Opinion — Be extra kind to service industry workers this holiday season

Andie Balenger

The holiday season is a busy time for everyone, but those working in the service industry are set to be working triple time this year.

According to the National Retail Federation, sales within November and December are predicted to grow up to 8% when compared to those same months in 2021. Considering that last year currently holds the record for retail sales in the United States, which totaled over $889 billion, service industry workers are set to endure another year of shopping and dining madness.

We have already witnessed the increased demand for goods by consumers over the recent Black Friday weekend. Nearly 200 million shoppers hit the stores and spent, on average, $325 each. Not only did more shoppers turnout this year, but the amount of money being spent by each increased as well. 

However, heightened demand is not the only problem facing these workers.

After spending the past two years in a pandemic, coupled with near-record inflation, members of the service industry have been doing their best to keep up with demand and create an enjoyable experience for consumers despite lockdowns, government restrictions and supply chain shortages. 

The industry’s ability to hire and retain employees has been exacerbated in the last two years as well. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in October 2022 the job opening rate for the leisure and hospitality industry was 9.2. This rate beats the next closest industry, education and health services, by nearly an entire point.

As a consumer, it is important to know that these statistics have consequences that will affect your shopping or dining experience. Due to high turnover and limited workers, you may experience increased wait times as new employees learn the ins and outs of the establishment. Additionally, there may be limited options when it comes to restaurant menus or store inventory this holiday season. 

But considering this is the season of gratitude and kindness, let us put our insignificant frustrations aside and consider the sacrifices being made by workers in the industry. 

For places that are short-staffed, workers have been picking up extra hours by covering for those who are ill. This has led to increased levels of exhaustion and cumbersome workloads. For instance, in the food industry, servers and hostesses are putting in anywhere from 20 to 40 hours a week — spending 8 to 10 hours a day on their feet. This is not to mention restaurant managers or chefs, who typically work 50-60 hours a week in a hot kitchen.

As someone with experience in the food industry, I promise you that all employees in these types of establishments want to provide you with an enjoyable experience. To be frank, their livelihood depends on it. So, be kind when there is an error with your order. The employee would love the opportunity to make things right if you are courteous enough to ask so politely.

It is essential to note the demographic of workers in the service industry, both food and retail, as well. Many of the workers fall between the ages of 16 and 24, which means this may be the first job for many of them. Being new to a job can be extremely stressful, which allows mistakes to occur much more frequently.

These young workers are also likely to be attending some form of schooling as well. So, on top of working 20 to 40 hours a week, they are also balancing the demands of school and home life. 

Remember, those working in the service industry are, in fact, humans. They are not well-oiled machines designed to operate on your command, although they will put forth their best effort to meet that expectation.

To put this all into perspective, I became a manager at a local chain restaurant when I was just 18 years old. I got promoted to the position at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and had yet to graduate high school. I was in charge of running an entire store, which included handling inventory and being “the boss” of people who were much older than me. 

I was also tasked with handling customer complaints. While I choose not to elaborate further, I had to learn real quick how to develop thick skin.

So, while you should always be kind to those in the service industry, show a little extra care during this time of year. Be grateful that you have someone preparing, cooking and bringing food to your table — plus washing your dishes. Remember that employees at retail stores are doing their best to stock shelves, scan items and answer your questions. 

A bit of kindness goes a long way.