“If you don’t like serving, get another job.”

By: Patrick Maguire

Book Chapter: Introduction

Posted: 08/11/2010

There should be no doubt about the need to raise awareness about the need for mutual respect and common courtesy between service industry workers and their customers. In fact, all human beings could use a reminder about civility. If you’re skeptical at all, read the comments posted in response to all of the stories about Steven Slater, the JetBlue flight attendant who dramatically left work and the plane following an altercation with a passenger. The vitriol on both sides of the discussion is unsettling.

As of this post, there are 133,700 people who ‘like’ Steven Slater’s facebook page, and 169 discussions with hundreds of comments. I started my own discussion on Steven’s page to respond to some of those comments:

Title: “If You Don’t Like Serving, Get Another Job.”

I’ve read every thread on these discussion boards. Every time a discussion surfaces about the relationship between customer service industry workers and customers, someone is quick to say, Tough luck, it goes with the territory. Suck it up. All jobs suck in some way…, or something similar. There’s a common misconception that service industry workers are looking for pity or special treatment from customers. In a lot of cases, that notion is dead wrong.

I’ve been researching this topic for several years, and what gets lost in the discussion is that most workers, especially thoughtful professional servers, are just looking for decency from customers–No special treatment, just a little mutual respect and common courtesy. It’s really not asking too much.

Nineteen percent of all customers are either impolite, disrespectful or downright rude according to the 200 current and former service industry workers who completed my questionnaire. In a lot of cases workers do ‘suck it up’ and say nothing because they can’t for fear of retribution, including termination. They deal with abrasive, surly, nasty, insecure control freaks every shift, and they tolerate a lot more than any human being should.

Because of the antiquated adage about ‘the customer being always right’, the pendulum has swung too far, and several customers have an entitled, ‘I pay you, I own you’ mentality, and are abusive to anyone serving them. It’s time to push back as individuals and as a society and say, No more.

Steven’s actions have already created a dialogue and raised awareness by igniting a media firestorm. I hope a lot of thoughtful conversations result in more people thinking about what ‘walking a mile’ in a server’s shoes is really like, and that we start to treat each other the way that we would like to be treated. It’s not that hard.

Good luck, Steven. Sincerely-Patrick Maguire Boston, MA 

PS- I’m very interested to hear from anyone who has been on a plane since Steven Slater’s encounter and theatrical departure. Did you sense that passengers were any more aware of their interactions with the flight crew and each other? Thank you.


8 Responses to ““If you don’t like serving, get another job.””

  1. tim h says:

    i have been followin your site and really enjoyed it but you are dead wrong backing up this flight attendant.what he did was so out of line it is unbelieveable.he jeopardised all the passengers and the crew of that flight.i dont care what the women did or said there was no reason for him to go overboard like that.he should be prosecuted and/or fired.listening to the radio today it seems more and more is coming out about this guy none of it good.i have been dealing w the public for almost 20 years in my job and there have been plenty of times that i have wanted to kick some passengers ass out into traffic.i have also met some very nice people.its part of the job. i have spent a lot of time on boths sides of a bar,there are a lot of difficult customers but i have met plenty of bartender and waitresses who were mad at the world and took it out on the customers.if you really want to get a discussion going why dont you write about some of the bar/restaurant owners and how they treat their staff.i found that a lot of times a server is treated so poorly by owners/mgrs they take it out on the customers

  2. Gubmint Worker says:

    I sincerely doubt anyone out there in the workforce can truthfully say they’ve never had a bad day at work. Even if someone landed the career they’ve dreamed about since age 5, there are some days its going to get them down.

    Service employees are not looking for pity when they go on an Internet message board, forum or blog and rant about an unreasonable, rude or outright mentally imbalanced customer, or, a recurring situation which causes them frustration. It is my understanding that people who are able to journal or to express themselves about their feelings are psychologically healthier than those who don’t.

    I’d like to point out a few things to people who throw out that worn, overused and completely non-helpful “Get another job if you don’t like it”:

    1. Somebody has to do the customer service jobs. People who do them don’t have to like them. They don’t have to even like the customers. They have to do their job professionally and treat the customer fairly and with respect. They don’t owe the customers anything off the clock. If service workers want to complain about customers (without bringing up names and specific identifiers) they can.

