Many local retail and food service workers are struggling with a simple problem – they just want some kindness. Anyone who has ever worked in one of these jobs knows that it can be thankless. It’s a low paid, customer-is-always-right world where criticism is served up in far higher quantities than basic manners. Of course, poor service is the bane of the business world because it drives customers away, but what lurks beneath poor service is often a foundation of employee mistreatment, abuse from customers, and poverty-level pay that makes it difficult for any well-meaning employee to get it right every single time. With costs of living rising significantly and minimum wage jobs simply not paying the bills anymore, it is a wonder that many employees stay in these jobs where taking daily verbal abuse seems to be increasingly part of the job description.
A local resident with firsthand experience chose to share her story anonymously. “When I was 17-20 years old, I was working in a big retail store in a small department,” she said. “My department manager was completely inappropriate and did not manage at all. From day one, as a young teenage girl, my 30-something department manager would constantly talk about her sex life, tinder dates, abortions, issues with her kids etc. She also said various subtly racist comments to me such as, ‘You’re using chopsticks for lunch. That’s so cute. You know, because you’re Asian’.” The resident confirmed that the business in question is located in Kemptville, and that she also experienced much harassment from male customers of the establishment in addition to issues with management.
Another local got in touch to share his thoughts on the matter. As a business owner, he has seen firsthand the hostility with which customers sometimes treat staff, a problem that has become worse in recent years. He has a no tolerance policy for such behaviour toward his staff, and pointed out that it is already difficult to keep staff in the current labour market without throwing verbal abuse from customers into the mix.
A server at a local restaurant also weighed in. Speaking of the pandemic, she said “There were rules we had to follow (mask wearing, contact tracing, vaccine passport) that people didn’t agree with and would let us know quite loudly about. It’s pretty disconcerting to see an adult arguing with a 16-year-old hostess about a rule that the government enacted. I had an incident where I had to call the police. A man who wasn’t vaccinated was refusing to leave when we would not let him in. He started yelling at our staff and other customers.” Pandemic rules have not been the only issue. “More recently it seems like people have lost their filter,” the server continued. “I’m not sure if it’s because they were hiding out online for two years, but it’s been pretty shocking some of the behaviours I have seen. I’ve seen grown men ogling and taking pictures of our clearly underage hostesses. I had a man last night that I wasn’t sure if he wanted to date me or murder me. Definitely limited eye contact with that one. Everyone is complaining about prices, or that their favourite beer isn’t available. True complaints I take seriously and will work my hardest to rectify them, it’s the ones that are out of my control that wear on me. It is well known that staffing issues and supply shortages have been happening across all industries. What the solution is, I don’t know. I think people need to take a step back before speaking and think ‘Is this something that this employee can change or is it beyond their control?’ It is exhausting to have someone take their frustration out on you for something that is beyond your control and something that is equally frustrating to yourself.”
For those who have forgotten the lessons their parents taught them in childhood, two key things to remember are that times are changing, and kindness is free. Take McDonalds as an example. The original McDonalds commercials boasted of the fast food chain’s speedy service. One of the founding ideas behind McDonalds was to take the “assembly line” concept popularized by Henry Ford and apply it to food service for revolutionary speed. I have heard many older folks argue that teens and young adults working at McDonalds in the present day are slow and lazy compared to decades ago, leading to service that is now slow and riddled with mistakes. Before judging these workers, consider this: The original McDonalds menu had just three food items – hamburgers, cheeseburgers, and fries – and a few beverage options. The current menu has a whopping 83 individual food items, in addition to regular drinks and an assortment of complicated café style beverages sold under the McCafe brand. There is no comparison between learning the original menu and learning the current menu, and mistakes are bound to happen. To assume it is a work-ethic problem is simply unfair.
Service workers deserve patience, understanding, and respect. Weren’t we all taught to treat other people the way we want to be treated? Surely we don’t want to be treated like trash, so at what awful point in history did we stop thinking of food service and retail workers as people? It is never a bad time to turn over a new leaf. When a service worker makes a mistake, simply let it be or point it out politely. These industries are struggling, and if we don’t all learn to abide by the “golden rule” of kindness, there may soon be no service employees left to serve us. Be kind!