I have been working in the customer service industry since the day I was legally able to work. Starting out behind a counter at a hair salon, a couple years later transitioning to a cashier at a hockey store, soon after picking up a waitressing gig at college, and to top it off, I’ve been bartending for a boat company in Boston for the past three summers.
Working behind a bar is fun, especially when it’s on a boat in the summertime. I like talking to people; it comes easy to me. I like exchanging stories and jokes (and sometimes numbers), hoping that I can make the corporate newbie’s experience a little bit more enjoyable on his/her first company outing.
The service industry certainly has its downfalls. I would say 80% of the people I encounter on a daily basis are friendly and kind, treating me with the same kind of respect that I would expect out of a semi-decent human. And then you’ll have that one person who thinks that you’re, like, not a person.
I’m rather talented at keeping a smile on my face even on my shittiest days, it’s all part of a day’s work. I don’t mind remaking your drink if you accidentally asked for gin instead of vodka (and I won’t charge you twice).
I understand your frustration when you’ve been sitting at the end of the bar with money in hand for 3+ minutes…because I’ve been there too. Although I appreciate when customers call me by my first name, calling me “hey” is something I’ve grown accustomed to, so it doesn’t really bother me.
My job is to make you happy. It’s to be proactive when you spill red wine on your white blazer. It’s to crawl on top of the bar to reach that dusty bottle in the far corner because you “just want to taste it.” It’s to take the semi-inappropriate comments you throw at me when you’ve had one too many, to be the “cute bartender” to flirt with to help you get over your ex-wife.
I don’t mind doing my job. Although none of these are written in my job description, I sincerely don’t mind. I don’t ask that you tip on an open bar (although you should), I don’t ask that you go out of your way to ask how my night is going, I don’t ask you for anything really.
All I ask is that you treat me like a person.
Although I rarely feel like people treat me as less of a human on the job, last night was a different story:
It was 10pm (30 minutes after the party on the boat had ended), and I was assisting people on the seemingly unstable stairs from the boat to the dock. I had left my workspace behind the bar (since it was closed) and glanced through the window and a saw that a man was helping himself behind the bar. I was a distance a way from him and couldn’t really tell what he was up to so I left the staircase and began to walk towards the bar.
The gentleman was helping himself to the top-shelf alcoholic beverages and began to pour drinks for himself and the young woman that stood on the other side.
“Excuse me, sir? Can I help you?”
“Where’s your Baileys? I can’t find it,” he responded.
“Um, we don’t have anymore Bailey’s and if you could please step out from the behind the bar, customers aren’t allowed to be behind here.”
He was an older gentleman, and looked at me and instantly laughed in my face. He began to inquire if I was even old enough to serve alcohol and then started mocking me. The young woman joined in and he started to repeat my request in an taunting manner.
“Excuse me, sir I’ll give you THREE SECONDS to step out from behind the bar!!! Or else!!!!” he started.. “and, how do you run out of Baileys? Seriously? What kind of bar is this? I guess I’ll take a Frangelico on the rocks. Actually, make that two…for this young lady here,” he continued. (Note the lack of “please” in his request).
The bar is closed. It has been closed for over an half hour…and technically I would be allowed to just kick you off the boat for going behind the bar.
I looked at him, biting my tongue from the words that were about to spill from my mouth. I poured the hazelnut flavored liquor into the two rocks glasses that he had already helped himself to (and I didn’t even need to add ice! He already did that for me too!!). I handed the two drinks over…with a smile on my face.
The mocking continued, and I pretended to laugh it off…to be a part of the joke that the had made me into.
“I have to go assist people getting off of the boat, if you need anything else, please don’t hesitate to ask,” I told them.
Just keep smiling, Beth.
I know it’s not required that you ask about my life, but I think if you knew me beyond my uniform, maybe you’d see me a little bit differently.
To the man and woman who felt inclined to treat me as an object; like a dusty bottle of Frangelico sitting in the top corner of the bar:
In case you’re wondering, my name is Beth. It’s not short for Elizabeth or Bethany–even though I know you’re probably assuming that it is. I just graduated from college, with a degree in Communication. I’m moving to DC in less than a month, and I’m super excited about it. I run, blog, travel, and occasionally use Tinder.
