AN OPEN LETTER: This Holiday Season Be Nice to Hospitality Workers

Dear consumers,

The holiday season is upon us. Therefore, sadly predictable, even with hyperinflation and an uncertain economy, our Western consumerism has begun its annual shift into high gear, resulting in our interacting with front-line hospitality workers (retail sales associates, baristas, restaurant servers) more than usual.

You can tell a lot about someone by how they treat the person serving them; hence, the value of kindness cannot be overstated.

Throughout December and to support extended Boxing Week sales, well into January, hospitality workers will be working long hours, often eating on their feet or in the stockroom, missing out on festivities with friends and family and exhausting themselves. Crippling staffing shortages, coupled with stock shortages, have created stressful retail and eating establishment environments for both employees and customers. 

God forbid Barbie Dreamhouse is not in stock, the barista added the wrong flavoured syrup to your coffee, the Subway counter clerk forgot to swap your salad for chips, or you asked for no ice, and your drink came with ice. 

Breathe! You have food, a roof over your head, work to go to, and a sense of safety, as opposed to the millions worldwide who currently live in unimaginable poverty or, through no fault of their own, find themselves living in a war zone.

Humans, especially in stressful, busy work environments, are bound to make mistakes. You gain nothing by not treating the person serving you with the respect they deserve other than adding stress to an already stressful situation and, as I have often seen, making a public scene because your Kansas City Striploin was done, according to you, medium-well, not well-done as you asked for.  

As much as everyone bemoans the economy and how hard it is to make “ends meet” (READ: “I have to rethink my wants.”) our society has somehow evolved to where consumers have the privilege of prioritizing getting stressed over a toy, not being in stock, over putting food on the table.

I assure you that the person serving you did not purposefully run out of stock or intentionally make whatever mistake you are upset over. Do not take it personally—it is not the end of the world. As an understanding and empathetic human being, which I hope we all are, give the person the benefit of the doubt and politely point out the mistake… or better yet, let it go! (The salad is better for you.)

Now is the ideal time to put aside our 1st world privileges. If the person serving makes a mistake, which I repeat was unintentional, be understanding, nice and forgiving. Remember, especially when dining out, that the person serving you is working hard, while juggling factors out of their control (e.g., the chef called in sick, an item is out of stock, the cappuccino machine is broken), trying to make your experience as pleasant as possible. 

Who is not angry about today’s prices? When making purchases which your cashier ringing them up likely cannot afford, be nice! Hospitality workers have no control over prices. If something is expensive, rethink if you really need to make the purchase and why you are making it. Is it to impress? To look rich? An attempt to buy acceptance or love? 

Evaluating your reasons for making a purchase is much more financially savvy than berating a sales associate that the Jordan Retro 7 sneakers you want to gift to your nephew in Regina, whom you have not spoken to in three years, but you want your brother to perceive you as “financially successful,” cost $245.

The sales associate or your server did not set the price. How you spend your money, what you are willing to pay, is entirely on you, not the person serving you. If you are angry at how much something costs, be angry at yourself for believing you “must have it.”

Hospitality workers are people with real feelings. Shouting at a McDonald’s counter server, which I had seen on several occasions because they gave you sweet and sour dipping sauce when you asked for barbecue, will likely result in that person going in the back to cry. Was it worth making someone earning minimum wage feel bad for making an unintentional mistake over dipping sauce?

The holidays are about celebrating the values that bind us and coming together. Despite all our self-identifying differences and how the media and politicians go to great lengths to create divisiveness, I like to think we can all agree, even though we do not always act accordingly—everyone is allowed a few bad days—that being nice to each other is a critical part of our social contract. Is not the heart of humanity human kindness? Smiling costs nothing. Saying “Please” and “Thank you” costs nothing. It costs nothing to treat bar, retail, and restaurant staff with patience.

There is no better place to start than with hospitality workers to live by the simple golden rule: “Treat others as you would like to be treated,” not just during the holiday season but throughout the year.

As I mentioned initially, how you treat the person serving you tells a lot about you.

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Nick Kossovan, a self-described connoisseur of human psychology, writes about what’s on his mind from Toronto. You can follow Nick on X/Twitter and Instagram @NKossovan.

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