David Carroll

David Carroll

The sign was at the restaurant entrance, plain for all to see: “Please be patient with our team. We are understaffed, and we are trying very hard.”

Welcome to America 2021. We were raised by our parents to be kind, and our teachers tried to instill the traits of character education in our young minds. Yet business owners must post signs reminding us not to be jerks to 17-year-olds who are waiting tables during a pandemic.

The fact that such signs are needed should make us ashamed. Are there more instructions coming our way?

We must already be reminded to wash our hands with soap and warm water in a public restroom. How old are we? 56 going on 6?

Besides, who even reads signs? Have you noticed that every time we have serious flooding on the roads, a news story soon follows about someone who had to be rescued, just past the sign that says “Turn Around, Don’t Drown?”

Ask towing companies about the people who are shocked to learn that the sign that reads “Your car will be towed if you park here” isn’t a joke.

It is a shame that signs like the one I saw at that restaurant are becoming a common sight. Business owners, already at their wits’ end in the 18th month of a pandemic, are struggling to hire and keep workers. They say many employees leave and never return because of the abuse they get from rude customers. What’s behind the anger? Well, it took an extra five minutes to get seated. Then they had to wait another five minutes for their food. Plus another five minutes for the dessert.

Then comes the customer’s revenge: they leave a small, insulting tip. Do you really think it’s the waitress’s fault that she is having to do the work of two people, and maybe more? Should we penalize her because she is among the few who is willing to take a job, and then actually show up to serve us?

The manager of a well-known tourist attraction told me that attendance is up this year, but her workers are required to follow the safety protocols set up by local government. Masks and social distancing must be enforced in indoor areas, much to the dismay of some visitors.

Of course, these people vent their frustrations to the young employees, who are merely following orders. That doesn’t keep rude customers from hurling abuse toward them. Would these people approve of adults cursing and yelling at their own teenage children?

A restaurant manager told me that many customers treat her staff members as “uneducated, and less than equal human beings.” She makes a good point. Too often, we don’t appreciate those who serve us. Yes, they are servers, but they are not our servants.

“The worst customers,” she said, “are from out of town. They will loudly tell my young staff members that there are no rules where they come from, and they don’t intend to follow any rules here.”

Let us remember that these service employees are people of great value. We should not assume that just because they are working for a small hourly wage, and are at the mercy of our tips, that they are low achievers. Many of them are working their way through college. For many of them it is a second, or even a third job. They have goals and dreams, and many of them will own businesses themselves someday. That is, if they decide they want to put up with the aggravation that comes with it, including a rude clientele.

Many front-line restaurant employees don’t have health insurance or sick days, and they are trying to stay healthy among customers who will get in their face (with no mask) if their drink refill is a tad late.

For years, a 15% tip was the accepted gratuity rate, but I would encourage you to go higher if you can afford it. I would also recommend leaving your tips in cash, rather than a credit or debit card. In some cases, a percentage is deducted from charge card tips.

One restaurant owner told me, “You would be amazed at what my folks are putting up with. I have been in this business for more than thirty years, and I’ve never seen anything like this. People are in a bad mood, and I understand that. We are just asking for patience and kindness.”

No one knows when, or if we will be back to normal. At the rate things are going, we may forget what “normal” was. We may have safety restrictions for a long time to come. I just hope we can advance to a time when no one has to put up a sign reminding us to be a decent human being.

 David Carroll is a Chattanooga television news anchor and radio host. You may find him online at ChattanoogaRadioTV.com, or contact him at 900 Whitehall Road, Chattanooga, TN 37405, or at RadioTV2020@yahoo.com.