paid enough for this — at the risk of making a scene and possibly getting fired.
As an employee myself, I’ll admit that work can be stressful at times, especially when a co-worker misses their shift and I have to do double the work to keep up with the demand. Let’s not forget about rush hour, when it gets really crazy and I have to work at lightning speed to keep up with the incoming crowd.
So why are employees typically not treated with respect, especially those working in fast food service or retail?
One possible reason might be that customers don’t have a lot of patience and get frustrated easily. Picture this: A customer is sitting down at their table and the waiter has already taken their order. It’s been about 45 minutes since the customer ordered, and they are starting to get upset. Behind the scenes, one of the employees is still waiting on their french fries because they got started a little later than usual. Now, the customer does not know this is happening, so when they finally get their food, they make a rude remark towards the server about how long it took to get their food. Although it’s not the employee’s fault, they have to take the heat because they’re the one who has to interact with the customer.
Research on customer service interactions provides deeper insight. There are three different categories that fall under disrespectful customer behavior, according to Melanie Morrison, a psychology professor at the University of Saskatchewan.
The first group is social dominance. According to Morrison, individuals in this group tend to occupy powerful social positions and believe that they should have control over others. Think of people such as politicians or the extremely wealthy. They believe that because of their position, they are entitled to enforce their power over certain individuals. In this case, that individual is their waiter.
The next category is power trip. Power trip customers are part of marginalized groups, and use their position in this short period of time as an opportunity to exercise power. Due to their personal circumstances, they may treat their waiter in a demeaning manner.
The last and perhaps most common group are people who are just flat-out rude to workers in the service industry. The people who fall under this category have no connection to power at all, and their poor behavior is simply reflective of their character.
Overall, it all comes down to the fact that the customers feel that they can pretty much do whatever they want, simply because they’re the customer and the customer is always right.
What about the employee who has to deal with the mess and cannot do anything about it? Well, the employee, unfortunately, can face physical and emotional repercussions after going through such events. In a research study conducted at Queen’s University in Australia, professors Glenda M. Flisk and Lukas B. Neville recruited 56 people who have had at least three and a half years of experience waiting tables. When asked about their experiences, these employees reported that “entitled consumers” were “verbally aggressive, asking to speak with restaurant management or yelling and cursing at service staff when they did not get their way.” Consequently, over 64% of the servers described feeling “emotional regulation and a negative cognitive reaction.” On top of this, 12 servers admitted to feeling inefficient and experiencing decreased levels of personal accomplishment.
We have to remember that workers both in college and in the outside world are human and make mistakes.
This research goes to show how commenting on how terrible a person is at their job can take a huge toll on them. Sometimes, we get caught in the moment and do not realize how damaging our words can be towards another person.
Morrison mentions how people are generally more understanding of a worker if they themselves have prior experience working in the service industry. This makes sense because past employees would be able to put themselves in the shoes of the person serving them. However, the question that I pose is why is this the case? Why does it have to take an event to happen to you personally for you to treat an employee with respect? Why can’t we just be compassionate and recognize that people sometimes make mistakes?
As a student worker, I already have the stress of making sure I complete all of my assignments before they are due, on top of my service job. As a student worker, I have emotions and concerns, too, and have my own personal problems to contend with. As a student worker, I have my own life, but I come to work to do my very best to give you the service that you deserve.
Although I have not experienced customer hostility, I believe we need to shed light on this issue, because most employees go through this on a daily basis.
Even before joining the staff of Root 217, I treated its employees with respect. Yes, I’ll admit I did grow impatient if my food came later than expected, but I had never once gone off on the worker or make a sneering remark about the wait. Even if the worker made a mistake on my order after a long wait, I would kindly tell them that they got my order incorrect, prompting them to take my food back and eventually return with the correct order.
I was raised in a household that taught me to treat others with respect because it is the right thing to do. We have to remember that workers both in college and in the outside world are human and make mistakes. So, the next time you are out with your friends and your spaghetti and salad comes out as a tuna sandwich, please understand it’s not personal and that the waiter will come back with your food soon.
Grant Jamison wants you to be kind to people working in the customer service industry.