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News from the Front Lines of the Service Industry: What’s Service?

News from the Front Lines of the Service Industry: What’s Service?
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By Alice Naranjo

Art by Blake Jones

In the foodservice industry, one will have many bosses. That is what a customer is: a boss. Some you will like immensely, and some you will not like at all, however, it does not change the fact that they are your boss. That does not give a customer the right to treat someone else’s employee disrespectfully, nor does it give the employee the right to mistreat someone they do not care for. Are you working in the service industry because you have a gift of service, and know how to do your job, or are you just looking for a cool place to look pretty, collect a paycheck, and treat others poorly?

In my 12 years in the industry, I’ve observed all kinds of interesting things, but I will save those juicy gems of stories for a later date, because I’ve realized that some workers and customers alike, don’t really know how to treat each other. Respect is earned, and hard to come by when the barista is hitting on your wife, or the waitress keeps bending over because she needs a lot of attention today. Simultaneously, it’s difficult to earn respect from the worker when the customer is telling you to pluck your eyebrows, dress sexier, and do something with your hair when you are required to wear a paper hat. I’m beginning to wonder whether I actually enjoy shame and humiliation, but I will take that up with my therapist, or someone in the S&M community. All kindergarten etiquette skills aside, what is service? I won’t bore you with a definition, but I will give examples.

Service is when your boss loses his mother on his birthday, but he’s still at work because the store needs to be run. Service is when your boss is going through a divorce and battling personal problems, while simultaneously treating customers with respect and putting out kitchen fires and calming down employee panic attacks. Service is the woman who shows up for eight years just to make you and your entire office your favorite tacos. It’s exemplified in the boss who gets held up at gunpoint on the way home from the bank-while dealing with employees’ personal problems-even though she’s scared to the point of shaking. The show must go on.

Every man and woman in the business has been there and will understand what I am talking about. These people who have dedicated their lives in the front of the house, in the back of the house, washing dishes if they have to, scrubbing floors because it needs to be done, getting trash juice all over their aprons, and water inside their shoes-they understand service. Despite the sometimes messy nature of the job, these are the dependable folk who are there so you can show up and “be seen” at that hot new restaurant, or that adorable little coffee shop, and Yelp and complain over sometimes mediocre things.

Was your food late to the table? If you had taken the time to ask, maybe it was because there was a new cook and he’s a little overwhelmed. It happens. Then, there are times when the service sucks because your boss refuses to hire two extra people, or the employees aren’t actually allowed bathroom breaks, making it extremely difficult for anyone to want to smile. Get the whole story, because a few facts go a long way.

Then there are places that really get the whole customer service thing right, thankfully. I don’t need a hipster barista making shapes on my latte, and giving me that, “you’re not cool enough to be here,” attitude. As a customer, I don’t need your temper or your blatant disregard that I’m there with money to buy something. It amazes me sometimes when workers forget why they are actually there in the first place. “Hello, I’m a customer. I understand you’re really jaded because you’ve been in the industry for five years and are a little worn out, but if you just acknowledge that I’m here instead of flirting with your coworker, I’d like to give you a little business.”

Remember, you have many bosses, and we all have eyes. Then there are those loyal customers who treat you like a human being, and not a slave. Don’t come into a service area and act like a prince or princess, honey, because that isn’t going to fly. I know what mommy and daddy said, but here in the real world, it is better to treat people as equals.

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