Classes have begun. It’s beginning to settle in with homework assignments, pricey book purchases and the first of weekly quizzes. It’s actually a sigh of relief after a busy summer of waitressing at a small, family-owned restaurant in a Denver suburb.
This was my third summer as a server. While I’d worked a few customer service jobs before, my earnings had never depended on tips. I’d learned the corporate idea of teaching your employees to make eye contact as both a welcome sign and loss-prevention measure. The lines: “Make your customers feel comfortable” and “Let them know you can identify them in a lineup” were both on training videos for my first job at a national video rental chain.
However, working at an independently owned venue, like the restaurant, had a different feel than the corporate chain on many fronts. We were taught that the customer came first and while our charming, but easily irritable, owner grumbled when customers bargained themselves into extra feta cheese on their Greek burger, we always delivered the food with a smile and “anything else, ma’am?” attitude.
This is the way of a tip-dependant server. I think it’s really more the way of a consumer-based society. Somewhere in the 20th century when sales jobs became more prevalent than those in the factory, being nice became less about humanity and more about earning a living.
Asking how a customer is doing becomes second nature, and although this is not a bad thing, it gets drilled into your head. It’s not even really an option, and clever customers will test this. I’ve had many people say they were doing horribly to see if I was listening. They often don’t have an answer when I inquire about their bad day and are shocked to find I paid attention.
As a consumer, we come to expect this sort of behavior. While genuine congeniality is obviously the goal, as it’s required, it’s not really intrinsic. While I believe the service industry has humanity at heart, there are many things that propel the loss of this intrinsic value.
Take the name tag for instance. While I was fortunate enough not to have to wear one this summer, not everyone in customer service get off so easy. While there are plenty of people who will tell you that the name tag is a great display of humanity, I’m not so sure. Did you ever have a friend whose goal was to say the store clerk’s name, when displayed off their nametag, as often as possible- as if there was humor in that awkward moment when the clerk has to figure out how you know their name?
A name may add humanity to a face, but wouldn’t the humane thing be to ask a person for their name? Customers are not required to offer their name. While this may seem like a bitter and innate point, think about it. We are known by our names. It is a pretty personal piece of information to offer to someone simply renting a movie. It may seem trivial, but little things like this add up and I can tell you from firsthand experience that often there isn’t much humanity in an industry so proud of “customer-service,” and it often stems from the customers.
Countless times I’ve seen grouchy, and quite frankly rude, customers forget that servers are people, too. Although we are paid to run for sides of ranch and extra cheese, it’s not the end of the world when the bottle of ketchup on your table is only half-full. Expecting servers to not put up with being berated for trivial complaints would be humanity. Customer service should not be about customers. It should be about people.
Marika Krause is a senior journalism major. Her column will run in the Collegian every other week on Thursdays.