Everyone Should Work A Service Job

I have had a job since I was 13 years old. Now, don’t get me wrong, I didn’t do it because I wanted to, or because I had some moral high ground about it, I had little-to-no choice in the matter. My parents forced me, and then finances necessitated it. Being underage (and under my parents’ reign) or in school required, nearly at all times, a job to make my living expenses. But I’m not your grandfather, I’m not here to tell you it “builds character” or whatever. It probably doesn’t. But regardless of what I gained from it, I have worked in retail shops (high and low end), restaurants, cafes, and ice cream shops. I’ve done it all. And I feel, looking back on these jobs, glad for having done each one, no matter how much it may have sucked at the time. Though I have spoken before about how unfortunate it can be when people in the service industry take on horrible, put-upon attitudes, there is truly nothing worse than people who treat service workers like crap.

Growing up, I was often surrounded by that special slice of upper-middle-class that is just entitled enough to convince themselves that their children shouldn’t work. Whether they should protect their delicate sensibilities and “focus on their studies” (which, nine times out of ten, just translates to dangerous blocks of free time to be filled with binge drinking) or they don’t want to clutter their 15-hour-a-week unpaid internship over the summer with making some actual money, I knew a lot of people who never really had to work. Their parents just sort of handed them a credit card and said, “Remember to take the fingertips and teeth off the bodies before you bury them!” or whatever speech comes with that kind of carte-blanche access. And though I’d love to pretend that I have some holier-than-thou stance on the whole thing because I knew what a hard day’s work meant at the age of 15, I’m really just jealous of it. I still have friends who, at 24 and a full year out of school, live entirely on their parents’ dime in a more-than-decent apartment. Sure, it’s a little sad at that point, but I’d still take free stuff over having to supplement my income. And though I might not trade places with them now, the 19-year-old me who was working the holiday season at Abercrombie and Fitch (a fate much worse than you could ever imagine, and I’m sure you imagine that it’s horrible) would have given anything to be them.

But folding endless stacks of tee shirts that shoppers are only so giddy to knock over (seriously, how do people manage to napalm an entire section of cardigans just to pluck an extra small off the top?) or making an endless assembly line of Frappuccinos for a horde of screaming pre-teens does one good thing for you: It makes you, from then on, respect and appreciate the hell out of the people doing those jobs. Work in a restaurant, you’re forever a good tipper and don’t go crazy with the special requests. Work in a coffee shop, you will never camp out in the back for an entire day after buying one muffin. Work in a clothing store, you’ll never leave a heap of clothes in the dressing room for some poor sales associate to find and let out a resigned “Come on, man, really?”

And that’s the thing that I have now grown to resent about my friends and acquaintances who’ve never had to work these jobs, they are almost without fail the people who have no qualms about being absolute toads towards the people serving them. They are the crappy tippers, the yelling customers, the people that walk into a restaurant or store with the general attitude that they are inherently better than the staff. I have seen a grown-ass man, 26-years-old, who was unemployed and living off his parents’ good investments while he tried to get his career as a “filmmaker” off the ground try to leave a 2 dollar tip on a 45 dollar bill because “Come on, she’s just a waitress, and I’m on a budget.” I could do a PhD on all that is wrong with that scenario, but I’ll sum it up to the basic principle that he thinks she is not deserving of respect or compensation because she is, in his mind, a lower class than he is. And whether you’re shouting at the salesgirl or barely looking at your barista as you bark your order, you are demonstrating that you feel entitled to just crap on an entire group of people because, whatever, they make 8 bucks an hour.

When you actually work these jobs and get to know the people and the culture that staff these places, it’s impossible to ever pass judgment on a service worker again. Especially in an economy like this, the idea of looking down on any kind of employment is insane, but even in a flourishing economy, it’s ridiculous. I’ve served coffee with an Ivy League grad, folded sweaters with one of the most talented musicians I’ve ever met, and done shots in the kitchen with two of the funniest guys to ever wash dishes. And none of them, it should be said, based who they are as a person or how they judged other people on what kind of job they were doing or how much money they were making. And to see people who’ve never had to be degraded by customers or forced to smile when someone makes it clear you are not worth their time act as though they deserve their “social status” when it was by pure luck that they didn’t have to work these kinds of jobs is, frankly, kind of nauseating.

