Busting Retail & Restaurant Employee Stereotypes

How many times have you tipped your waiter not as well as you could have? Or dropped a shirt at a store and not put it back on the hanger? How often do you smile at the girl behind the cash register at DSW? Or ask your bartender how their day is going? Yeah–not that often.

Retail and restaurant industry workers are some of the most under-appreciated and undervalued employees, and I’m here to tell you why that’s just wrong.

But, I’ll admit, like many others, I haven’t always had the best perceptions of retail and restaurant employees, but that’s no longer the case. After working in these industries, I’ve learned a lot and I’m here to bust those nasty stereotypes.

Myth #1: Retail and restaurant employees are slackers.

So, you had one incident where a Starbucks employee made your drink wrong? Get over it. Every industry has slackers, but because stores and restaurants deal with customers, if we’ve had one bad experience with one person, we give the whole industry a bad rep and that’s just not fair. You don’t think that there’s some big shot on Wall Street who plays Words With Friends all day behind closed doors? There definitely is.

I have the upmost respect for the individuals in retail sales and the restaurant industry. They bust their asses harder than most people realize.

Myth #2: They’re working in a store or restaurant because they couldn’t get hired anywhere else.

As terrible as this may sound, before working as a sales associate and as a host, I had the perception that these employees had failed in some way or couldn’t do anything else–and sadly many people still hold these stereotypes.

One thing that’s important to keep in mind is that most of us choose these jobs and we should be valued and respected for the hard work we do. Just because working in a store or a restaurant is a different type of work doesn’t make it less important than a job in the corporate world–hell, without dedicated and loyal people running all those J. Crew stores, Jenna Lyons’ (the Creative Director for J. Crew) job wouldn’t even exist. When you stop and think about it, it only makes sense for a sales associate to get as much respect as someone in a corporate office does.

Myth #3: They lack ambition.

Unfortunately, many times a strong work ethic is overshadowed by the negative stereotypes and labels that society has placed on retail and restaurant employees. They tend to get labeled as lazy, uncaring, not good enough, uneducated, powerless, and temporary…just to name a few.

One of my co-workers and good friends is incredibly ambitious. She started out hosting, got promoted to another position, and is now interning with the marketing department of the restaurant—did I mention she’s taking six college classes too? If that’s not an example of determination, I don’t know what is.

The moment my perception changed:

Okay, so you can tell I’m a big advocate for people in these industries, but that wasn’t always the case. My perception of retail and restaurant employees changed for the better about three years ago when I got my first sales associate job. I remember thinking it was going to be easy–well, it wasn’t.

It was a completely foreign experience for me. I had never handled money or worked a cash register before. Regardless, I remember working to improve and wanting to make sure that everyone had a good experience. Always smiling, offering assistance, answering any and every question I received. Working in the dressing room was my favorite part of the job because I got to help people feel awesome, even if it was something as small as helping a customer find the perfect pair of jeans. However, people didn’t seem to think I cared about them, which was incredibly frustrating. Instead of being given a chance, most times I was ignored or snapped at. Some customers treated me like it was their world and I was just living in it.

A couple years later, I received my first host position at a popular and usually very busy restaurant. I instantly fell in love with the food, my co-workers, the philanthropy, the hospitality, and the whole atmosphere of the restaurant. Going to work never feels like a burden because I’m genuinely excited to be the first welcoming point of contact for customers. More importantly, I was and still am proud to have my job.

I worked hard to receive my position—multiple interviews, detailed menu tests, and many days of training. Damn straight I’m going to do my job right, and I make sure of it. Additionally, I’m thankful—my host position is helping me finish my senior year of college.

I put a lot of enthusiasm and effort into my interactions with customers but unfortunately, that hasn’t always been recognized. I’ll never forget the night I was hosting with a co-worker and we were spat at after informing a customer that there was an hour and a half wait. Mind. Blown. (Insert explosion sound.) How could someone treat another person that way, especially when we’re going to do everything we can to make your wait a pleasant one? I’m on the customer’s side—I want you to enjoy your experience as much as you do so you come back. Everyone except the face spitter—that person can stay home.

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Why you should change your perception:

In 2012, 4,668,300 people in The United States worked in retail sales and in 2014, 13,500,000 people in The United States worked in the restaurant industry. Out of these millions of Americans, many of them have attended college or are working to pay for their current education. Additionally, a majority of retail and restaurant employees are supporting family members, when we all know that supporting ourselves is already challenging enough – and they certainly don’t get paid enough. Retail and restaurant employees depend on their job just as much as someone who is working in a corporate office does. There’s not one right way to have an income.

No matter where you work, if you’re making your own money and supporting yourself, you should feel proud. It doesn’t matter if you’re working your way up the fancy corporate ladder or working towards a management position in a restaurant—work is work. There’s no reason for retail and restaurant employees to feel embarrassed about their job or fear how they will be treated during a shift. These are the employees that allow us to do crazy holiday shopping and relax at restaurants on the weekends.

With that being said, let’s all put more effort into treating each other better and empowering one another. The next time you’re out, I challenge you to give those employees the recognition they deserve. Make it a habit to tip your server at least 20%; if you loved your meal, compliment the chef; at the check-out of a store, make a point to mention the name of the sales associate that assisted you. Even something as simple as a friendly smile and a genuine “thank you” goes a long way.

Hailey Ellis

Contributor, DePaul University Major: Public Relations & Advertising Her heart belongs to: my family, Chicago, volunteering, breakfast food, unicorns, North Carolina, superhero movies, beaches, skinny jeans, rowing, and girls night Her guilty pleasures: Say Yes to the Dress, Project Runway marathons, statement necklaces, and red velvet cheesecake

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