Off the menu - being rude to service workers
December 2nd, 2013
03:30 PM ET
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An old acquaintance of mine was fond of saying that after a person hits 30, the only one who has any business yelling at them is their romantic partner. I'm personally not a fan of marital histrionics, either, but I certainly appreciate the sentiment. Especially when the ire is directed toward people who are just trying to do their jobs.

But is loudly shaming those shamers the optimal solution?

If you managed to crawl out of your tryptophan haze long enough to look at the internet this holiday weekend, you almost surely came across the Tweeted tale of Elan Gale and "Diane in 7A." Gale, a producer for ABC's The Bachelor, allegedly found himself on a Phoenix-bound flight with a medical mask-wearing woman who, by his account (which he later revealed on Twitter to be a hoax), was being rude to the airline staff. In the exchange, he decided to take a stand and call her out on her behavior.

On social media, Gale shared images of the duo's increasingly hostile exchange– via handwritten, passed notes - which, in Gale's tall tale, culminated in "Diane" slapping Gale in the face at their arrival gate. But if the tale had been true, would he really have struck a blow for civility toward service workers?

Gale took to his Tumblr to put the situation in context, saying he was advocating for workers who shouldn't have to weather the nastiness of the people they're doing their best to serve.

"I don’t care what’s going on with you: Don’t be rude to people who are doing their job," he wrote. "Don’t dismiss them. Don’t act like they are less than you. Don’t abuse them just because you’re the customer and 'The Customer Is Always Right.'"

Gale was hailed in some sectors of the internet and media as having "won" the holiday by having the guts to confront an impolite customer. Others weren't buying it, saying he'd negated any stated good intentions with his hostile and bullying language toward his fellow passenger, directing her in more than one note to...consume a body part belonging to him, using profanity and sending her drinks after she'd said she had found the first one offensive.

The internet, shockingly enough, failed to come to a consensus about who was the victor in the mile-high contretemps. However, one truth did soar to the fore: It is never, ever, ever cool to be rude to someone working in a service position.

But that happens all the time - often perpetrated by people whom we love, or at least share the bonds of employment, blood or law. How best do you deal, while still allowing everyone to keep their dignity (and not turn it in on you)? A few thoughts:

Distance yourself
A dear friend of mine has an exceptionally obnoxious family member who honestly just can't seem to help himself from being curt and taxing to busboys in particular. He makes excessive demands, orders them around, and perhaps worst of all - tips poorly. The family travels together so frequently, that my friend and her husband learned to express, "We are with him, but not of him," "I'm so sorry about him" and various other phrases in several of the world's more popular languages.

If possible, they'll find the berated worker, usually cowering in a corner, apologize and hand over a small amount of the local currency. It's not ideal, but they've avoided any major international far.

Opt out
Another pal's now-deceased father just wasn't satisfied at a restaurant until he'd made a meal of the server's self-esteem. He'd scold waitstaff for their perceived mistakes, rudely complain and send back food that was (by everyone else's reckoning) cooked just perfectly, snap his fingers and use sexist or racist language to summon them to the table.

As each of his children became old enough to take a stand, they opted out and refused to dine with the family. Eventually he got the message and toned it down enough for them to choke down a meal in his company - even if it meant a little heartburn later.

Say goodnight
Back in my single days, a gentleman who'd seemed perfectly delightful on a first date, revealed his true colors on our second. At the charming bar where I was a semi-regular, he thought it would be funny to try to embarrass our female server by making a string of gross and inappropriate jokes whenever she came by. The first time, I was taken aback and she seemed to blow it off. The second, I saw her wince, and I asked my date to knock it off. He amped it up, I left a hefty tip, found her to apologize and ended our date promptly.

When I saw our server a few weeks later, I apologized again. It turned out that she'd been on the verge of "accidentally" dropping a very cold beverage in his lap, but didn't want to get any on me.

But that's what happens; incivility splashes onto everyone who witnesses it. While the rest of us can flee the scene, service workers are forced to stand in place and do so with a smile, for fear of losing their job.

