Articles / Why Are People Behaving Like Baby Despots?

Why Are People Behaving Like Baby Despots?

Published March 30, 2022

Post pandemic, people are as rude to service workers as ever

“Why are you making that face? Did I say something wrong?”

I may function as a critic in some of my work, but generally, I don’t like correcting people — and I definitely don’t like correcting my friends. If we’re in a situation in which someone’s tone might lead to someone in the kitchen spitting in my food, I step in. 

Well, you were a little short with the waiter.

There is nothing wrong with taking a long time to place an order or asking the waiter questions about the menu. The waiter was patient through this but when he asked if he should bring out the appetizer along with our entrees, my friend got snippy — something about the size of the table. You could see the exhaustion on his face in response. 

We had waited longer than anticipated to order drinks. And the food took even longer. Yet it wasn’t because of the server: The restaurant didn’t have enough employees.

He’s taking care of this entire section and the one to the side behind me. 

I gestured in the direction for dramatic effect. It appeared to drive the point home. My friend caught herself and realized she might’ve come across in ways she didn’t intend. 

My friend is not a nasty person. She’s quite kind, funny, and the sort of friend that always likes to cheer you up. But sometimes my friend, like many people I know and don’t know, makes the mistake of forgetting their server is a person

I understand that most of us are overworked and underpaid and dealing with a litany of stressors including an ongoing plague, threats of war, and the other daily dumpster fires happening nationwide. I also absolutely understand the concept of being “hangry.” 

None of that takes precedence over how people should be treated. We shouldn’t take our frustrations out on others. We shouldn’t act like we’re above others– particularly when the person is working in a serving role. 

Being a customer does not make you a monarch, or in the cases of an alarming number of us, a baby despot. 

Lots of customers kept up bad habits like mistreating staff pre-pandemic, but it seems like it has gotten worse since 2020. Bad behavior extends beyond hospitality workers to teachers, nurses, and the like, but people seem to really get a kick out of making restaurants and fast-food workers bear the greatest brunt. I wish they’d reconsider. Workers deal with enough as is. 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the typical restaurant worker earns about $18 an hour. That is up 14 percent over the course of 2021, but that pay still isn’t great. Even if employees can land a 40 hour-a-week job, that’s still not enough to earn a livable wage. It’s definitely not enough to put up with anyone’s stank attitude. 

Lousy pay helps explain why quite a few of the nearly eight million employees who were either laid off or furloughed as a result of the pandemic have not returned to work. There are countless articles in which restaurant and fast food workers complain about how they’re treated by employers and customers alike, but you don’t need online documentation when we can see it around us on any given day.

While my friend who had a slight ‘tude quickly corrected it after I called her out, I most assuredly have witnessed worse. I have watched some go nearly violent over chicken, Starbucks orders, and so on. Popeye’s Chicken is glorious, but it’s not worth an assault case. 

Last year, I read that fast-food workers in states like California have turned to 911 to draw attention to what’s been described as a “crisis of violence.” 

It shouldn’t require so much energy to be kind to people. It should not take so much to thank or even acknowledge someone in service to them. I don’t consider myself the Prime Minister of Politeness, but I do want more people to be less prickly about how they ask for fried calamari or deal with a restaurant nixing the two-piece chicken special on Tuesdays due to a supply shortage.

Underpaid service workers — or anyone else —  don’t deserve attitude or abuse. Some of my response is rooted in my fear of what happens when people around me are being so nasty and so rude (I hope you hear that in the voice of NeNe Leakes). I was also raised by a nurse and a mechanic: Working-class people deserve as much grace as anyone else.

If you folks in your life haven’t quite mastered that concept, feel free to call them out in real-time and send this as follow-up reading material.


Do you have a favorite ‘people behaving badly’ in public story? Or perhaps some words of wisdom for how one can gently correct a friend’s behavior without further inflaming the situation? Drop us a note in the comments.