    2. Other jobs are not that easy to come by. Just ask all the people currently laid off and unable to find work.

    3. Some people have been in customer service so long that is the only job they are going to be able to get.

    4. Service workers who love their jobs have bad days. Everyone has bad days! People who say they don’t are LYING.

    5. If a random comment by a random service worker about a bad customer makes the reader so angry or uncomfortable s/he’d bother to reply with “Find another job”, then that reader needs to ask him or herself why. Hitting too close to home, maybe??

  3. Hey Tim- Thank you for commenting. I’m not suggesting what Steven did is right, and I agree with you that he should be fired. It appears that his flamboyant method of quitting was premeditated, and it looks like he’ll milk his ’15 minutes of fame’ for all it is worth…

    I’m seizing the opportunity to create more dialogue and remind people that the customer has almost as much to do with the success of the customer-server relationship as the server does.

    I will do a future post about poor owners/managers and their impact on service. Thank you.

    PS- Despite the fact that I don’t condone what he did, it still makes a great story.

  4. First, a disclaimer. I am a chef and therefore work in the kitchen so I don’t have to deal w/ some of the a__holes in the FOH. The professionalism & tack which servers have to utilize is bittersweet-an awesome ability which should never need to be utilized.

    Sometimes I will go out front to deal with a customer complaint personally. But only if I beleive it is a legitimate complaint, because I can admit if my crew has done something wrong and will work diligently towards recovering that honest guest. But if it is an arrogant, self-aggrandizing prick complaining, then I won’t go out front because I’m afraid that I might try to convince him that he is not god. I can admit if I’m wrong, but I hate it if others can’t show the same courtesy and instead try to shove their “wrong” down my throat.

    I hope Steven’s outbusrt does bring more focus to the need for the public to be more respectful of others.

    What I find shameful here is that while Steven’s name is everywhere, who was the a__hole who set him off? What’s HIS name? Why was he such an arrogant prick? Who made him better than everyone else? Why does he think the rules don’t apply to him? Why hasn’t the Press tracked down the contemptuous man? And has he appologized to Steven yet?

  5. P D MacGuire says:

    I worked in restaurants for many years and chefs get their fair share of crap, too. I always admired the chefs who could handle the often chaotic behaviour of the cooks – and the wait staff, too, if the owners were only there to arrange flowers – late or absent deliveries and the sometimes absurd demands of the customers made at the last minute. I think it was a woman on the flight, who was the offender, and she actually violated federal flight rules, perhaps to the extent of committing felonies. I believe it is a federal crime to interfere with, let alone assault a flight crew. To be fair she needs to be tracked down and charged as well.

  6. LAS says:

    You know a person can only take so much and then well they snap. I had an incident with a customer last Saturday before I left on a much needed vacation. People today feel they are entitled to say and do and demand exactly what they want. Each customers feels the divine right to an exclusive and customized consumer experience regardless of rules, policy, procedures or just damn common sense.
    I have been in the service industry all my life and I know that the customer is King/Queen however where is the common good in people.
    People have to realize that the server works for a company and asking them for all these specials actually puts the server at odds with some of the policy of their employer. It puts the server in a position to potentially have to choose between making a customer unhappy or making their boss/employer unhappy. It becomes a lose lose for the server. Then after many an encounter they snap. Finally the balance of making all customers happy and keeping their job just breaks.
    It is just human nature.
    Can we all please treat servers as we wish to be treated. What ever happened to the golden rule.
    Why can we not apply that rule straight across the board and give the courtesy to all.

  7. andria says:

    My parents did a good job of instilling the adage ‘Treat others how you would like to be treated’.

    I’ve always been kind and respectful and even more so when I began working myself 5 years ago (I’m a youngin’). I think it should be a life requirement that everyone spend at least 6 months in a serving position to know what it feels like to be on the other side.

  8. Danielle says:

    I recently hit 10 years of serving and literally was ready to blow my brains out. I just want to say that being a manager and “randomly” taking tables now and then is completely different from actually doing it 8-12 hours a day. It completely killed whatever creative spirit and hope in humanity I might have had at one time. Also, the hours were absolutely horrendous! The most recent company I worked for turned me into their full time janitor as well as a server because their original cleaning company couldn’t do the job correctly. Also, after two years of working for them, I did not once receive praise for the many hours I put it for them or an offer for a raise. I mean seriously? Its the worst in Florida, seriously. I have never felt better since quitting the restaurant industry and I am so happy to never ever ever again smell like food after coming home.

    P.S. That 19% fact seems to be a little too low.

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