Miss Man­ners

Richmond Times-Dispatch Weekend - - COMICS, ETC. -

Dear Miss Man­ners: I work at a cof­fee shop/cafe that gets very busy dur­ing lunch. One day, while I was work­ing the main regis­ter with a long line of cus­tomers, some kind folks com­pleted their lunch or­der, paid, then left $10 in cash and asked me to ap­ply it to the or­der of the man be­hind them in line.

I fig­ured he was a friend of theirs and didn’t ques­tion them fur­ther. When the man came to the regis­ter, he just asked if he could please have some wa­ter; I pointed him to our wa­ter sta­tion. He went off and I re­al­ized he was whom the cou­ple had left money for, pre­sum­ably char­i­ta­bly.

I couldn’t shout him down, so I tried to at­tach a note to the bill for a co­worker to take to the cou­ple. How­ever, it was the mid­dle of the lunch rush and I wasn’t able to leave the regis­ter.

Later, when things qui­eted down, the cou­ple came back. I im­me­di­ately handed them their money, apol­o­gized, and started to ex­plain. They told me, some­what re­sent­fully, that they wanted to give the man money but wanted to spare him the em­bar­rass­ment of re­ceiv­ing it. They “thought I could ex­plain to him he had credit to use.”

I felt bad about the whole in­ter­ac­tion


DAVE BLAZEK but also an­noyed! It seems like these peo­ple were avoid­ing their own em­bar­rass­ment, not his, but that it was his loss.

I’ve helped plenty of cus­tomers buy food for other peo­ple, and there are many gra­cious ways to do so. Am I just bit­ter here, or am I jus­ti­fied?

Gen­tle Reader: Like eti­quette it­self, the server-cus­tomer re­la­tion­ship de­pends upon rea­son­able re­straint on both sides. Such re­straint in­cludes be­ing clear — not leav­ing you to guess what you were be­ing asked to do or how to do it. And it re­quires stay­ing rea­son­ably close to the task at hand: The ser­vice you were ad­ver­tis­ing was cof­fee and per­haps a dough­nut, not so­cial work.

Your cus­tomers failed on both counts. There are, in­deed, bet­ter ways to ac­com­plish what they wanted, and there are cer­tainly ones that do not put the work on you. Miss Man­ners wishes that em­ploy­ers ex­er­cised equal re­straint by not look­ing at ev­ery trans­ac­tion as an op­por­tu­nity to sell the next prod­uct (ex­cept by demon­strat­ing ex­cep­tional ser­vice).

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