Missed Manners


Though not yet extinct, exemplary service is irrefutably waning. With less to spend than ever before, service more often than price determines where my greenbacks end up. Regardless of the deals offered, I won’t shop at a store that employs obtuse, unmotivated drones. Though I like to think of myself as an egalitarian, I’m decidedly snobbish on this issue.

Since I work in hospitality, I have high service expectations. My response to bad service is based on the degree of the infraction. In most cases, I’ll simply look stern but keep my mouth shut, as when a cashier does not greet or sometimes even look at you until she announces the amount due. If I’ve managed to keep quiet up to that point, I’ll pay up and with as much saccharin sweetness as I can muster, will chirp “Have a great day!” while brandishing a wide, forced grin. I’m sure the lesson is lost on most, and I end up just looking crazy.

About eight years ago, I began to inwardly boil when it came to this issue. I mark the beginning of my “Peter Finch in Network” exasperation to inferior service with a Burger King experience. My two kids and I approached the counter. “Hello,” I said. The clerk said nothing. “Here’s the part where you say ‘Hi’ back,” I said. She still said nothing, though she shifted her weight to another hip. (I think this might have been the first time my kids murmured to me, “We’ll be in the car.”) I placed my order and paid, but vowed to voice my displeasure with bad service going forward. Perhaps that’s why it’s kind of my poor-service talisman.

For your consideration: My most recent brushes with horrific service.

• A transaction at PetCo that went something like this. “Hi, how are you?” I said to the clerk. “Well, I’m here, aren’t I?” she replied, taking a long drag of her soda through a straw. “At least you’re working,” I said. “Yeah, well I’d rather be somewhere else,” she said. She dropped her soda. “Crap!” she cried and bent over a microphone. “Clean up, reg two.” She went back to taking my money, looking more disgruntled than before.

• When shopping for jeans at Macy’s, I asked the clerk for recommendations. “Not too low, not too high,” I told her. “Well, this is a popular brand,” she said, holding up a pair of pants. “They fall below the waist, but aren’t real low, so nobody’ll see your coin slot or anything.” I stood silently, trying to decipher what she had just said. Believe it or not, I had never heard the term previously. The Macy’s girl must have registered my look of shock as the realization of what she meant occurred to me. “Oh, sorry,” she said. “Yeah, you probably shouldn’t use that kind of terminology with someone who’s old enough to be your mother,” I told her.

• I recently called a local high-end restaurant that bears the name of its chef to inquire about the dress code. “Oh, you know, wine country casual,” the man who answered the phone said. “So long as the guys aren’t in sideways ballcaps and the gals not in hoochie-momma shorts or belly shirts, they’ll be fine.”

• I was in Tiffany’s in search of their repair department. I came upon a solitary woman reading a ledger who took a full minute before she looked up to address me with haughty disdain. “Where is your repair department located?” I asked her nicely. “Up the stairs, to the back left,” she replied brusquely, immediately returning to her ledger. I was reminded of a line in The Two Mrs. Grenvilles: “NOCD. Not our class, darling.”

Folks in my generation complain that the younger generation is rude and lazy, that they have a sense of entitlement, no ambition and even less motivation. The older generation claims overly permissive parents have spoiled them and that we are to blame, but I think I remember hearing that same argument when I was a kid.


Regardless of what’s at the core of poor customer service, in these tough times an increase in civility would serve as a much welcomed emotional poultice to us all. Slow down. Treat yourself and others with respect. Love one another. After all, the best things in life really are free.

Lara Flak’s high expectations for customer service result from her experiences in working everywhere  from McDonald’s to Windows on the World with other restaurants, wineries and hotels in between.

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