I’m sure anyone who has worked in hospitality could name countless incidences of rude customers, complaints, strange requests and funny characters. As someone who has worked cafe jobs in my busy, touristy hometown for almost 4 years now, I too have my fair share of stories.
This abundance of stories made it hard for me to pin point just one instance to reflect on, but upon listening to the similar experiences of others in my BCM313 tutorials, two similar events really stood out to me.
After making money through babysitting for most of high-school, I was offered a trial shift at a cafe at the start of Year 11 and decided to give it a go. I was extremely nervous in my first few shifts but slowly got the hang of it and before I knew it, I had perfected my “customer service voice” and mastered plastering on that fake smile to get through the busy weekends.
I was only a couple weeks into the job when one Sunday we ended up very short staffed. There were just 3 of us running the floor and preparing food and drinks. I began to feel very overwhelmed early in the shift but tried to remain focused and calm. There was a long wait time on orders and customers were getting impatient.
One group in particular had taken up multiple tables in the cafe and had waited around 20 minutes when I arrived at their table with the first lot of coffees. I was greeted with a loud round of applause and dramatic comments which attracted the attention of the whole cafe. As an insecure 16-year-old girl, this really hurt me, but as a stubborn 16-year-old girl, I was determined to keep my fake smile on and power through the rest of the day. When I got home later I was very upset at how I had been treated and I had wished I was able to stand up for myself.
A few years later, in June 2020 to be precise, I dealt with a similar situation on one of my first shifts back from the COVID-19 lockdown. A large group of people had ordered takeaway coffees and were notified it would be a 15-20 minute wait due to how busy the cafe was. When their order was ready I announced it through the takeaway window. I was met with loud clapping and rude comments that once again brought unwanted attention from tables and other people waiting for their orders. This time, even as a more secure 19-year-old girl, I was affected by this, but I kept my fake smile on and then later, was able to laugh about it with my co-workers.
Looking back on the similarities between these two situations I was really frustrated. I wished I was able to stand up for myself, as I would have if it wasn’t in an environment where I was expected and paid to remain calm and professional.
The work of the late Australian social worker, Michael White, on the ‘absent but implicit’ highlights why myself, and others in related circumstances feel this frustration. The absent but implicit can be explained “as the idea that we make meaning of any experience by contrasting it with some other experience or set of experiences” (Freedman, 2012). The feeling of frustration is made possible through the beliefs, values and purposes we possess as individuals (White, 2003). It is completely against my own values to act in the way the customers I had served treated me. The lack of action I was able to take against their behaviour was also out of character for me typically which exacerbated my frustration.
Retelling these stories of disruption are important, and become a form of narrative therapy. Dominant stories in our lives not only affect the present but will also have implications for future actions (Morgan, 2000). It is therapeutic to reflect on these stories as we create our own meanings for them and in turn, learn lessons for the future. As Alice Morgan states in ‘What is Narrative Therapy?‘, “we are always negotiating and interpreting our experiences”. This is evident for myself as I have constantly reflected on the original and more recent incidences I experienced.
Learning about emotional labour in BCM313 in recent weeks has really opened my eyes to just how much hospitality workers have to “mask” when working and how draining this can be for an individual. Emotional labour is a term that was first introduced by American sociologist, Arlie Russell Hochschild in 1983 in ‘The Managed Heart’. Hochschild defined emotional labour as having to “induce or suppress feeling in order to sustain the outward countenance that produces the proper state of mind in others” (Hochschild, 1983).
This “outward countenance” includes features like a fake smile, customer service voice and proper posture. I’m sure in both of my situations the customers would’ve been shocked or uncomfortable if I were to actually react to their actions as it is expected of hospitality workers to maintain a composed appearance at all times. This is something I have always personally struggled with as I usually come home from a long shift more emotionally and mentally drained than physically due to “masking” through my shift.
Hochschild based a lot of her research of emotional labour on the work of flight attendants. Something I found really interesting was how some of the flight attendants studied were able to lessen the impacts of emotional labour by shifting their focus or changing their perspective on the situation they were facing (Williams, Singh, 2018).
On this topic, one of the flight attendants explained, “I try to remember that he’s drinking too much, he’s probably scared of flying, or I think to myself that he is like a little child….and when I see him that way, I don’t get mad that he is yelling at me” (Hochschild, 1983 (pg. 55)). I actually put this method to use on my most recent shift at work when dealing with an elderly woman who was speaking very rudely to me and it definitely helped me overcome the situation.
Hochschild, A. 1983. ‘The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling’. pg. 7. pg. 55. Accessed online: https://books.google.com.au/books?hl=en&lr=&id=whi61UWpoJ4C&oi=fnd&pg=PR9&dq=the+managed+heart&ots=A8AfdL30fr&sig=Wlq-P9Dp6OPMex0b3yvUMPiiUYU#v=onepage&q&f=false
Wilkinson, S. 2018. ‘Why was everyone talking about emotional labour in 2018?’. BBC. online article. Accessed online: https://www.bbc.co.uk/bbcthree/article/5ea9f140-f722-4214-bb57-8b84f9418a7e
Freedman, J. 2012. ‘Explorations of the absent but implicit’. pg. 2. The International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work. no. 4. Accessed online: https://dulwichcentre.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/Explorations-of-the-absent-but-implicit-by-Jill-Freedman.pdf
White, M. 2003. ‘Narrative practice and community assignments’.
International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work. no. 2 pg 17-55
Williams, C, Singh, S. 2018. ‘How to Minimise the Cost of Emotional Labour’. Hospitalitynet. opinion article. Accessed online: https://www.hospitalitynet.org/opinion/4088282.html
Morgan, A. 2000. ‘What is Narrative Therapy?’. Dulwich Centre. Accessed online: https://dulwichcentre.com.au/what-is-narrative-therapy/