That's not ideal, though, and short of everyone in the restaurant-going world taking mandatory manners classes or made to wear a "Do not serve this person" medallion after one too many infractions, it's going to keep happening. You've heard my potential solutions above, and I'd love to hear yours. Let us all know in the comments below how you choose to deal with restaurant rudeness by both strangers and friends, and we'll serve up the best ones in a future Eatocracy post.

Meanwhile, Elans and "Diane from 7As" of the world, how about taking a deep breath and keeping the skies friendly for the rest of us? Drinks are on me - or possibly you if you don't keep it civil.

Rules for eating on a first date
Breaking up at a restaurant
'We are servers not servants!'
How waitstaff handles a stood-up customer
Eat This List: 5 reasons you shouldn't blame the waiter

soundoff (368 Responses)
  1. Oakley Half Jacket Sunglasse

    having this close, inside you, covering your heart and mind.

    Oakley Half Jacket Sunglasse

    October 14, 2014 at 9:24 pm |
  2. 2014???????????

    But, then, some special requirements of the company make the students feel unexpected.

    October 14, 2014 at 9:05 pm |
  3. Azure

    hey rude folks, wake up. Most service workers are making minimum wage or less and you are giving them a hard time? They've got your food back there. I just wonder how many boogers and pubic hairs you've eaten.

    May 22, 2014 at 12:35 pm |
  4. Dusty Danger

    I am always kind but if they bring a hair in my food or ask me to many questions I lose my patience. Stop asking me if I want a refill so many dagum times! That's a fast way to lose a tip!

    December 9, 2013 at 1:48 pm |
    • Thinking things through

      Dusty: If there's a hair in your food, it isn't your waitstaff's fault (well, assuming you haven't been an irritating thorn in their side prior to its appearance). It most likely came from the kitchen. If the staff asks too many questions (I am not sure what you mean by that, as I haven't run into this issue yet), I would just decline to answer any irrelevant ones. If it pertains to what I might want to choose to eat - lay them questions on!

      December 9, 2013 at 9:51 pm |
    • Tijuana Fats

      "Stop asking me if I want a refill so many dagum times! That's a fast way to lose a tip!"
      "... so many [sic] times ..." is relative. Speak to the manager about the restaurant practices. Chances are, they're the ones who tell their servers how frequently to hit up the tables.

      Tijuana Flats is the worst place for asking too many times. We have eaten there often enough that I figured I'd time them one day. Whipped out the stopwatch app and found that, on average, every 10 minutes they stop and ask. I went to their website and gave them my findings. In the same message, I suggested they offer clear plastic cups instead of Styrofoam so the employees could better see if we needed refills – thereby lessening the need for interruptions. That garnered us a free meal. Sadly the frequency of interruptions hasn't changed.

      December 10, 2013 at 7:54 am |
  5. Burt Ward

    So here's how I deal with a rude waiter and establishment managers. I don't get made, I get even. first of all, i can handle my own drink refills especially if there is a drink station in my section. I love it when there are pitchers of tea sitting around conveniently placed for my access. If things get real bad, I play waiter myself. Its a trick taught to me by a rather raskly friend in college. So, you drape a linen napkin over your arm and walk around asking folks if they need tea refills. You take care of your section. Next is coffee. You have to have the coffee container close. Next is drink refills. Start with your table and work your way out. No, I've never been tipped but I have served a lot of forgotten customers. If you are at a chain location, just be sure to mention you will be sending a scathing report on them to the corporate office. Try to get the manager's name. That qualifies in the "Did you try to resolve the issue at the location?" question. It helps you get the nice free meal coupon when you include the manager's name. You can say, "Yes, I talked to Raoul but he was more concerned that we just leave than deal with our problem." That creates a situation where the corporation has to determine if Roaul was just having a bad day or if the customer was being melodramatic. Include names of more of the staff if you can get it. Telling them that Marjorey at the front stand seemed to be more interested in updating her facebook than doing her job. It all adds up to a bigger free meal coupon. The best one I've got is $100 toward a free meal. Now you must decide where to redeem that coupon. I suggest NOT redeeming it at the offending location if you can avoid it. That's because you will get spit and more horrific items in your food once they realize it was you. Its best to go to another branch or even brand noted on the coupon such as the ones Dardin sends out. Then you don't even have to show it at the beginning oft he meal, you present it at check time. If it came from corporate office, they know it was for bad service so they may ask. Simply tell them, "Oh no, it was not this location, you guys are wonderful."

