The Customer Isn’t Always Right

The city runs on people. From restaurants to retail, humans are an integral part of the San Francisco experience. Having spent years in customer service myself, I’m incredibly grateful for the hard work of servers, bartenders, sales associates and the like. Shouldn’t we all be?

But one archaic motto of the service industry persists that honestly confuses me:

“The customer is always right.”

The customer may always be “right”, but a customer is not always respectful, empathetic, or forgiving. The service industry has distorted the definition of “right”: more often than not, to be “right” is to be ruthless, opportunistic and downright cruel. Being “right” requires less logic and more tact because many times a customer is selfishly pushing boundaries and bending rules rather than pointing out a legitimate injustice in the service provided.

In the service culture, rudeness is rewarded. Although as children we are punished for throwing a temper tantrum, we are perversely rewarded for throwing a temper tantrum in the adult world if we do not get our way. Dissatisfaction is profitable because an employee can only make things “right” by comping services or sales, offering refunds, and discounting what is not meant to be discounted. The nastier you can be, the more you can win. Why wouldn’t you test the waters?

Yes, it is a job to serve customers. You get paid to serve. However it is not anyone’s job to take verbal abuse, and you are not paid to be dehumanized and belittled.

Transactions extend beyond simply handing over money for instant gratification. Between server and customer there is a transaction of respect, an exchange of gratitude, and acknowledgment of equality as real humans with very real feelings — so remember to thank your barista today!


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