So I encourage everyone, no matter how much money is at your disposal, to spend at least one summer slinging drinks, folding shirts, or manning the frozen banana stand. Because there are some things money can’t buy, and one of those things is how to interact with a waiter so that he doesn’t want to hang himself in the walk-in freezer the second he leaves your table. TC mark

image – Jeff Kubina

Chelsea Fagan

Chelsea Fagan founded the blog The Financial Diet. She is on Twitter.


More From Thought Catalog

  • NotRich


  • Nikijoy


  • Mygoog15


  • just a waitress

    thanks for this… but I’ve seldom wanted to hang myself… I really just wanted to stab the uppity fuckers.

  • http://iwanttheseshoes.blogspot.com Olivia Moore

    I’ve had a job ever since I was 14 and never looked back. I can definitely relate to this a lot. My parents would have rolled over and died before giving me a credit card or access to their money. Babysitter, ice cream scooper, receptionist, retail associate, waitress… all the jobs I’ve had made me appreciate everyone who does their job with some compassion. i have all too many friends who have still never worked a day in their life and they think they know something about really dealing with some of the idiots i’ve encountered on a daily basis… awesome piece. i’m gonna stop ranting before i write my own article.

  • Dee Thomson

    Couldn’t have said it better myself.

  • Iamsoy


  • Guest

    there’s always money in the banana stand!

    but seriously, amen. 

  • http://www.breakfastbachelor.com YESTRUTH


  • Jen Macaluso

    I really enjoyed this one! I’ve also had a job since I was 13 (I’m 27 and burnt out now) and a lot of people do not understand the camraderie one develops working a service job. I worked in restaurants for 6 and half years, from bussing to plating to bartending to mopping-there is no other discipline like it. The funny thing is, I miss the real work associated with the service industry. My office job is incredibly lackluster in contrast.

  • Anonymous

    I’ve never worked in service but I’d slap my friends upside the head if they yelled at a waiter.  Depends what kind of people you’re hanging out with.  Sounds like some of your friends are really unpleasant.

  • Fahmi_20




  • http://twitter.com/WhitneyEllenB Whitney

    Dear God thank you for writing this. Ever since my stint at Golden Corral and into my current trudging through work at Panera to supplement my meagre internship stipend, I’ve thought it should be a federally mandated requirement for people to be on the other end of their bitching so they get an understanding of how difficult it can really be, and how people who work at these places are not inherently worthless.

    • http://twitter.com/mung_beans Mung Beans

      Golden Corral is roooough, man.  No one tips you because buffet and you still get paid like you’re going to make it all up.  

      • Anonymous

        Damn. I bet it’s hella destroyed when the last customer leaves. The poor carpets. I feel for you, man.

  • Thalia

    truer words have never been written. 

  • Asdf

    Not to mention undertipping and rudeness to servers is a major, major turn-off.

  • http://www.facebook.com/antoniowatson Antonio Watson

    Every once in a while, I wonder why I come to this site.  Then I see articles like this and I realize I come here constantly sifting through bad pieces to find jewels like this.

  • http://www.nicholeexplainsitall.com EarthToNichole

    I agree with a lot of this, but just because someone has never held a service industry job does not mean they automatically treat servers or retail workers poorly. I know plenty of rich kids who are great tippers and very polite to sales associates.

  • tr6

    Wholeheartedly agree. But just to turn the tables around, don’t let this give you free reign to be a cynical asshole if you already work a service job. We’ve all seen our fair share of service workers who are just complete dicks to other people. Most likely with good reason (just dealt with a crappy customer), but still. 

    • http://www.facebook.com/antoniowatson Antonio Watson

      I agree with your sentiments, but just want to point out that having a shitty customer is NOT an excuse to have a bad attitude towards other people.

  • Guest


    I lol’d.

  • Tom

    I have & do work service As a result I overtip as do my friends in service

    The way I’ve alway tried (sometimes failing) to treat people is with respect or as I’d like to be treated NEVER look down your nose at me because I tend bar – YOU lined up to be served by ME!

    Accordingly, I will fill your request as quickly & efficiently as I am able (and I’m THAT good)
    All I ask is that you give me your full order – not have me make multiple trips to the same place to get the same or similar items one at a time because there are other people behind you waiting to be served as well

    Finally, tip & tip well when you receive good service  as this how we make our living

  • chimneysmoke

    I never ever ever comment on TC… but this article rubs me the wrong way. It should be entirely rewritten to “everyone should be respectful.”

