The Customer Is Always The Customer

“The customer is always right” is an adage that seems like it’s been around since the very invention of the customer.

And because the last couple of years have been a masterclass in weirder aspects of the dark underbelly of human nature, that old chestnut has been given quite a whoopin’!

From folks losing their noggins on airplanes to mistreatment of employees in just about every industry having customer-facing staff, the march of the entitled has reared its ugly head.

In fact, on a recent trans-Atlantic flight, an abusive customer bared his “you’re not the boss of me” rump, mooning his way into the welcoming arms of New York’s Finest. (Dropping his pants was the least of his misdeeds, the sum of which might get him as much as 20 years in prison.)

The stunning rise of condescension, self-righteousness, and hair-trigger over-the-top outrage over (mostly) little things has reached fever-pitch.

Yeah, we’re two full years into a worldwide pandemic that is barely beginning to show signs that it might be heading toward a slowing…

Yeah, no one actually wants the shutdowns (or threats of shutdowns) that keep cycling around…

And of course, nobody who isn’t a surgeon, (or other health-care worker) welder, or spray-booth finisher looks forward to donning a mask every day…

At the same time, none of the above circumstances comes with a license to lord one’s perceived specialness over another human being who’s doing their best to show up at work and take care of themselves and their family.

I have four nephews, one of whom is a successful chef/restauranteur with a philanthropist’s heart and a penchant for doing things his own, outspoken way. He shares his thoughts without a filter, readily delivering his special brand of honest hard truths and opinions.

(Daniel has become known as the “Deli Lama”, and you can check one of his recent interviews from Saratoga Living After Hours. And yes, his language is as spicy as he is…)

Aside from providing free lunches for kids during the early days of the pandemic and free chicken dinners to families in need at holiday times, (making national news for his generous efforts) Daniel isn’t afraid to call it as he sees it.

As anyone who’s spent any time at all in the industry would tell you, when it comes to restaurant and food service businesses, there’s a lot to see. It’s a broad range, but when it comes to challenging behaviors that make you wonder how (and where) people learn how to mistreat others…

Just… wow.

One of the things Daniel shines a glaring light on is bad behavior displayed by entitled customers who make a practice of taking out their frustrations on restaurant employees. He suggests, in so many words, that people think permission to belittle and dehumanize (or hit-on) can be had for the price of a sandwich or a cup of coffee.

Or, if you really want to up-level your abusive game and include a captive audience, the price of an airline ticket.

(And no, I don’t agree with everything my nephew says. Far be it for me to disparage the salad-eaters of the world.)

Here’s the thing: Since the early days of 2020, every single human being on the planet has experienced their world being shrunk several sizes. No one has escaped the inconvenience that comes with such a massive, long-lasting public health emergency.

(“Inconvenience” is an ironic word to use, given 378 million cases and 5.7 million deaths worldwide to-date when this article was written.)

Not one bit of the circumstance we are collectively facing makes it OK to treat another human being with anything less than the full measure of decency and kindness they deserve simply because they are human beings. Add to that the recognition that we are all in this together.

No exceptions, no special passes, no games of better-than or less-than.

This adulting thing can be tough, if only because it requires setting aside the child’s notion that they are the center of the universe. It calls one to move beyond the wounded adolescent’s idealized, often distorted commitment to creating the world anew in their own romantic, rebellious image.

The customer is always the customer. When it comes to behaving badly, however, the customer is anything but right.

Fact is, labor shortages and supply-chain issues show no sign of letting up any time soon.

Keeping that in mind, I invite you to do the truly adult thing and, rather than punishing those who show up for work, dig deep and meet them with genuine empathy and gratitude.

I promise that, with very little practice, you’ll actually feel better.