I spent years as a waitress—in high school, then college, then as a struggling freelance writer—in that time I received pats on the ass, scribbled phone numbers in lieu of tips, and many, many personal questions I’d have preferred not to answer. Requiring feigned intimacy on the part of the worker allows the customer to ignore normal boundaries and pretend that a smile is an invitation to cross. Like the Pret workers, one of my bosses hired secret shoppers to make sure that servers went the extra mile; we were downgraded for not thanking our customers by the names we mispronounced off their credit cards. Not only our tips—which were our livelihoods, seeing as we only made $2.13 an hour, the legal minimum for tipped restaurant workers that hasn’t changed in 22 years—but our jobs were at stake if we didn’t smile hard enough.
A reader adds:
I read this about an hour after my performance review at work.
Included in the review is an anonymous survey of my co-workers.
I scored 100% “excellent” or “good” in the category of “Courteous.”
“Well,” I said to my boss, “I’m glad to see I’m not rude to people!”
“You’d be surprised,” he said.
Now, I am a university technology analyst. I have near zero customer interaction in the regular course of business. There are times when I want to scream epithets at my co-workers for their demands, expectations, and requests. But I have this notion that “well served” is how I want people to feel when working with me, and that this is likely highly correlated with my future employment and success here. So I keep the epithets to myself.
Is this really all that much to ask at the sandwich shop?
I don’t really see why not. And, as all fans of Fawlty Towers know, you can always go to Britain if you want freedom from the oppression of being nice to customers: