Never Forget Your Hat and Your Apron

Always Be Nice to Your Local Fast-Food Worker


Published: August 30, 2007

This summer, I came to this realization that how we treat those who work in minimum wage customer service positions (cashiers, McDonald’s drive-thru attendants, waiters, coffee servers) is a manifestation of our need to feel more important than others.

I realized this a couple of weeks ago on a Dunkin Donuts run. While I waited on line to order an iced coffee, I listened to a young woman lamenting to a worker behind the counter about how it was absolutely frustrating that the worker could not get her order right. I didn’t think much of this complaint except that it was unnecessarily loud and rude. I already knew from working at a Starbucks stand in a Stop and Shop on Long Island that people in general are picky and extremely fond of whining.  While the lady continued to huff and puff, a police officer suggested that she calm down, because the job was not an easy one. He said he would like to see the woman jump behind the counter and try it. This comment angered the woman to such an extent that she turned to the police officer and yelled, “You think I couldn’t do this job? I went to college so I wouldn’t have to do this job!”

This outburst left me amazed at how brutally someone could belittle a stranger. But I soon realized this wasn’t an unusual case. Part of what makes minimum wage customer service jobs humiliating is the fact that they require workers to cater to the requests of overly fastidious customers. Just think about how many times you have heard someone complaining about how the McDonalds guy messed up their order because he didn’t hold the cheese or onions when they told him “no pickles.” Have you ever seen someone eat a little more than three quarters of their steak and then rudely tell the waitress to take it back? How many times have you complained about the saltiness of your pretzel or the miniscule size of the large bucket of popcorn?

I understand that everyone wants to get all the quality and quantity they can for the amount of money they regretfully pull out from their wallets. We are absolutely entitled to make requests from our servers, because that is, indeed, their job. In order to keep their jobs, most of these workers must comply with special requests with an enormous amount of energy and patience, accompanied by a smile; I’ve had complaints filed against me for not smiling and making proper eye contact when thanking the customer. However, after a summer of working for Stop and Shop first as a cashier, then as a Starbucks barista, I have learned that there is a difference between making requests and bullying.

Whenever I hear someone make jokes or nasty comments about the McDonalds drive-thru attendant or the concession stand clerk at the movie theater, I consider it bullying. Not only are the jokes and comments a form of bullying, but the rude commands and constant complaints are chauvinistic expressions that devalue the intelligence of our fellow human beings based on their employment or level of education.

I could understand if the lady in Dunkin’ Donuts that afternoon was giving the worker a hard time because she had been insulted or otherwise personally provoked, but this was not the case. She merely felt she had the right to talk down to the server since she went to college and obtained a degree that allowed her to sit behind a desk. This woman, like so many other nit-pickers, was educated. She went to college. She was not ignorant, and yet, she conducted herself in a boorish manner.

The fact that people who are a part of the educated community demonstrate this kind of injustice is unfortunate, but it can be done away with. It is merely a matter of not allowing our level of confidence to swell to the type of arrogance that determines all of our social interactions, whether they are intimate or as trivial as ordering a cup of coffee. I know it isn’t easy to maintain a humble image of oneself, but I know we can do it. Stop bullying and remember the days you had to wear a hat and apron, too.