You’re the worst type of customer. You just don’t know it yet.
“Are you stupid or something?” she berated me. “Are you deaf? Did you not listen to my question?”
At that moment, every inch of my body froze as I looked the angry customer in the eyes while she yelled at me. I was trying to stay calm and collected while simultaneously trying to get a word in. I remember thinking how close to tears I was and how if it wasn’t for my coworker intervening, I probably would have cried.
This is an all-too-familiar experience a lot of people in the service industry have dealt with. Whether you’ve been at it for years or just a couple of months, you always remember the customer that made you feel like scum.
In the summer after my freshman year, I decided to spend some time working at a local coffee shop. I thought it would be a good way to spend my time, earn some money and hopefully refine my people skills.
Apart from that one terrible experience, I look back fondly at those months of work. However, I feel like that bad altercation has made me hyper-aware of the interactions people in the service industry have with customers.
I’ve started to notice how some of my friends and family are when talking to servers and I sometimes feel ashamed about those interactions. Waiters make close to nothing for a livable wage and rely heavily on tips. (Of course this varies from city to city and around the world.) Not to mention they have to work long hours and interact with demanding and rude customers. Raising the minimum wage is a topic for another day (which, you know, should happen), but I’m here to emphasize the importance of dignified human interaction.
Before she even set foot inside the cafe, that woman was already raging. She didn't come in with a good attitude or with anyone in mind other than herself. When I gave her an answer she didn't want to hear (we had run out of a certain type of pastries that day) she let loose and used me as her punching bag.
I’m not saying that customers deserve to deal with rude staff (which does happen), but in my experience, it starts with the unreasonable expectations people/customers have about waiters.
You want your server to be fast, but you don’t want to feel rushed by them. Or you want them to be nice, but not too nice. Lastly, you want them to be on standby when you call without them hovering over you.
We forget that because we’re paying for a service we’re still dealing with human beings. We’re flawed and imperfect, and that doesn't magically go away when you wait on someone. No one is actively trying to ruin your day or inconvenience you.
There are many people out there having a bad day who still have to go to work and serve you with a smile on their face. How many times have you had a bad time but didn’t have to plaster a smile on your face because your job depended on it?
It is not their fault you’re having a bad day, and they should not have to be on the receiving end of your unresolved emotions. It’s also not their fault if you're just straight-up rude.
Let’s remember we’re all deeply flawed humans and we need to be more empathetic toward one another. We don’t know how someone's day is going, but regardless of being served by them or not, they deserve our respect.
So, to recap, service people don’t owe you anything above and beyond when you can’t even meet them with the basic standard of human decency.
Paula Ortiz Cazaubon is a photographer for The Beacon. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.