Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Ten ways to brighten a service industry worker's day

Yes, the toughest day at work is better than the best day job-
hunting. So why not make the tiny effort necessary to make someone's
else's day less tough? Of all the things you can spend, good cheer is
the least expensive and the most easily restocked. Only a fool would
be stingy with it. So tuck into these, and then get out there and
spread the kindness!

* Say hello or thank-you to them in their own language.
You can brighten the day of immigrant workers this way. For example,
Ethiopians seem to run most of the parking garages, as well as many of
the convenience stores. I chatted with one once, and he taught me how
to say "Tah-dias", which roughly means "how's it going?" in Amharic.
So now when I roll out to pay the parking attendant, (assuming I can
identify them as Ethiopian), I'll salute them with that greeting.
They are pleased, and couldn't be more surprised if the drop gate had
spoken to them! The same is true of speakers of other languages--
Chinese, Japanese and Koreans are especially pleased not to be
mistaken for each other.

* Inquire after their well-being, beyond the formulaic "how are you
In autumn of 2008, I telephoned a mutual fund I own shares in. This
was when the toxic assets bomb had just gone off, and the stock market
was free-falling in earnest. I was calling about an unrelated matter,
but I knew the poor cubicle inmate answering the phone must have had
to endure quite a lot of rage from investors that day. So I asked
him, "Everybody being civil to you today?" He laughed, and said "No!
You're the only one!" Thus, a brief acknowledgement of their humanity
and expression of concern for their wellbeing will lighten their mood,
if only for a few moments.

* Tip the wait staff adequately.
As you know, most of them earn much less than the minimum wage, and
rely on tips. The internet is awash with tales of stingy tippers, and
the occasional story of a generous giver. Certainly, bad service
should not be rewarded. But if you decide to tip, make it a real
reward. Can't afford it? Maybe tipping generously will keep you from
dining out so often, then; you'll save money that way.

* Tip the food delivery guy even more than that.
The waitress walks across the room to bring you your meal, and walks
back a few times to refill your drink. The pizza guy drives your meal
to your doorstep, which may be hard to find, or in a dangerous
neighborhood. Consider that, while his nightly pay for maybe three
hours work might seem nothing to sneeze at, he's probably putting four-
fifths of it into his gas tank at shift's end. He depends on tips to
make the job worthwhile. So pause before you fill out that check &
add some more, or grab a few more coins from the change jar. You
won't really miss it--you're already paying more to have food
delivered, remember--and it will put his evening in the plus column.

* Repeat or explain your request without irritation, if necessary.
Are they slow on the uptake? Nobody was born knowing how to work the
machine at the counter. A less than sparkling public manner today?
Maybe the person is trying to cope with some private anguish. Are
they hungover? At least they came in to work. Just remember: If
everyone in the world who was stupider than you were to be taken out
and shot for it, then you would be the stupidest person in the world.

* Josh with them, in an appropriate way.
If they nervously admit that "I'm new here", joke that you'll be sure
to give them an extra hard time, then.
Or this: Fast food counter clerk: "What would you like?" You: "Oh,
surprise me!"

* Transact complicated business yourself.
Yes, your tiny child, clutching a wad of singles and stammering
ferociously, looks adorable up there at the counter trying to place an
order. And the dumbest person on your staff doubtless could use the
practice in sorting out some transaction. But do the world a favor
and tend to these things yourself, when things are busy.

* Don't blame them for being short-staffed.
How many times have you seen this? Lines are backing up, because
somebody is out or the place was never adequately staffed in the first
place. The remaining workers are dealing with the crowd as best they
can, silently enduring the grumbles and glares of the impatient
public. Ask yourself: Why are you getting mad at the workers who
*did* show up for work?

* Praise them to their boss. This is much, much less of a hassle than
in the old days. Time was, you had to fill in and mail back a
postcard, or call a toll-free number. Usually the only people who did
so were people who wanted to complain. Nowadays, most every company
has a website, with an email contact on it. It's no effort at all to
shoot off an email: "Hey! You know the young stoner with the
muttonchops running the coffee frother at the Main Street location?
Well, he gave me extra whipped cream without me even having to ask for
it. I appreciate that!" It's easier than Facebooking, and pays
better karma dividends.

*And the old stand-by, pay with the smallest bill possible.
Having a string of people breaking big bills on them, on a day when
the bank is closed, is a definite stressor. Also, have your money
ready when your turn comes up. And empty your coin jar at the bank,
wilya? All matters of simple expediency which may not seem like much
to you, but which you would surely appreciate if the roles were

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