Don’t forget, service workers are people too

‘Twasn’t the night before Christmas, it was somewhere in between. The holidays are a season, not really a day, at least that is so in the hospitality industry. And, of course, no mice were about, because that would be a health code violation. If one had to mention stockings, it might have been stockings that started this whole thing in the first place.

He was working as a server in a restaurant chain that no longer exists and the holidays were in full swing. Perhaps due to bad planning, or perhaps no planning at all, his girlfriend was pregnant. And not just pregnant, but overdue pregnant. It had been a difficult pregnancy and she had spent the last couple of weeks confined to her bed, per doctors’ orders.

But he wasn’t confined, in fact, just the opposite. He was working double shifts and long hours, because what he had perhaps lacked in original planning, he was more than making up for retroactively. He was clearly stressed. And not stressed in that healthy way, but stressed because he wasn’t sure what was going to happen. The literal fate of his fledgling family hung in the balance. And it might be the season of miracles, but sometimes people forget that.

“She is overdue,” I heard him tell our boss. “So, I might get a call at any minute. I might have to leave in a hurry.”

I will never forget our boss’ response. Never.

“We’ll see,” he had said.

Not “no problem” or “absolutely” or “do what you have to do” or “your family comes first” but rather, “we’ll see,” as if there was any moment ever in the restaurant business that would preclude someone from witnessing or attending the birth of their child.

“Where were you, Dad?” his kid would no doubt someday ask. Then Dad would say: “Oh, I’m sorry, I had a full section” or “Mr. Jones needed more coffee” or “Miss Honeywell needed another cosmopolitan,” as if any of that matters.

But take a look around in retail or in hospitality and you would think it really did matter. It’s crazy how quickly things become hostile. Season of giving? Often it becomes the season of taking. And sometimes the most taken from are the people tasked with the giving.

Do you have any idea how many times I have overheard someone telling a server, bartender, retail clerk or cashier that “they” ruined someone else’s holiday? Because, of course, being yelled at, scolded, castigated or cajoled while working on a holiday sure makes it special for the worker.

In the holiday equation, we always think of Santa or the reindeer — they get their carrots and milk and cookies — or the children, who receive the gifts. But, what about the elves? Aren’t they the ones slaving away to make it all work? And nobody ever asks: Are they getting enough to eat? Are they getting their breaks? Are they being taken care of financially? Service people are the elves of the real world.

And unlike elves, service people have real lives, too. And the holidays are unbelievably stressful for them, because the type A person with the ridiculously complicated holiday party is no piece of cake to work with nor are their friends. And that person who lacked foresight, well, guess who they are going to blame that all on?

“Am I supposed to eat standing up?” asks the person with no reservations.

“Where am I supposed to put this?” asks the person who ordered a drink while standing, with no regard for how that was going to work out once they got it.

“Am I just supposed to stand all night?” asks the person sitting their behind on someone else’s table.

And all of that is on top of whatever is going on in that service worker’s own life. Maybe they have to move? Maybe their parent is sick? Maybe the life of their significant other and unborn child are hanging in the balance?

You just don’t know.

So, when you encounter one of these people doing what they have to in order to make their lives work, just remember it’s no picnic for them either. It’s not just “your” holiday, it’s theirs, too. And they aren’t imaginary elves, they are real people.

Leaving me with these thoughts:

• The holidays are supposed to be about giving, not getting.

• Is there a union for elves? Asking for a friend.

• If you have to be reminded to be a decent human being, then you probably aren’t one in the first place.

• Twenty years from now, the only people who will remember that you worked on the holidays will be your family.

• My own daughter was born on my birthday, which falls smack dab in the middle of the holiday season. To date, that is still the best gift I have ever received.