Dear food service workers 4

I know that for most of you, you didn’t choose the food service life. The food service life chose you, whether it was to work your way through college, to fill the gap between careers, or just because no one else was hiring. The pay sucks (often lower than minimum wage if you’re in the restaurant biz), but it’s better than nothing. And maybe you genuinely enjoy your job. That is, except for the shitty customers. If your food service job is your first customer service experience, maybe you weren’t prepared for how absolutely dehumanizing it is sometimes. Between crappy, slave-driving management, and angry, entitled customers who don’t view your job as a real job, or you as a human being, it takes a whole lot of effort at the end of the day to not just say, “fuck this shit.”

Believe me, I know. I’ve worked in food service. I’ve worked in retail. I’ve worked at grocery stores, I’ve scrubbed toilets for a living, and I’ve also done “high end” office work. I’ve worked in a lot of different fields and dealt with a lot of different walks of crappy customers and clients. Being treated sub-humanly is not exclusive to retail and food service, but working in those fields seems to give you the worst of it.

It gets to a point where you want to retaliate. To fire back at that customer who’s being rude or treating you as lower than the dog shit on their shoe. Revenge is so sweet. And I’m all for revenge when it’s fairly harmless. You know, making an impatient person wait, not letting that rude penny-pincher use their day-past-expired coupon even though you know you can without getting in trouble. Stuff like that. But messing with food is where I draw the line.

I’m sure we’ve all seen Waiting…, the 2005 movie with Ryan Reynolds that illustrates more of what goes on behind the scenes in the restaurant industry. There’s that part we all know and love, where the cook spits in the food. Some of us felt a sense of justice. Others, a sense of dread.

See, the thing is, some of you hate your jobs so much that it doesn’t take much to slight you. Judging from anonymous image posts on the internet, these offenses can be anything from being a “skinny bitch ordering a diet soda” to “being indecisive” all the way and up to curtness and impatience. And when someone has done you so wrong, you exact revenge in the only way you can: by fucking with our food. Which can be really, really dangerous.

The movie theater image sparked backlash on tumblr, where users shared stories of fear because of diabetic siblings, and experiences with negligent baristas causing lactose intolerance reactions because they ignored a request for no milk. A few weeks ago, a barista made a post on facebook about switching people’s coffee to decaf if they’re rude. Someone in the comments bragged about “breve-ing” a “skinny” latte if someone is rude. I was one of the only ones in the thread who didn’t think any of that was okay, no matter how rude the customer is being.

The biggest issue here is that you don’t know what health issues, allergies, or intolerances someone has. Everyone in the thread seemed to think that giving a person decaf instead of regular coffee can’t possibly trigger anything, but I spoke to a girl who agreed with me, and she suffers from a narcolepsy disorder. Drinking decaf when she thinks she’s getting caffeine can fuck up her entire day. Altering the sugar or fat content of a food item, or simply scraping off a condiment when the condiment was specifically requested to be omitted, can all severely fuck with someone’s health. And you can’t tell by looking at them what their issues are, nor should they have to explain their allergies or sensitivities because you’re being a moody asshole today.

A little over a year ago, I had my gallbladder removed. Before that, I spent 8 months in nearly constant pain because I had an inch-and-a-half diameter gall stone. Eating any amount of fat would give me intense abdominal pains that lasted for hours, sometimes caused vomiting and diarrhea, and could usually only be quelled by heavy duty, knock-you-the-fuck-out pain killers. If a barista had ignored my request for a skinny latte because they thought I may have been rude, the resulting gallbladder pain would have put me out of commission for the entire day, causing me to cancel appointments, call out of work, etc. And while you may think that’s justified comeuppance, I may ask you to reconsider.

The thing is, “rudeness” is up to the worker to define. Judging from the pictures above, a complicated order can set someone off. I’m socially awkward, and have incredible social anxiety. I’m that person mentally rehearsing what I’m going to say a thousand times before I get to the counter. Often I start rattling off my order when the cashier has asked me how I am that day, but only because my brain has already prepared my speech, and anything other than what I’ve mentally prepared throws a wrench into the cogs. I’m also incredibly indecisive, but I try not to hold up lines. I’m not trying to be rude, but I can absolutely see how someone would perceive me as rude, especially if they’re already having a bad day. So fuck me, right? Or fuck someone with food allergies because they have a “complicated order.” And fuck anyone you don’t like, because apparently that’s all it takes sometimes.

I’m not trying to say that everyone who ignores a “hi, how are you today?” is just a victim of social anxiety. There are some truly rude people in this world who deserve every bit of karma that this universe serves them, but don’t do it by messing with their food. Because being responsible for someone’s allergic reaction, hospital visit, or potential death is not something you want on your hands. It’s also your job to serve food to people correctly. A pharmacist doesn’t switch someone’s medication or dosage because they feel disrespected. I don’t give someone a bad haircut because they’re not being nice to me.

