Monday, September 27, 2010


I don't have the statistics here in front of me, but I know (from personal experience) that a huge portion of our living-wage manufacturing jobs have been re-distributed—out of the country. The United States now has what they call a "consumer economy." An economy which can only remain robust when people buy stuff. Not a traditional or even viable economic philosophy, by any means. In fact, it's entirely probable that the concept of a consumer economy was only recognized when it became obvious that was what we have descended into.

Economies are supposed to be based upon making stuff, not buying stuff. We should be making or producing something that we can trade—either for money, goods, or services—on the world market. But here in America, the Fat Cats who are supposed to be concerned with keeping the economy vital, have outsourced all our jobs. And they have charged US with keeping the American economy sound (and keeping THEM rich), by continuing to buy all the stuff they now have made in India or China or Central America, for a fraction of what it would cost them to pay US to make it here. So, they get the money, and we get…what? The incredible honor of serving them in restaurants, hotels, country clubs and casinos…because those are the only jobs left to be had?

Oh, yes…the Service Industry is growing by leaps and bounds. Basically because the poor schlubs whose jobs have gone away get to be employed waiting on the asshats who sold those jobs to the lowest bidders overseas.

Now, I am a card-carrying member of the Service Industry, and I have been for most of my adult life. Since before the entire national economy hung on our every move . For the most part, it was an enjoyable challenge, trying to guess what would be the Next Big Thing, and getting it out there with a smile and a flourish. It was satisfying to make someone happy, gratifying to brighten someone's day. And they would smile, and say, "Thank you!" And everyone would go home and sleep well at night.

Then, four years ago, in the midst of this shift from a real economy to one based on speculation, greed and all kinds of negative abstract concepts, I bought a restaurant. And, boy, have I learned a few things about what it means to own a service business in 21st-century America. Let me just say it has not done anyone any favors to strap the fate of the nation to our aching backs.

The buzz these days from just about everyone you talk to is that we have forgotten how to give good service in this country. Let me stand up in defense of my industry, for a moment. I have to believe that a large part of the problem is that not everyone is suited to a service job. Many of the folks who have been flung into our industry because there's nowhere else to go do not have what it takes to BE good…well, servants. They're doing the job because it's what there is to do, not because they enjoy it or find it satisfying. And that is a terrible problem for our industry. For all that we are the most over-worked, under-paid segment of the working population, there is a tremendous amount of skill, knowledge, and talent required to do what we do WELL. Someone who was perfectly happy to man an assembly line or work alone in a cubicle in front of a computer screen all day, probably won't be very happy, or very good at, chatting up customers while steaming a milk for a latte to 140 degrees.

And speaking of that 140 degree latte, let me also say that, from MY side of the counter, the general American public no longer knows how to GET good service. To encourage, accept and reward it, rather than to demand it as some kind of entitlement.

When some woman I have never seen before walks up to my counter and barely interrupts her cel phone conversation to churlishly demand a half-caf vente macchiato (which is a Starbuck's drink, by the way…and, um, we are not Starbuck's…) at exactly 140 degrees or she WILL bring it back (and I am led to wonder whether she carries a stem thermometer in her purse…), and sighs and rolls her eyes when we try to establish what she would like to order from OUR menu, raps her acrylic nails on the counter and continues her slightly over-loud phone conversation while we make her drink, takes the drink from our hopeful yet fearful hands, tastes it, makes a face, says, "Tsk…it's fine!" and stalks away, pointedly ignoring the tip jar next to the register…

That's when I know I'm not in Kansas anymore, Toto. And even those of us who used to enjoy serving and satisfying the public, who used to get a charge out of the grateful smile of a contented customer…look at each other and say, "Why, exactly, DO we do this?"

More and more, we are becoming a nation of the "haves" and the "have-nots." And despite the fact that the have-nots outnumber the haves many times over, our culture, our media, encourage us all to look, act, and aspire to BE the haves. Not being rich is not good enough. It is not noble or admirable or even tolerable to be…modest. To be "comfortable." To be barely making ends meet. Because we all have to act like we have money. We all have to have the newest gadgets, the trendiest clothes, the latest adornments. And we all have to demand to be treated like Mr. and Mrs. Got-rocks by any person charged with the unfortunate task of waiting upon us in any place of business. As a result, the Service Industry—that place where more and more folks find themselves toiling—is becoming a less and less attractive place to work. At our sides are people who don't want to be here and aren't any good at it, and from across the counter, a heretofore unprecedented degree of rudeness and aggressiveness is exploding in our faces.

So maybe THAT'S why good customer service seems to be a thing of the past. Ya think?


1 comment:

  1. God forbid that your coffee queen should say something like "I really you make anything like that?"

    "Have it your way" may have been a great ad campaign but it was a disaster for society. We have food "our" way, news "our" way, politics, so on so forth ad nauseaum. Fragmentation upon fragmentation until we're left solitary, blinkered, staring into our navels. But hey, we're having it our way.