I’m a friend, a colleague, a daughter, and a sister to an incredible group of people. I have had a few internships in my past, and aspire to land a job in the PR field. This gig is to help me pay for rent come September.
I don’t know you either, but I’m assuming you have kids…and maybe that woman was one of them. Judging by your fancy suit, you look like a go-getter who has worked hard to get to where he is financially. I saw you interact with the other customers on the boat, so I’m also assuming you have a circle of people in your life that you love, and I’m sure the feelings are mutual.
Let me change the scenario a bit:
So, basing off my ballpark assumption, you’ve had a job at one point in your life working with people…let’s say it was a typical 9-5 office job. You’re in your cubicle, and you leave it to assist a potential client who is lost in the building. He’s late for your meeting…30 minutes late…but you stay later at work to accommodate him…because it’s your job (even if you were supposed to take your wife out to dinner). You come back to find that said client sitting in your cubicle, typing away at your Dell desktop.
“Oh, I found my way eventually. You were still gone, so I figured I’d just pull up the reports myself. And I also went through your files, what are you doing with condoms in here? Sleeping with a co-worker, ay?” This man had never met you before, nor had permission to go through your work files. But, he felt like he could…because he knew that in some way, he had control over you.
How did you react to the client in that story?
In my experience in the service industry, it’s been quite obvious that people choose to treat you as a “lesser” because you’re “serving” them. For some (not most), the rules of being a decent human get tossed out of the window because “the customer is always right.”
Well, to you Mr. I-Think-It’s-OK-To-Go-Behind-A-Bar-Filled-With-Top-Shelf-Liquor-And-A-Drawer-Full-Of-Cash:
You were wrong.
Not only were you wrong to undermine my authority in a workplace, you were wrong because you thought it was OK to treat me as less of a human than you are. You thought it was OK to disregard the fact that I could be a daughter to someone your age, I could be a young woman at then end of my 13 hour shift who had a really shitty day. I could be a friend to someone going through difficult time, and maybe I’m going through a difficult time myself.
Let me ask: Is that how you’d want someone to treat your daughter/friend/colleague/wife?
It’s my job to keep a smile on my face, and to make you happy. However, it’s not my job to be undermined by people who are the off-the-clock while I’m still on it. The time clock shouldn’t be a determinant on how you treat others.
I don’t know why you felt the need to treat me like you did. At any other bar establishment, you would have been immediately escorted out by a bouncer. Perhaps it was because I was a young female, or maybe because you felt like you were entitled to one more drink. Whatever it was, you were a dick (sorry).
I’m not asking for you to be call me by name, slip me a $20 bill in the tip jar when I serve you after hours. I know you probably don’t care who I am beyond my job, but I’m not asking you to.
I’m asking for you to remember that you and I are the same…regardless of what the number is on my paycheck in comparison to yours.
We are encouraged to believe that life is more than your job, but oftentimes people forget that fact. It’s difficult to see a stranger as someone more than just a stranger, and it may be difficult to see me as more than just a bartender. But, I am more than that.
And you, sir, I hope, are more than the asshole who went behind the bar.
I don’t hate you, although maybe I did in that moment. I know very well what industry I signed up for, and dealing with situations such as the one you put me is simply part of job. Although, it really shouldn’t be. The point of this post isn’t to rant about tipping, or the difficulties of life behind a bar.
The point is to stop people from treating other people like sh*t, on or off the clock.
I hope if you have ever been this type of customer, next time you’ll do differently. I know it’s easy to put blame on the people getting paid for you to enjoy your time, but we are people too. I don’t mind going out of my way to get what you need, even if it means leaving a bar-full of customers.
I don’t mind letting you try 6 different wines, or being the girl to vent to about the guy who was shitty to you the night before. I don’t mind money being shoved in my face in hopes of being the next one served, and I won’t be mad at you for spilling your Jack and coke on my white shirt.
Seriously, I don’t care about any of that. Just don’t be a dick…it’s not that hard.
And in case you were wondering, I’m not just “getting paid to be nice to you.” I am simply being nice. Kindness doesn’t come with a price tag, try it out sometime.
The “cute bartender”