Respect Your Customers

Everyone who deals with the public has stories to tell. The woman in line at Starbucks who complains that her drink takes five minutes to fix when there are ten people ahead of her. The person who sends in payment after deadline and thinks late fees only apply to others. The man who questions every charge on a service invoice. The person who thinks everybody is trying to screw him over in some way.

Those who work in the food and beverage industry may have the best stories. Many involve alcohol. Some involve people who say, “I’m a good friend of the owner” and expect deferential treatment. Some involve customers who make rude remarks about a server’s appearance. Some involve customers who are truly impossible to please.

Whatever business you are in, whether your customer base consists of a handful of clients or hundreds or thousands of patrons, all deserve your respect—unless they step over the line. Certainly customers who are abusive or whose behavior is disturbing to other customers should be asked to leave. (Or dropped from your client list.) But when a bar, restaurant, coffee shop, ice cream stand or food truck opens for business, there should be an expectation of and preparation for difficult customers.

In the much-discussed case of the sports bar server who identified a customer to the kitchen staff as a “f—ing needy kid,” an overall lack of respect for customers was demonstrated. Even if management did not promote this sort of culture, it should have made clear to staff that such lack of respect for customers is unacceptable.

Numerous online commenters say that it was partly the fault of the customer for having brought a young child to a sports bar. Others have pointed out that it was an inside joke between the server and the kitchen and was not meant to appear on the bill handed to the customer. And some bar and restaurant patrons have said that in the giant scheme of things, this was not an overly egregious offense. In any case, it should not have happened and the bar owner, correctly, made a sincere apology to the customer.

Now that national attention has come to the incident—the Huffington Post item posted Tuesday has 1,570 comments as of Thursday morning—this is obviously a “teachable moment” for all who deal with the public. Respect for customers—even “difficult” customers—is a message that all managers should communicate and enforce.

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