As a recent college graduate, I’ve been in my fair share of odd jobs: waiting tables, babysitting, dog walking, catering and house sitting. I’ve changed diapers, cleared away food, and served all kinds of people with varying social skills and manners. Working these jobs, I’ve come up with a short list of things to keep in mind when you are being served. They might help us all treat service workers with the respect and dignity they deserve.
1. Looking people in the eyes goes a long way.
We are not robots or statues, and when you acknowledge that, it makes all the difference. Even better, ask us our name, chat with us a bit, or just generally acknowledge our inherent humanity. I realize you’re busy, but treating me like an equal will guarantee that I don’t spit in your coffee.
2. Don’t expect us to love our job all the time.
Service work can be tiresome, tedious and sometimes trying. When I’ve been on my feet all day and there’s a line out the door, I will do my best to be polite. But you might not be the best part of my day, and technically, smiling for you is not in my job description.
3. Don’t hit on people while they are at work.
I can’t count the number of times that I was working the register as a 17 year-old and had a 30 year-old man ask for my number. Beyond the questionable age difference, this situation put me at a severe disadvantage when it comes to saying no. I was stuck behind a register, unable to walk away, faced with a customer who I am being payed to please. Telling that guy “no” just got a lot harder. Please, don’t put me in that situation.
4. Never suggest that we are paid too much for the work we do.
Service workers are almost never paid enough. Period. I don’t care how much training goes into your coorporate job, I just cleaned up your dirty napkins and changed your baby’s diaper, and that is work. Don’t be a cheapskate: tip.
5. Treat people as you would like to be treated.I will never forget being a little preteen and reading this phrase in Ann Brashares’ book “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants”:
Rule #1. The customer is always right. Rule #2. If the customer is wrong, please refer to Rule #1.
This is what our bosses tell us, but this is not actually true. Just because you are paying for a service does not mean that you can abuse the person performing it. Folks in the service industry are constantly being told how to behave and to excuse even the most rude and dehumanizing behavior, yet that script rarely gets flipped. Please hold yourself to the same standard of courtesy that you expect from us.
6. If you live in or near most U.S. coastal cities, learning Spanish is always useful.
Some people will argue that assuming that someone speaks Spanish sends the message that they do not look educated enough to speak English. Be aware and sensitive to this. That being said, 90% of the time when I practice my Spanish with people who are serving me, I get nothing but friendlier people, and better service. It proves that I care about the person beyond the service/product I am paying them for, and that I’ve made an effort to learn about the population on whose backs my country is running. Of course, the same could be said for the many other immigrant populations who work hard in the U.S., and if you have time, learning Mandarin, Haitian Creole, Portuguese, or Tagalog is also recommended. But Spanish seems like a good start.
7. Working part-time at a coffee shop during college isn’t the same as supporting a family on a minimum wage job.
I am beyond grateful for the jobs that I’ve worked over the years. They’ve taught me about responsibility and professionalism. But they’ve also been a stark reminder of my privilege. Chatting with the cooks during a lull at the restaurant, or sitting with the other nannies while the kids play at the park, I’ve made some of my deepest and most diverse friendships. But during those conversations, I always knew that for me, this job was temporary. For them, this was life. So when I complain about how hard catering is on my body, or how little restaurant work pays, I know that I’m lucky. I will always treat service workers with dignity and respect for the hard work that they do.