Essays · Strangers

You Think You Deserve Special Treatment in a Shop

Every once in awhile I observe an interaction in a shop or restaurant that bums me out. Sometimes it will stick with me, and those ones end up on this site. For example, the other day I was in a Cafe Nero coffee shop and witnessed this exchange:

Barista: What would you like?
Customer: I’d like a latte but can you put it in this cup? *Hands over large Starbucks-branded reusable cup.*
Barista: I’m happy to make you a latte but I can’t put it in this cup if you’re staying in.
Customer: *Changes stance, adopts an attitude.* Why not? Every other Cafe Nero lets me do it.
Barista: I’m sorry but we aren’t allowed to have you drinking out of a competitor’s cup in our shop.
Customer: *Whining.* That’s ridiculous.
Barista: *Calmly, pleasantly.* If you can cover the logo that’s fine. *Other Barista picks up a Cafe Nero drink sleeve.*
Customer: Okay. But I want two stamps for my drink card.

Can we all agree to stop expecting people in the service industry to bend or break seemingly silly rules that we just don’t feel like following? And if you forget, ask, and then they refuse, can we agree to not be jerks to them or demand a different benefit instead?

In this case, Cafe Nero has a policy. I get it. I might not think it’s that big of a deal, but it’s their store and their policy. It’s not discriminatory against a marginalized group. It’s not even that strange of a policy, if you really think it through. But in this case, the Customer didn’t like it, and wanted a special exception made for him, and when the Barista provided him with a work-around, the Customer still demanded something special (an extra stamp on his loyalty card), as though the Customer had somehow been put out.

Look, I get it. Some corporate policies piss me right off. For example, a bunch of shops in the UK won’t take my US credit card, because it has requires a signature. Personally, I don’t think a store should be allowed to say it accepts Visa cards if it doesn’t accept all of them, but that’s their policy. So I just don’t shop in those places. I don’t adopt an attitude of entitlement, and I’m not rude to staff. Internally I’m annoyed, but I know it isn’t the check-out staff’s decision, and I don’t expect them to make an exception for me.

Obviously none of this applies if you are experiencing unequal treatment. If you are a person of color and get denied the same exception as the white person at the table next to you (say, using the restroom without buying something *cough* Starbucks *cough*), that’s a whole different issue.

I’m talking about not liking the return policy, or the store credit policy, or the limit on how many of the discounted bags of popcorn you can buy at a time. You may find them inconvenient, but complaining about it and being rude to the front-line staff (or even store management if it’s a chain or franchise) isn’t just a waste of everyone’s time — it’s also extremely entitled. You don’t deserve a break in the rules just because you don’t like them, and the person you’re complaining to likely doesn’t have the authority to change the rules for you, but still has to remain kind and calm while not knowing if you’re going to lose your shit at them.

One last thing — I’ve seen and heard so many people say “I don’t like X, so it doesn’t hurt to ask if they’ll let me do Y instead.” I’m going to go against the grain and say that actually yes, it sometimes does hurt to ask. If you don’t like the policy, write a letter. Make a call. Send a tweet. Vote with your dollars and pounds. But put yourself in the position of the employee who might be fielding loads of special requests every day, and who doesn’t know if you’re going to be the next person who is a jerk when they don’t get their way.

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