Dear Customers

It’s a Friday night and you’re ready to unwind from your stressful job as a young, tech wiz living in the city. You’ve tried Mexican, Italian, and a little burger joint, and now you’re ready to eat your way through China. You see a glowing sign that reads “open” in neon letters with the hours plastered beneath: 11 AM to 10 PM it reads. Great you think to yourself it’s 9:40, this will be perfect for my five best friends and me! You sit down and have a bite to eat (a quick 40 minutes, it’s barely 10:20!), making sure to charm the staff with your hilarious quips and tantalizing anecdotes.


Stop right there. Let’s rewind.


Hi, I’m a brand new employee at a popular restaurant in the International District. As I learn to do my job, here are some tips on how to do yours.


Let’s start with what you did right. You can come in at 9:40, that’s fine. But don’t fall into the “as long as we’re not the last one’s here” fallacy. Sure, you’re not the singular obstacle between us and ending shift, but you do make it significantly harder to leave at a reasonable hour. Beyond locking the doors and sweeping the floors, we have to bus your tables and reset for the next morning. If you come in during the final minutes of a restaurant operation, be extra polite and extra clean.


If you insist on being a customer (which, okay, I guess it’s your right, or whatever) be mindful of your surroundings. While your night is just beginning, mine is waiting for me two hours and a light-rail journey away as you sit and munch on those last bites.


Beyond your body sitting in your chair, be aware of the way you talk to staff. In my first few weeks bussing tables, I’m always happy for a friendly face, a polite smile, even a request for water or more soy sauce (even when, objectively, you have enough). The customers who are overly apologetic (you never need to apologize for dropping your chopsticks, we have more than one pair, I promise) or reflexively polite make my shift easier.


The worst kind of customer is the standup comedian A joke is fine. A joke at my expense is not. A full-on Netflix special length comedy set is absurd. I don’t want to talk to you about my bussing skills, about how you condescendingly remember working in the service industry, definitely not about how it’s not “customary” to tip at an Asian restaurant. You don’t need to make comments about my hair, my name, my outfit and––believe it or not––I can hear you even when I walk away from the table.


Aside from the overt things, there are so many little habits that will make my life (and yours) a little easier.


Want to get a plate out of your way? Don’t worry, you’re not annoying me, you’re actually making my job once you leave a lot easier. If I’m clearing plates while you’re still eating, go ahead and ignore me, I won’t be mad. I’m not sure where we got the idea that we need to stare politely at the busser until all the plates are gone but there’s really nothing magical happening...unless you’re dying to watch me struggle with the bowl of soup you swear you’re done with. I promise I won’t listen to your conversation (okay, unless it’s like really interesting) and you won’t see me again anyway.


Before you roll your eyes and think, “well, she’s getting paid to do a job,” let’s think about that. I’m a busser making minimum wage, staring down college tuition and the rising cost of Seattle housing. If I do a bad job (or anyone treats you poorly along the way) you can tip zero dollars and ruin my night. Subject to your performance evaluation and the constant eyes of customers everywhere, my job performance is constantly rated, scored, and commented on, and I take it all with a smile.


And I have it easy.


In my first couple of weeks at my job, I have met some of the hardest working people I’ve ever seen. At a restaurant with high volume and a reputation for fast service, the staff has learned how to turn around tables in a matter of minutes or less and still provide a quality dining experience. Many of my coworkers are happy to take your order in English or Chinese (or any language they happen to know, it’s usually more than one) and smile patiently while you struggle through an Anglosized name of a Chinese dish. They’ll get you out in ten minutes if that’s what you want, even if it means a couple of close calls with complete disaster.


After my first day, I wasn’t sure if I was up for the challenge. My legs ached and my hands were still shaking as I boarded the light-rail, happy to be returning to the slow-motion world of school. I’m a few weeks in, now, and I finally feel like I’m getting my footing. I don’t make mistakes as often (but, you know, still pretty often) and I know what to say if a customer asks me for the bathroom code. Despite my job’s label of “unskilled work”, I’ve learned how to meet high demands, take criticism (both constructive and not), and smile through the pain of standing for six hours straight. I’ve also considered my role as a customer.


Those little moments mean everything. Every time you smile, every time you forgive a spill or slip up, every time you bite back a comment at someone’s expense makes a world of difference. I won’t ask you for a huge tip, or even to be particularly nice to me. All I’m asking for is an acknowledgment that I––a service worker––am deserving of dignity and politeness. And, on your way out, if you feel like sticking your chopsticks in your water glass, that’d be great too.