"He's cussing me out saying, 'Am I too stupid to read a screen?' I turn around and start remaking it and he whips the taco at the back of my head so I have taco, sides and lava sauce running down the back of my neck and everything."
Mike is a prep cook at Wurst Beir Hall in Fargo, North Dakota. Before this job, he was working at Taco Bell. As we chopped bell peppers together, he told me stories of his time in fast food. Of all his stories, I was most surprised when I heard of the time a customer threw a taco at his neck because it had one extra ingredient on it – lava sauce.
"It was actually a warm day so the cool lava sauce felt pretty good running down my back. It was kinda sticky though." Mike told me.
I couldn't believe it, "What did you do?"
"He was trying to get a rise out of me. I remade it for him and handed it over and said, 'Here ya go, have a nice day.' All the customers were like, 'Oh my God, you handled that so well.' They were so impressed. That was a great feeling."
I can honestly say I've never had the experience of someone throwing a taco at my head, but I can't say I would have reacted with the same amount of grace as Mike did. If I hadn't turned around to punch the guy, I would have definitely grabbed more taco ammunition in order to fire back. But Mike didn't do that, he stayed calm and collected, and stuck to doing his job.
Unfortunately, I've learned this situation happens way more than it should in the food and service industry. After hearing this story from Mike I traveled to Chicago, Illinois where I witnessed an angry customer come in and start screaming at our bartender for a misunderstanding that was actually the customer's fault. It made me mad, but our bartender acted with the same grace Mike showed. She was calm and gently told the customer we would take care of it and get his pizza.
The lesson here is that people are sometimes going to treat you like you're less than they are. The guy that called Mike an idiot and asked him whether or not he could read the screen has no idea that Mike can actually read the screen. In fact, Mike can read the screen so well that on nights and weekends he is teaching himself how to code HTML and CSS in order to start his own company.
People aren't going to change their opinions of fast-food workers overnight. Many of us who have had to work hourly-paying jobs understand how stressful and difficult these jobs can be. But not everyone has the humble calling of working a night shift at McDonalds. They don't understand who you are or what is going on in your life. The best chance we have at changing their mind is to respond like Mike did, with grace and kindness.
If you find yourself in a situation where a customer is getting angry at you for something out of your control, then just remind yourself of this: you can take this opportunity to rise above them and show them the kind of person you are. Don't think people won't notice either, they will. If your colleagues or boss don't notice, then customers will. You have an opportunity to change people's perspectives. Let people be rude, let them criticize and be like Mike.