Be nice to those who serve you has been a commandment in my family for as long as I can remember. “Always tip your servers well, and be kind to them,” I remember my dad telling me when I was old enough to understand that working in a restaurant was a way of making a living, not just something that happened during playtime at school. It’s a rule I’ve governed myself by since I started earning my own money, adhering to it unfalteringly. The service industry can be thankless and exhausting, and while the system professes, “The customer is always right,” it’s important to remember that (as the customer) it isn’t all about you.
While patiently waiting in an oddly long line for late-night coffee at Java House last night, my wee little Java Cooler order got lost in the shuffle.
No big deal, I think. I’m in zero hurry, and I know they will get around to it when the rush settles.
People clear out, and yet, still no Java Cooler, so I go to check the counter (sometimes I don’t hear things. Thanks for the genes, Mom), but still nothing. The barista asks what I need, and I nonchalantly say, “Oh, I ordered a Java Cooler about 5 minutes ago. I think it may have gotten lost.”
He’s immediately in “Server Groveling Mode” (if you’ve worked in the service industry, you know it’s the most humbling and debasing feeling ever), and I quickly tell him not to apologize. They had a late rush, and sometimes things get lost in the shuffle. Not a problem (because it’s not; it’s COFFEE, not the Cuban missile crisis. Isn’t perspective neat?).
He scurries to make my drink, and I smile and say thank you. As I move to add my mix-ins, he gets my attention. “She’s getting you a comp card. Hold on one second.”
I protest. “Please don’t do that. Really. It’s NOT a big deal. It happens! Save it for someone who needs it.” The girl insists and shoves it toward me. Now I feel oddly obligated to accept, so I take it, and she relents, “You’re probably the nicest person about this ever.”
I smile. “I used to be a barista. I totally get it. Things get busy; it happened to me, too.” We chatted about the challenges that come with working in a place catering to caffeine-addicted patrons who lack the patience to understand that mistakes happen. From experience, more rude customers come from coffee shops than at bars, an observation that makes me ponder philosophical questions about humanity.
I walked back to my seat with the comp card, deciding to pass it along to another who could use a pick-me-up. Paying it forward always quiets the nagging feeling of receiving something I don’t feel I deserve.
Be nice to those who serve you.