Make people wait a little longer. Kill them with kindness. Be a little more compassionate. But don’t fuck with their food.

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4 thoughts on “Dear food service workers

  • Georgie

    Maaaaan, this post spoke to me. I have never worked in retail or food service. I feel lucky for that, and I didn’t choose to work in retail or food service, and food service didn’t choose me, either. But I have friends who work in food service who honestly enjoy what they do, and I have friends and family who work in sales and enjoy talking to customers. It’s what they do best.

    Everyone has bad days. Everyone has days when they feel really fucking angry and people piss them off. I understand when people yell and shout and let off some steam. As a customer, if I piss someone off, they have the right to get angry. It makes sense for someone to react to my face. But I also have this extreme hate for people who think that they can get away with behaviour like messing up my order or spitting in my food, doing these cruel things basically behind my back and because no one’s looking.

    If I’m bothered by the service given to me, I try so hard not to complain or kick up a fuss, and to just explain the problem. Look, you forgot that I asked for no bacon. Hey, this doesn’t taste like soy milk. I try hard not to talk in a tone because I’m sure it was just an honest mistake. In my mind, sure, I might be like ‘fuck, I didn’t want bacon!’, but I try to be patient and ask them to correct my order. By the same token, people working in food service should also be patient with the customers they are serving. Sure, someone might have a ‘complicated’ order, but think about how bad they might be feeling for ordering something custom or out of the ordinary. I just don’t understand how workers can get so angry at someone who orders a ‘soy chai latte with sugar-free vanilla and cinnamon on top’ (me, sometimes). If the restaurant offers it, then the customer has every right to order it.

    Good thing I can taste the difference between normal Coca Cola and Diet.

  • Jamie

    Before I had my first shaking spell (I call seizures shaking spells so I won’t confuse people) in 2004, I actually had several jobs in the fast food industry. I have worked at Kentucky Fried Chicken, where I happened to make friends with some of their employers and even one of the shift managers. I have also worked at Subway and actually really enjoyed working there;however, I was transferred to Chino Hills and was written for going “too slow.” Everyone had agreed that I wasn’t going slow and going the same speed as they were. I guess they were trying to ween out who they liked and didn’t like as they over hired. Everyone that I knew had said the same thing “If I were to have been left at the Chino location, I would still have a job.” It’s true as I did a lot of things that most employees did not want to do i.e. make the tuna, open the can of jalapenos. Heck, I even did a lunch rush with 1 other person as well as making a party platter with that same person. This same thing happened to me at my third job were I had to quit or be fired again. I hated that. The one thing I hated about customer service are the customers. Some customers are tolerable and others not so tolerable. In fact, I was applauded for not slapping this one shitty customer up side the head for giving me an attitude. I was packing an order and told the couple “I will be right with you!” As soon as I got done packing that order, I had run over to the counter to take their order and apologized to them. I said “I’m sorry about the wait, how may I take your order?” The woman replied back “Well, it’s about time!” I stood their shocked and just let it slide. I took their order and as always we have to repeat the order back to the customer to see if we have it right. Well, I repeated the order back to this bitch and she said “Well, that’s what I said isn’t it?” I stood there completely dumb-founded and took her change. The cash register I was at was not my normal cash register and there wasn’t change in the cash register (obviously, someone wasn’t paying attention). So, I had to explain to the couple that I had to get some change. She replied “What kind of job doesn’t have money in the cash register?” I was about to walk away when I caught myself heating up. I stood there for 10 seconds to calm my composure and finally got the money and handed it back to her and her food as well. I was 5 seconds away from wanting to slap her. My co-workers applauded me and asked how I managed to not want to slap her? I just said it’s either I slap her and lose my job or keep my composure and keep my job. Needless to say, I impressed my manager and my co-workers that day.

    I don’t believe I have ever pissed any waitress or barista off. However, I have gotten the wrong food before (as most of us have). I would -instead of throwing a fit – would simply take the food back and kindly explain to them what happened. Some times, I would just sulk it in and eat it anyway. I’m not the type that would blow up at the waitress for getting it wrong (I do cuss at the food for it being wrong as my mouth would be watering for something different – hey, this is common). In fact, one barista who was not at all friendly (she didn’t talk to anyone, she just made the drinks and she was slow at it too). My boyfriend and I had ordered an iced coffee with cream and sugar. This barista just put the sugar in and I happened to notice that it was black instead of the usual color that we get. I told her that I had asked for cream and sugar and she sounded a bit confused and re-did our drink for us. I don’t know if she was having a bad day or not and wasn’t focusing on the drinks or what have you. I can definitely say she did not make a good impression on me that day.

    • Arwen Post author

      Did you not read any of the post? How about, you do your fucking job the way you’re paid to do it, whether or not customers are mean to you. It’s not that hard. I’ve worked in food service, and I’ve worked with customers. Doing your job properly even when dealing with an abusive customer is not difficult.