As someone who has worked as a hostess at a restaurant for a little over six months, I easily admit that the job has broadened my social experience and knowledge far more than any party, school event or dance has. I acknowledge that not every human being is the epitome of virtue. Working in the service industry is particularly eye opening towards that. We hosts and waiters have to deal with people for our jobs–far from an easy minimum wage job. One characteristic of customers that we have to specifically approach with caution and care is being self-absorbed and entitled (granted there are other types of customers).
Almost everyone has been a self-absorbed customer at least once in their lifetime. Especially today, where customers feel the increasing “pressure” to stay connected using smartphones and 4G 24/7, people grow increasingly picky about waiting time for tables, take-out, checks, and food. And indeed, it is quite natural to assume that the waiters, waitresses, hosts and hostesses exist to serve the customer (it’s called the service industry after all).
Unfortunately, reality entails that we have to serve more than one customer at once. Normally there is no problem when take-out customers ask us to tell the kitchen to prioritize their order because they have some event to attend soon; however, when it is dinner time on a Saturday night and the kitchen is overwhelmed by dine in customers, prioritizing a take-out order—no matter how simple—is not realistic. Of course, we always tell customers approximately how long a take-out order should take. Admittedly, this number is an overestimation and some customers may be upset by the length of time. But, from personal experience, customers would rather come in later than be stuck waiting at the restaurant. Hosts and waiters, much to public shock, do not actually know how long an order will take for a simple reason: we are not chefs and we do not oversee the production of food itself.
I specifically remember a customer who had ordered a long list of dishes and came in after 15 minutes while I had folder her it would take at least 30 minutes. She ended up waiting for a good amount of time, growing increasingly irritated about it. She stated very conspicuously to the customer next to her: “Restaurants should refund a dollar for every minute longer it takes the order to finish.” It was clear that she intended for the rest of the hosts to listen and perhaps, just maybe agree with her proposal out of guilt. It took me an enormous amount of willpower to refrain from saying “You have a right to be angry, but please don’t take it out on others, especially since you clearly didn’t listen to us on the phone. We also have no control whatsoever goes inside the kitchen so if you must go speak to the kitchen, who you’ll find cannot respond to your urgent needs due to the massive amount of customers we have dining in. Thank you.”
This problem is even more prominent for customers dining in on a busy night. Food takes a long time to be prepared with an influx of orders. In addition, the chefs are each responsible for making certain dishes, so not even they know how long any single dish will take. Thus, we will never be able to give a 100% accurate waiting time. So while customers may feel entitled to that information, we do not have it. We only have best guess estimates.
I admit we make mistakes and sometimes leave a customer waiting for an unfairly long amount of time. We are happy to help if the customer asks us directly or chooses to remind us. We will even accommodate criticism. However, when a customer attempts to guilt trip us on the way out of a restaurant, we perceive this as flat out rude. More and more often, customers complain of the slow responses that cannot accommodate their socially packs schedules. Unfortunately, we don’t have the same response time as smartphones and other computer interfaces. We are still human after all.
Most self-absorbed people don’t actually recognize their behavior, which makes it that much harder to deal with. The only real option we employees of the service industry have is to smile, apologize, and most importantly, make that apology seem genuine no matter how much we want to punch someone. After apologizing, the best approach is to ignore the customer. This may seem rather counterintuitive, since the customer was the one complaining bad service of some sort, but in terms of best options and maintaining our calm, ignoring is the most feasible. (In terms of restaurant business, ignoring is also more profitable, since accommodating one customer’s needs may result in the loss of serving multiple other customers).
In the end though, there is not much we can do other than smile and apologize. However, it would be greatly helpful if customers knew a few things:
1. There is a system to how a restaurant functions and that system cannot be radically changed to tailor one customer’s needs.
2. No one knows the exact amount of time a dish will take.
3. We do make mistakes and are willing to listen to criticism, but no matter what, we are still human (and probably strangers at that), so please think about how you wish to communicate your message.
4. If you want to split a check according to what each person ordered, know that it will take time and we cannot simply listen to your claims of what you ordered to pay for the dishes. No matter how much we trust you. Back to #1.
5. We appreciate gratitude and politeness. REALLY appreciate it.