It was only two weeks into his part-time job as a service crew that 19-year-old Jeremy Tan had his first brush with a difficult customer at the restaurant where he worked.
In a series of posts made on his Instagram account, Tan detailed the encounter with one family, whom he deemed “privileged Singaporeans”.
During lunch hour, Tan showed the family to a table usually reserved for the disabled as the restaurant was full. This was after they had rejected the options of sitting at a smaller table or a bar table, and offered to give up the table if a disabled customer came to the restaurant.
When he sought to apologise and explain the arrangement to them, one of the customers made a careless remark about the handicapped, while another member of the family accused Tan of insulting her by insinuating that she was disabled, and threatened to make a complaint.
Unsatisfied with their experience at the restaurant, the family left then returned after a short while, this time, with another family member in tow. Tan claimed that the latter snapped at him angrily to look at her family when apologising to them, then took a shot at Tan’s parents when criticising his inability to speak Chinese fluently.
Speaking to The Pride, he said: “Her comment angered me, so I just requested that she tone down her language and not bring my parents into this, before apologising once again in Mandarin.”
Upon reflecting on the incident, Tan wanted to reach out to the family, to share with them his perspective as a service crew, and this led to his public post on Instagram.
Intentionally omitting details that could identify the customers, Tan explained: “I wrote about the incident not to shame the family, but I really hope that the post reaches them so they can see that it’s important to treat others kindly – even if it’s service staff who are there to serve them.”
He pointed out that not every service crew is lucky enough to have an employer that will protect them from unreasonable or abusive customers, as many still feel that the customer is always right.
In the case of the family he met, he accepted that as customers, they had every right to feel unhappy about the service they received, but felt that they could have offered constructive criticism and raised the issue tactfully.
“Most service staff are out there working to pay their bills, earn some extra money, and take care of their families… The world is already a very tiring place, so be kind and try to make things easier for each other, instead of playing the ‘I am the customer’ card.”
Many of those who saw his post concurred.
One user encouraged Tan, writing: “Good job man, not everyone is born with wealth and privilege. We are all just doing what we need to survive.”
Another commented: “Everybody needs to work in the service line at least once in their lives. Working in the service line doesn’t make us any less of a human being.”
The call for respect and empathy towards service staff was echoed by yet another user, who wrote: “These are moments where people need to realise that at the end of the day, we are all just human beings, and don’t deserve to be treated in such a harsh manner. Honestly, sometimes, a simple thank you or just a smile is all service (staff) need to pull through tough shifts.”