Let’s Talk: The View From The Bottom

I grew up in a fairly comfortable middle class family. We could afford to go out for dinner on the weekends and take a vacation every once in a while, but my parents didn’t believe in giving my brother or I an allowance. So I started working as early as I could, taking on a slew of service sector jobs over the years so that I could keep up with my friends and pay for things like textbooks, bus tickets to and from school, etc. I’ve been lucky enough to work in a few places that were truly amazing and I’ve also had more than one job that absolutely sucked. But if I have learned one thing from my working history it’s that service jobs are extremely important, not just for their contribution to the economy and the businesses that they support, but also as a learning tool for everyone who works them. I firmly believe that everyone should work at the bottom of the totem pole at least once in their life – it will change how they see everything and it will definitely change how they treat others in the same position.

If you’ve ever worked in the food service industry, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. I was only fourteen when I started working in the neighborhood pizza shop. At first I only worked a few days after school, but by the time I was a sophomore in high school I was working six nights a week. It was a busy place and we did great business on the weekends, but at least once every shift a customer on the phone would yell at me for something that absolutely was not my fault. And what I learned from that experience was this: regardless of whether or not the “customer is always right,” there is NEVER a good enough reason to yell at restaurant staff. Sure, maybe they sent you the wrong pizza, but yelling really isn’t going to help the situation. They’ll do their best and get a new one out to you as soon as possible, but if you yell at them on the phone they’re only going to be less inclined to help you. So be kind and be courteous to those who are helping you. It will really get you a whole lot further. And I shouldn’t have to say this, but TIPPING IS NOT OPTIONAL IN THE U.S. If someone does a good job, or even an ok job, you have to tip them. They make their living off actual dollars and cents, not smiles, or prayers, or whatever else people think is just “good enough.”

But service means more than just wait staff. My first year at university, I worked for my school’s events department and it was my job to assist anyone who’d booked an event space on campus. Mostly I unlocked doors and left people to their business, but every once in a while I’d have patrons who needed me on call throughout the entire event. Needless to say these were not my favorite patrons. True, I was paid to help them, but if you’ve got me running all over campus, moving furniture, or doing unscheduled campus tours (I was not an official tour guide), than the least you could do was add a “Thank you” to my minimum wage salary. Next time you’re out or at an event, if someone goes out of their way to help you or does something above and beyond their job description, remember to THANK them. It validates the work that they have done and shows that you recognize them for doing it, even though they didn’t have to. (Bonus Life Tip: Thank everyone, all the time. It’s just nice.)

At my last job, I worked the circulation desk in a library. That means I checked out books and handled any fines on someone’s account. It was one of the best jobs I’ve ever had and I miss working there. However, because of the library’s set up I often got mistaken for an information desk. (And by often, I mean constantly.) I tried to help people with their questions anyway, but if there was a line I usually sent them over to the actual information desk, which was about twenty feet to my right. You’d be surprised how much I got lip for that, though. But what most people didn’t understand was this: While most of the time employees will do their utmost to help you,  you need to be patient and ask politely for further assistance when something goes wrong or differently than planned, instead of taking it out someone who doesn’t deserve it. Harsh words should be saved for when it’s really necessary; not just when you’re having a bad day.

The most important thing I learned from my service sector jobs was appreciation. I was a part-time after school worker for all of those jobs, but there are many people who do what I did full-time. They make their living waiting tables or flipping burgers, and that’s absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. It’s hard work and that deserves to be recognized with fair wages, thank you’s, and patience. Having been in those shoes myself, I am now extraordinarily conscious of the way that I treat people when I’m out at restaurants, stores, and events. I thank my bus drivers, tip well, and remember to be patient and understanding when things go wrong. I wish others could understand and do the same.

What have you learned from working in the service industry? Share your experiences in the comments down below!


3 thoughts on “Let’s Talk: The View From The Bottom

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