    December 8, 2013 at 11:02 pm |
    • Noxy

      You're a real ray of sunshine to wait on, I bet.

      September 4, 2014 at 11:28 am |
  6. This Guy 83

    I've been in my fair share of bad customer service positions, I've been working food service for nearly 14 years, and the "customer is always right" nonsense goes to some people's heads. They feel they can practically get away with murder. I've been a customer in other restaurants and seen servers and employees being treated by garbage by a customer. I do make it a point to let the manager know what the jerk is doing to the restaurant staff. The manager usually takes over and diffuses the situation or asks the rude guest to leave. It's the same where I work now, the second a customer gets out of line with us all we have to do is end the conversation and tell them to have a nice day, if they persist then they are escorted out by the Manager on duty. Most places don't put up with this anymore its only the business that see their employees as below their customers that this "customer is always right" crap seems to run rampant at. Just because we're behind a counter, apron, chef coat or what have you doesn't give you the right to treat us like a whipping boy.

    December 7, 2013 at 9:52 am |
  7. adam

    The best way to take care of a rude guest at another table it to complain about the guest the the management. Management will not do anything to a guest if they are just bring rude, but if that rude guest is making it uncomfortable for the other guests around them, then they will take action to do something. Power in the masses. If the people want him to go he shall go!

    December 5, 2013 at 11:17 pm |
  8. John Smith

    It goes both ways. I have witnessed time and time again service workers being rude to their customers, especially the ones whom the servers may perceive as bad tippers. Why wasn't this discussed in the article? Servers and customers both have their ways to get back at the other, so one is hardly the victim of the other as this article seems to suggest.

    December 5, 2013 at 10:03 pm |
    • Hank

      RE: " I have witnessed time and time again service workers being rude to their customers,"

      I eat out everywhere from Manhatten restaurants to Waffle Houses, and I have never seen that happen, and I'm over 60 years old. I don't doubt that it has happened, but it has to be so rare as to be insignificant in number.
      I tell you now that if it happens to you often, It Is Something Wrong With You.

      December 7, 2013 at 8:55 pm |
      • John Smith

        "but it has to be so rare as to be insignificant in number."

        What gives you the right to make that blanket statement? What makes your personal experience, subjective to your preferences and biases, representative of all diners out there?

        "I tell you now that if it happens to you often, It Is Something Wrong With You."

        I tell you now to reread what I wrote. Did I ever say the incidents I witnessed happen to me often?

        December 9, 2013 at 11:26 pm |
  9. Jessy

    When my husband and I started dating, he was not particularly big tipper, though he was always impeccably polite. I managed to work in somehow that I used to be a server, and from then on he always tipped generously, and said to me many times that it was because he knew I used to wait tables. People who are good at heart just need a little nudge. People who are perpetually rude have insecurities and need to build themselves up by belittling others. They just don't realize that they are the ones who end up looking bad.

    December 5, 2013 at 12:42 pm |
  10. Snowbunny

    On the other hand, I've also seen servers/bartenders "cowtow" to regulars and be rude to people who frequent their establishment. That gets old, too.

    December 5, 2013 at 11:32 am |
    • Rachel

      I agree I think it's rude for baristas to make a regulars drink first when u are ahead of them too, lame I will leave and not come back.

      December 9, 2013 at 3:23 am |
  11. Emily

    There was a very intoxicated man being extremely rude to me at a baseball game this past summer... i really appreciated the fact that others in his party apologized to me later even though he did not.

