The Editor’s Desk: Customers behaving badly

Annoyed that a business is asking you to sanitize your hands? Don’t take it out on the employees

A Kamloops restaurant owner has said that his staff — many of whom are teens — are being subjected to so much abuse from customers that he gave them all a long weekend off so that they could have a break. Robert Stodola, owner of Senor Froggy, says that a lot of the incidents are low-key, involving muttered profanities, but that other incidents have seen customers lash out at staff over being asked to wash their hands or wait in line to place an order.

Stodola was alerted to the scale of the problem after a female employee of 16 or 17 was reduced to tears after abusive treatment from a customer. He spoke with other members of staff, and was appalled at the stories they told. The restaurant now has signs informing customers that abusive behaviour toward staff will not be tolerated. “Do not be rude to them or you will be asked to leave. Every one of them is someone’s child — it could be your child.”

I was that “someone’s child” when, at age 16, I got my first proper job: working as a cashier/hostess at the Deckhouse Restaurant of the Delta River Inn in Richmond. The hours were 4 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. every Friday and Saturday, so it fit in well with high school, and I genuinely enjoyed the job. Looking back, I can’t recall any egregious instances of harassment or abuse from customers; on the rare occasions when a restaurant patron was upset about something, the duty manager was on hand to swoop in and absorb any anger.

Which is just as well, because at 16 I was ill-prepared — to say the least — to deal with a grown-up having a meltdown and taking it out on me. Whatever self-confidence and ability to stand up for myself during a confrontation I now possess came to me later in life; much too late to help a shy, introverted, bookish 16-year-old tentatively dipping a toe into the complicated world of adult interactions. I had been taught to be deferential to grownups, and the ones I saw in my own life would never have dreamed of abusing a teenager working in a restaurant, no matter what the circumstances.

All of which is to say that I completely understand the reaction of Stodola’s employee; bursting into tears would have been my default reaction. I also have considerable empathy for the poor girl, who was simply trying to do her job. She deserves to be treated with courtesy and respect, no matter how annoyed someone is at being asked to sanitize their hands, or wait an extra five minutes for their Froggy Spuds and Tostada Grandé.

And really, people, if this is why you’re lashing out at a teenage girl, abusing her so much that you reduce her to tears, then you might want to take a long, hard look in the mirror before smacking yourself upside the head for being such an entitled jerk. Honestly, what would your diary entry for that day read, in the remote event that you possessed enough introspection to keep a diary? “Went to Senor Froggy for dinner and the teenage employee politely asked me to sanitize my hands before I sat down. I spent a thoroughly enjoyable 30 seconds taking out a lot of pent-up anger on her, and the salt of her tears was a delicious accompaniment to the Baja Burrito, which could have done with a bit more diablo sauce.”

Just as culpable is anyone else in the party, who presumably simply stood there and watched it happen without saying anything. An ancient legal principal is qui tacet consentire, loosely translated as “silence gives assent”. If you witness behaviour like this, and say nothing, you are by your silence assenting to, or agreeing with, it. It goes without saying that you shouldn’t be the entitled jerk in this scenario; you also shouldn’t be the person who keeps silent. Not calling out the bad behaviour keeps the bad behaviour going, and that’s someone’s child who’s being abused, while she’s acting like the only adult in the room.

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