    While working a service job may instill humility and ensure you treat people in those positions decently it does not mean that is the only way to learn how to be a decent customer or how to be empathetic.

    I’ve never held a service job, I’ve been fortunate enough to have a specialized skill and to work in that field since the age of 16; but I won’t deny I come from an upper-middle-class place of privilege. I’ve never acted like an animal in a store or raised my voice to someone assisting me. I’ve never left less than an 18% tip on a bill unless I’ve been awfully served (and then I tip 10%). I keep my special requests to a minimum. I tip extra around the holidays. Friends of mine who have worked in service jobs are usually the first to round down a tip or mutter “but that’s their job.”

    None of this proper behavior has anything to do with personal experience, but empathy and respect for others. You can work in a service job your whole life and still be an asshole.

    • Vicky

      You might be respectful to people in service jobs, but you can’t actually empathise with them.  Having never been in their position you can only offer them sympathy.  The fact that you felt the need to explain how well you tip makes it seem as though you look down on service workers, as if they need your pity rather than your respect.  You might not act like a complete arse to people in service jobs, but it certrainly doesn’t seem like you treat them as equals.

      • chimneysmoke

        A service job and a shit office job are actually remarkably the same. I have had to bend to ridiculous requests or stifling corporate mandates. I’ve had to deal with disrespect. I don’t really see why I can’t empathize. I understand their position and treat them how I’d want to be treated.

        In a situation where you are given the power based on social norm or economic balance (the customer isn’t always right but the customer does have more power in any exchange) I try my best to voluntarily equal the scales. I think that’s the best anyone can be expected to act… and if that isn’t meeting someone on equal footing or as equal as it can be, then I don’t know what would be.

  • http://twitter.com/bookshelfdragon Jo G.

    Can’t help but feel that anyone who feels the need to comment “oh, but having a shitty customer is no reason to be crappy to the next guy” is one of the people this article is focused at: those who have never had a service job and never had to keep a smile on their face after being cussed out for something that is beyond their control.

    I’ve worked since I was 14, mostly in service positions, so I totally get this. And thank you for the article. While I’ve always had this same sentiment myself, I also never understood why someone would be so mean to the service people. Do you understand how much control they have? Waiters could throw your food on the floor or spit in it before bringing it out to you. That person in the call center? They have access to your entire account, and it’s scary how much information is stored there. You never know who you’re about to piss off. Maybe they’re at the end of their two week notice, or are about to quit or get fired. Maybe you’re the asshole who pushes them over the edge. And maybe they decide to jot down your social security number and other information before they go, and proceed to ruin your life.

    Not that I would ever do that. But the thought has crossed my mind.

    That’s not even considering the fact that, if you need something special done, nothing greases the wheels like being nice. If you treat me like a human being, I’ll bend over backwards to make sure your special request gets processed as soon as possible. If you shout and rant and telling me that I’m screwing up my job when you’re the one who won’t obey protocol…well, then maybe your paperwork gets lost. Human error. It happens.

    Point is, be nice and considerate. Even if you’ve had a crappy day yourself–it’s better to say nothing than to be an asshole.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=10036647 Aimee Vondrak

    Well done. Most folks who are complaining about your article don’t realize you are speaking in a generalization. Of COURSE there are exceptions to the mantra that having experienced the service industry yourself makes you more appreciative and more civilized when interacting with others in that division.

    However, on the whole, what you have said here rings true in every conversation from which I’ve staked this position– People who do not UNDERSTAND and cannot EMPATHIZE with the individuals serving, plating, mixing, slinging, mopping, wiping, frying are not going to understand the duress and nuances of the jobs. Not in a million years. Doesn’t matter if your parents “raised you right” on an upper to middle class dollar. If your parents raised you right, they would have encouraged you to take a service or retail job so you wouldn’t come onto ThoughtCatalog and act like you know what’s up.

    • beatrice

      I’m sorry but “If your parents raised you right, they would have encouraged you to take a service or retail job”? That’s total bullshit right there. I’m sorry but just because you weren’t encouraged to take a service or retail job doesnt mean anything. Personally, my parents encourage me and my siblings to have jobs so that we pay for ourselves. And a retail/service job just doesn’t cover as much money as an internship unless you’re waiting in a very decent restaurant.

  • whatsfordunch

    aren’t there enough trust fund film students/ “film makers”  yet? 

blog comments powered by Disqus