We’ve all met her, she’s that waitress or shop assistant who behaves as if she’s doing you a favour to even acknowledge your presence, despite the fact that she’s employed to serve customers.
I did my time behind a fast food counter as a teenager, suffered the indignity of the candy cane uniform on minimum wage as an usherette at a theatre when I was slogging it out as a professional dancer, and graduated to silver service waitressing at black tie events to make a bit of extra cash during my law studies.
I had my share of rude and condescending idiots, of gropers, and of people who simply wandered through me as if I was invisible or simply too lowly to acknowledge.
Throughout, I gritted my teeth, maintained a polite tone and a smile and stuck to the motto “the customer is always right”. Almost always. Just once, someone went too far and the gentleman in question found himself wearing the bowl of soup he had ordered. I had tripped, obviously, so I apologised profusely and offered to pay for the dry cleaning (on behalf of the pizza restaurant I was working for) over the cheers and guffaws of my waitressing colleagues.
So I am very sympathetic to staff in retail and hospitality who work long and tiring hours, get paid peanuts and often get little thanks for what they do. As a result, I always go out of my way to be a polite, friendly and patient customer. Seriously, you would have to wipe my food on the floor or visibly spit in my soup for me to dream of complaining to the chef or the management.
I had some time to kill in between meetings near Sloane Square in London so decided to select a café where I could sit quietly on my laptop with a cup of tea. The outside was, as you’d expect in this area, expensively welcoming; the name of the café scribbled in trendy handwriting across a plush awning suitably shielding would-be patrons from the torrential rain, while they perused the menu displayed in a glass case by the door. It had an area laid out with floor-length crisp white tablecloths for serious diners but also an alcove where coffee and snacks were the order of the day. Perfect.
Or at least it would have been if the young Sloane in the apron with a notepad and pen in her hand had had any intention of prising herself away from the stubbly Mediterranean beefcake manning the bar to take an order. I soon realised there were already three people seated in the alcove, on a sliding scale of frustration from mild annoyance to about-to-throw-cutlery-at-her, waving for her attention. Every now and then in between gazing into Eye Candy’s face and giggling coyly, she would do a scan of the room as if checking for new customers or tables to clear. She managed that aloof middle-distance stare that pointedly avoids eye contact with anyone and remained blind to the ever-more frantic gesticulating of the businessman in dire need of his morning espresso and the painfully elegant couple on their way back from the gym looking to refuel on one of the green kale and edamame bean-based smoothies on offer.
A full 20 minutes later, the delicate velour stools scraped unceremoniously across the floor and their occupants stormed out of the café loudly complaining about the lack of service. The Entitled One was buffing her nails on her apron and barely noticed. Having caught her eye three times without so much as a kettle being boiled, I decided on a different approach and was determined not to give up.
I wandered up to Eye Candy who was drying glasses behind the bar, apologised for disturbing him and asked innocently if there was anyone actually serving the tables in the cafe area (the undeniable decorative value of the Entitled One notwithstanding) and would it be possible please to have a pot of tea (sometime before Christmas). Eye Candy shot a dark accusing look at the Entitled One, before turning back to me and apologising, oozing charm and a thick Italian accent. With an unnecessary flourish of his tanned arms, he had a pot of tea and plate of macaroons (the latest in biscuit trends) set out for me before I could get back to my velour stool and sit down.
The nail buffing stopped abruptly and the Entitled One’s vacant eyes darkened as a petulant scowl spread across her pretty face. With more energy and purpose than I had seen her display since I had walked in, she marched over and announced “actually that’s the job I am supposed to be doing” and stood there looking pleased with herself. I am not sure what she was expecting me to say and I didn’t have the heart to come out with the numerous sarcastic comments I had on the tip of my tongue (most inspired by Julia Roberts’ killer lines to the shop assistants on Rodeo Drive in the film Pretty Woman).
Well, at least behind the vacant superior look, she knew what she was supposed to be doing, even if she wasn’t quite prepared to do it just yet. I hoped for her sake she’d realise before too long that the more pride she took in her job and the harder she worked, the more likely she was to get the respect to which she so clearly thought she was entitled. Otherwise she’d be left with highly buffed nails, a well-sculpted mask of disdain and her unused notebook, wondering why the rest of us were ignoring her as we got on with our lives with a please, a thank you, and a plateful of macaroons.