    It's a real shame that people feel the need to ruin the time of others around them. Especially when you are spending a good amount of money on something nice (nice baseball seats in my case, a nice meal in the article's case)

    December 5, 2013 at 10:14 am |
  12. jessica

    I have to deal with rude people all the time as a fast food manager. I get cussed out, have had food thrown at me over things I can't control, like then ordering a sandwich and not asking what comes on it, then getting mad because it has something on it they don't like. I hate people who are nasty and rude to service workers. Just because someone works in the service industry, doesn't give people a right to be nasty. I can say that my business customers are usually the nicer customers.

    December 4, 2013 at 8:34 pm |
  13. IMHO

    This didn't happen at a restaurant, but I still think it deserves to be related, because the worker was still in the service industry.

    Once, I was in line at Walmart behind the absolute rudest person I've ever personally seen. The checkout lady was older and clearly partially disabled. Rude Woman bought a couple of large cases of water and other heavy items which the checkout lady could not lift. Instead of moving the heavy items she'd already lifted onto the belt so that the checkout lady could scan them more easily, Rude Woman began a round of cursing at the lady, repeatedly questioning why they bothered to hire such a useless person if she couldn't move these items. Over and over she kept complaining and getting more and more abusive. meanwhile, those of us in hearing range began getting vocal to Rude Woman about her abusive language. Rude Woman, of course, just fired back at us, cursing even more loudly, until the checkout lady, having borne all this stoicly, finished her transaction and sent her on her way.

    Being the next in line, I apologized for her profusely and tried to make her feel better about what had just happened. She didn't even bat an eye. She just told me that she preferred to believe that Rude Woman had had a bad day and just needed to let off steam. The checkout lady impressed me so much. She didn't get upset once, and our getting upset with Rude Woman only made the situation worse. If Rude Woman had been a different sort, she might have actually turned around and fought with us.

    The reason I say this is the reason why I voted the way I did in the poll. I would speak kindly to the server, and reassure them they are doing a good job. I'd call a manager if the abuse got bad enough and hope they would kick out the patron. I'd even leave a much bigger tip. But based on my experience in that store, I wouldn't confront the person directly again. As heroic as it sounds to step forward and righteously defend someone, it often just makes the situation worse.

    Another patron cannot kick out a patron. All they can do is cause a bigger scene. Calling in a manager or owner to handle the situation is the better thing to do, IMHO, because they actually have the authority to do something about it. And then reassure the server, because they deserve to know that that customer was probably just having a bad night and needed a victim to take things out on.

    December 4, 2013 at 4:32 pm |
  14. Kristen

    Ellen once said something to the effect that everyone should have to do a service industry internship before entering the world of adult consumerism. I agree. I worked in the service industry for 10 years.

    December 4, 2013 at 3:32 pm |
    • VladT

      Well, come on. I mean, if Ellen said it..........

      December 5, 2013 at 5:30 am |
    • @ Kristen

      But... that was YOUR choice.

      December 5, 2013 at 11:24 am |
  15. Liz

    Regardless of my day Im always polite to wait staff and especially flight attendants. It irks me when people are unnecessarily rude to people in the service industry. I've had to deal with a few short rather curt people in the industry and sometimes even down right terrible at their job wait staff but you handle that with politeness and a shitty tip. Or if possible you tell the management. I hate having to do that but thats why there's tips for wait staff and a manager. Granted tattling sucks but if you like eating somewhere its the only way to keep its staff at top notch unless you get a manager or an owner who really dont give a crap. I've dealt with that too and usually don't go back to a restraunt when that happens.

    December 4, 2013 at 3:04 pm |
  16. LollyPabbu

    I werk at the DMV. The people I meet at my station are far from nice. Most act like cattle with an electric prod up theirs, they are very short of patience and very demanding, wanting to be treated like a celebrity or movie star.
    So when I go to a restaurant, I want to relax. One way I do this is treat the wait staff the same way they'd treat me at work.

    December 4, 2013 at 12:02 pm |
    • Troll Police

      Don't play with he troll, folks. Move along now.

      December 4, 2013 at 12:07 pm |
    • @ Lolly

      "Werk?" Try hooked on phonics!

      December 5, 2013 at 11:26 am |
      • RC

        Maybe she meant "twerk"?

        December 5, 2013 at 11:46 am |
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