The customer may not always be right


Abigayle Allen, Opinion Editor

Black butter-stained apron, non-slip shoes and server book in hand; servers make their way from their cars into their designated places of work.

The whirlwind of customer food service that has encompassed the last 6 years of my life has been nothing short of an exhausting experience. Following in the footsteps of many family members, serving was the end-all-be-all college job that I was always somewhat excited about partaking in. 

Perhaps I should’ve read the yelp reviews and horror stories posted on all forms of social media to better prepare myself for the line of work I was blindly walking into.

It is no secret that serving jobs are considered, by some, the fastest way to make easy money while also maintaining the everyday schedule of being a college student. However, this easy-to-make money has proven to be not so easy.

“Know what you’re going to say before you get to the table” still lingers in the back of my brain – likely because “controlling the flow of your table” has been drilled into my mind from the countless managers and server trainers I have worked under. However, it is the nervous gibberish and sweaty palms that plague me most during my hours spent serving customers.

Not every table has proven difficult, and actually, most encounters I have with customers are very pleasant. In fact, I even have personal relationships built with many of the regular customers I have served over the years. Nevertheless, I still happen upon some tables that treat me almost less-than-human and consider me to be nothing more than the “help”.

It is during these encounters that I find the treatment I have received to begin defining me as an individual, rather than just an employee. 

After the COVID-19 pandemic, opinion columnist writing for Food&Wine, Khushbu Shah, says, “restaurants were faced with decimated wages….a tailspin of closures [and] reopening’s, and ever-changing guidelines, all while exposing workers to health risks”. I can attest to the fact that while these struggles were ever present, it was the customer entitlement that seemed to outshine the already difficult working environment.

It is this entitlement matched with what customers believe they are owed while dining out that causes such an issue in this industry. My fellow coworkers and I take turns swapping stories regarding bad tippers, abusive conversations and total disrespect that we encounter throughout a shift. The pandemic and the absurd customer behavior accompanying it – disregard for safety protocols, name-calling, impatience regarding wait times and frustration due to limited seating and menu options has finally begun to highlight the problem that many servers face. 

It is my opinion that the slogan of “the customer is always right” has seemed to spearhead the movement of bad behavior from customers. While servers work to awe and delight customers with every visit, we begin bending over backwards to meet their every need. 

Many managers, including my own, encourage servers to “always accommodate the guests” no matter what the cost of doing so may be. 

With this added pressure of providing excellent customer service regardless of the treatment we face from the customer, many of us begin internalizing abuse that should never be tolerated. This tactic of internalizing abuse to provide excellent service leaves no boundaries for these customers and further entices poor treatment to be placed on servers themselves. 

I have been met with many encounters where customers demand items that are not on the menu, argue that they did not order the drink they have already finished and have blamed me for the wrong temperature of their steaks although I did not cook it. I have been labeled because of my skin color as “privileged” and have been told that I do not deserve a tip because I am a “white, sorority girl”. 

I can assure you that there are very few servers that work in this industry because they love customer service and do not care about making money. As for myself, maintaining a job while partaking in college classes has been a major struggle for me over the past 4 years. I work to make ends meet and to relieve the burden of cost from my parents as much as possible. 

I am under the impression, now, that regardless of how empathetic of a person you may be, a server must learn their limits, and stay true to themselves. I am lucky to have managers that fight for my well-being and personally confront tables that cause issues. Unfortunately, this is not true for every establishment. 

At this point in my service industry career, I would be satisfied to be treated with respect, even if it means a decline in tip wages. I think it should be out with “the customer is always right” and in with “please, just be nice. Even if you don’t tip me…just be nice”. 

The issue that plagues the service industry will never be resolved without the proper awareness raised around it. I understand some servers are not meant for this industry, however, each of us are people. And no person should ever fear being treated less than human.

So, from a fellow server to the public, “please, just be nice. Even if you don’t tip me…just be nice.”.