Over the summer, Hubby and I traveled several hundred miles by car with our two teenagers in tow. And, because I’m a sucker for milkshakes and fries while we are on the open road, we consumed a lot of fast food while we were vacationing.
In one establishment in a one stoplight, rural town, we had, on the surface, terrible service. We waited over 25 minutes for two burgers, some chicken nuggets, fries and sodas.
We were tired; we were not expecting to have to wait so long for “fast” food. And, when you are staring at having to navigate the Washington, D.C area during rush hour traffic, you want your fries piping hot and served in less than 90 seconds. I’m just as guilty as the next person of expecting light speed service when I’m at the Golden Arches.
Behind the counter were teenagers, all managing the complicated operations of a busy, small town fast food joint. While I could be wrong, it seemed as though an adult manager wasn’t on the premises. I watched as the teens ran chaotically around each other, trying to fill orders and get the situation under control.
Customers were annoyed, it was hot as hell outside and these kids were doing what they could to manage the situation without an adult at the helm. And, I say “adult” because the one person who was seemingly in charge was in his early twenties. Barely able to drink legally, this kid was manning a sinking ship and the passengers were about to mutiny on him. And the life preservers were nowhere to be found.
As Hubby and I waited for our order, I watched these teenagers do the very best they could.
There was a line that literally snaked out the door and, at one point, as a huge group of Boy Scouts flooded the restaurant, I heard one of the young girls behind the counter simply say, “I don’t know what to do.”
She was no more than sixteen.
She showed up for work that day and was doing the very best she could.
On any given day, when a teen shows up for work, they’ve inevitably done the heavy lifting of being a teen: presumably an early rise for school, a full day’s courses and a heavy dose of homework daily. Some kids have to ride bikes long distances to make it to work and others are facing serious financial challenges that are the reason they are working every available hour at the local fast food chain.
As I watched her and the other employees, I was struck by how hard we are on teenagers.
We put pressure on them to succeed in AP classes and at top levels on sports teams.
We demand excellence and drive them towards high-pressure careers and fancy Ivy League degrees.
We pressure them to prove that they aren’t lazy or indifferent and yet we become frustrated at them for inconveniencing us when they need rides to work.
We want them to get jobs but we chastise them when our fries aren’t delivered fast enough.
We want them to save for college but we roll our eyes when they have to price check an item while we stand in the grocery line.
We want them to earn their way but we are usually annoyed AF because we expect them to act like grown ups.
But, here’s the thing: teenagers are still learning.
It’s our job to help them find their way, not yell at them for sucking at their jobs.
When you are yelling at a teen because an item isn’t ringing up properly or because your water glass hasn’t been refilled fast enough, you are teaching them the very worst part of customer service: the customer is always right, even if he’s a ranting like a child.
If I could have jumped behind the counter on that hot summer day and pitched in, I would have.
Because the sight of a teenaged girl flustered over not being able to serve fries fast enough made my heart sink.
Think before you yell at a teenager.
We’ve all been that kid.
Remember, you had a first job once, too. You fumbled over the keys of a cash register and probably spilled your fair share of food as a waitress.
You didn’t go to work afraid you’d wind up as a viral YouTube video because you tripped and dropped an entire tray of food or because some dumb jerk thinks it’s funny to post to his followers that the service you provided was lousy.
But, back then, when we were the teenagers learning, people were nicer.
It was easier to be a teenager when we did it, people.
And, maybe, we should all be eating less fast food rather than yelling at teens for not serving it fast enough.