An Open Letter to Servers in the Food Industry: On Classism, Food Allergies, and More

An Open Letter to Servers in the Food Industry: On Classism, Food Allergies, and More!

An Open Letter to Servers in the Food Industry: On Classism, Food Allergies, and More | Positively Smitten

By Lyndsey Fought

Oftentimes I see posts about customers being terrible to service staff. We hear about bad tippers and just poor excuses for human beings. Having worked in the food and customer service industry I’ve had my fair share of rude customers as well. I feel like there’s a true absence of people being honest about employees in those industries being terrible too. In fairness there’s good and bad people all around, if you work or have worked in the industry you’ve probably worked with one or two people that’s made you think “Geesh, you probably shouldn’t work this closely with people.”

I don’t want to gloss over how difficult it is to put on a smile and try to bend over backwards for every customer especially when you just had a rude person come through your line or sit at your table and you just want a break, or to cry, or to leave. I worked my way up in two companies and had to deal with unkind people while trying to cope with bipolar disorder, as if dealing with rude customers weren’t enough!

I know how much you just don’t want to perform to your best because, heck, you just performed your best at that table and they didn’t tip you anything! I get that. However, working that closely with people requires a person to try and understand the customers.

So, dear servers, please remember…

Most of the time customers aren’t being difficult to bother you.

If a customer asks you a question about the product you’re selling you should be knowledgeable. This is why most companies have little pop quizzes or meetings when new products come out. You’re going to be asked by a customer at some point and you should know the answer. If someone asks what’s in a certain dish and you don’t know it? Go ask the kitchen. I know this adds more steps onto your already tired feet, but people need to know what goes into their food. If you work in retail and someone asks a question and you don’t know it? Ask another worker, a manager, or if available excuse yourself and look it up. Sure, customers want quick answers but they also want honest ones and if that takes a few minutes longer, it’s necessary.

Special Diets aren’t a laughing matter.

I’ve seen a number of “secret confession” posts from baristas and waitstaff stating if someone asks for soy or skim milk they will make it with full fat because they think they are being clever, I guess, or vindictive because “skinny girls don’t need to ask for skim milk”. Firstly, this is a terrible thing. Someone may be asking for skim milk to cut calories (and that’s none of your business anyway) but someone else may be asking for skim because they have IBS and their body can’t handle full fat milk. If someone asks for sugar free syrups there’s a chance they are diabetic. If someone asks for half-caf or decaf there’s a good chance they have an anxiety disorder or they are really caffeine sensitive or are pregnant. If you work in a restaurant and a customer is asking specifics about food THEY ARE NOT DOING IT TO BE A DOUCHEBAG TO YOU (95% OF THE TIME, AT LEAST.) Food allergens and other diseases are running rampant all over. If someone is asking you for something changed or alternated please do it. If you are a terrible person and feed them the wrong thing you can lead to at the least several hours of discomfort, maybe a night in the hospital, and at the very worst death. Special dietary needs aren’t a joke, they aren’t trying to make your job more difficult, they aren’t trying to stress you out, they are trying to get what they need. It’s your job to ensure that.

Poor people are allowed to shop and eat too.

I see a lot of people posting “if you can’t afford to tip you can’t afford to eat out” and I have to disagree with the picture it paints (which is that poor people don’t deserve things). Now it’s my personal opinion that your company should be paying the bulk of your wages and they are getting out extremely cheaply by using the tip system. I think in a perfect world waitstaff would be paid a living wage (and everyone else should too, I am very pro-raising the minimum wage) and on top of that wage they should be tipped. This would put less strain on both the customer and the waitstaff. However, America and a few others being all about corporate profits and CEO’s getting bonuses they will continue to do the cheapest thing available, which is rip off their workers and place the blame on shoddy customers that don’t tip. The system is broken at its core (and I don’t foresee it changing for a long while, it’s just a sad truth). I also think if someone has provided poor service you shouldn’t tip them much, only good service deserves a good tip.

I think a better thing to say is “If you’re going to be a butt and not tip, don’t go out to eat.” When you state it like “can’t afford” it places all blame on poorer working people who are literally in the same boat as food and service industry workers. Saying the poor can’t do something, like have a nice meal or purchase a new television, is very classist. As a child in a poor family we saved to go out to eat for our birthdays to a nice place and we made sure we had enough to ensure a tip as well. In fact, all of the “poorer” people I know make sure they have money to tip when going to eat. This train of thought that only poor people don’t tip is misguided and awful. (In fact when I was waiting tables it was the richer people that generally left the minute tips, just saying.) So really please stop blaming low wages and tips on people that are in the same boat as people in the food industry. You’re increasing the shame that comes with being poorer.

Crap customers will always exist…

Just like crappy workers will always exist. Even if you’re at the top of your game that day you’ll probably run into a few rude people and bad tippers. And on the other side of the coin as a customer you’ll encounter impolite workers and bad waitstaff. It’s a fact of life, some people are ill-suited to be in the service industry and some people are just ill-suited to be a human being. Seriously. Try to remember on BOTH sides of the counter that the other person isn’t trying to make your life hard** and try to figure out where they are coming from.

**This doesn’t account for the one customer or worker that truly is trying to make your life difficult just because they had a difficult day or they are just bad people, try to do what you can and TRY to let it roll off of you afterwards. Believe me I know how hard it is to just forget about unkind words but they just aren’t worth your time!

About Lyndsey:

I have too many interests and I get easily distracted, so I haven’t completed a single thing in my life. Yay, hyperboles! I have been to culinary school and I like baking cupcakes. I write the beginnings of too many novels. I am driven by ambition and delayed by perfectionism.

I would like to travel the world, learn from others, write some best sellers, and have a restaurant or bakery someday. I am a Slytherin. I like the tenth Doctor best (followed by ninth). I am too obsessed with Downton Abbey and the whole etiquette of that era. I never forget to be awesome!

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