In September, many of us are just coming off the heels of a summer of work or transitioning into a new job that will continue alongside classes. Having spent the past three summers working in the food industry, I know firsthand that it gets exhausting.
For me, dealing with cranky customers was the trickiest part—an ill-tempered customer can be the difference between laughing with your coworkers and crying into your sandwich on your break. Interactions with customers set the tone for the whole day, and it can be hard to bounce back after a bad experience. When dealing with these types of customers, taking care of yourself becomes a priority.
Unfortunately, finding the opportunity to take care of yourself at work can be difficult. Fast-food restaurants are busy places. At my former job, the managers were very focused on serving each customer as quickly as possible, and they didn’t always have patience for the factors that interfered.
Sometimes customers don’t know what they want to order, or they have questions about the ingredients, or they’re just having a bad day and decide to disrespect the service workers. A lot of these things can slow down the line, and not every manager has the patience for it when they’re focused on how slow the service time display is. When other customers start lining up and your manager asks you to pick up the pace, it gets stressful. Here are a few tips I’ve picked up from my experience that help me make it through a difficult shift.
It’s easier said than done. When the pressure to serve everyone quickly adds to the pressure of a frustrated customer, I usually find my stress levels rising. In these cases, I try to accept that I will probably have to repeat the same information multiple times before the customer understands me. It’s going to take some time to sort out the issue, and that’s okay. When I remember that, I can focus more clearly on the immediate situation. Sometimes, things will move slow: it’s important that I help the customer, while also reminding myself that I do not always have to meet my manager’s time goal.
Sometimes when I get overwhelmed at work, I’ll ask my manager for a bathroom break so I can stand in a dark room for a few minutes to collect my thoughts. Getting a second to do that lets me reset my brain so that when I go back out, I feel calmer and more ready to work through challenging situations.
If you have similar moments, please know that it’s okay to feel overwhelmed. It can be intimidating to tell your manager you need a break, especially on a busy day, but it’s still important to ask. Even if the manager can’t get someone to fill your spot right away, just telling them you need a break lets them look for a gap in the busyness so they can give you that time as soon as it’s available.
Call the manager
Occasionally, I still run into situations where a customer just really wants to argue. When customers resort to yelling or aggression even after I’ve answered their questions and tried to help, I immediately call over a manager.
Managers typically have more training and experience de-escalating these situations. If you ever run into something like that, and there is someone with more training nearby who can handle it, pass the responsibility to them. You can remove yourself from the situation if you need to.
These tips may not work in every food-service job. It’s not always possible to step away or call over a manager, but regardless, it’s important to keep tabs on yourself. If you can’t take a break now, see if you can take one in half an hour. If all the managers are busy, ask another coworker for help until they arrive. When you’re working in a stressful environment, it’s all the more important to take care of yourself.