Got reminded again early on during tonight’s shift of something I’ve been trying to teach myself (and others) for years now, which has, as you might suspect from the title of this post, to do with dealing with particularly nasty people, one of the bigger occupational hazards of working in the Industry.
One of the things you learn early on, and have to learn to deal with the regular occurrence of if you’re going to survive in the Industry, is that some people just can’t seem to help being just extra shitty to you. Everyone who’s ever worked front of house knows who I’m talking about: the people who treat you like a servant, who are bitchy and dissatisfied from the get-go, who do their absolute best to take a shit in the middle of the happy place you have to cultivate and share in order to do your job. Any given night you work, these people will comprise 5-50+% of your clientele, and if you’re not careful, they’ll suck the reservoir of joie de vivre you need to do this kind of work dry.
So what do you do when someone tries to take a dump in your psyche?
The main thing to remember is that these people are absolutely miserable on the inside. Only people who are miserable on the inside, people whose lives are not what they want them to be, and who lack the courage or insight to do something proactive about it, do this kind of thing unapologetically. I even believe that a certain kind of particularly miserable person only comes out to restaurants and bars in order to have people around on whom they feel safe and comfortable taking the aforementioned psychic dump. It’s one of the worst things about doing this for a living, and it’s as inevitable as death, taxes, and the weather.
So how do you deal with it? In a word, compassion. And if you can’t manage compassion, then settle for schadenfreude.
Think about it: we’re in the good times business. Giving people the tools, space, and permission to be happy is what we do for a living. More than anything else, that’s what we sell. And here are people whose lives are so twisted up that they literally can’t be happy, or can’t be happy unless they can pass off some misery to someone else. And maybe they deserve it, or maybe they got a raw deal and you’re collateral damage, but you can’t let them ruin your night, because then the rest of your customers and (more importantly) you are going to suffer for it.
So don’t let them touch your happy place, the source of your power, and of the energy and care you give to your customers. Think about how miserable they are, all of the time, or at least right now, and if you can’t feel compassion then enjoy how much richer and more fulfilling your life is than theirs. Because it is, right? Mine sure is. Even when dealing with people people who’re just dicks, who seem actually to enjoy and derive fulfillment from treating others poorly: whenever I start getting upset with them, I just think about how much richer and more fulfilling my life is than theirs, how much deeper my ability to deeply connect with other human beings, and I almost feel bad for them. They’re going to die (or at least waste a significant part of their life) without understanding how rewarding real connection with others, no matter how ephemeral, can be. They’re literally missing out on the best part of being alive and human and capable of the joy and happiness that that entails. Even if you can’t find it in yourself to feel bad for them, you can certainly laugh, because the joke’s on them in the end.
And if that doesn’t work for you, if your happy place is still under construction or needs some more infrastructure installed before it can wash itself clean of such intrusions, then take solace in being really good at your job. Get outside the pecking-order game, and take your satisfaction from doing your work well because it is work worth doing well. Because it is.
Either way, just remember that the most important thing is to rise above. Being mired in the shit is their game, and it’s a game nobody wins. So don’t play.