**This is a work of nonfiction based on actual events that I have experienced firsthand; used with permission.
Oh, the things people say.
The things customers have said to me over the course of my time working in the food service industry when I was a younger woman have been interesting, to say the least.
When I worked as a barista in Key West, Florida, and then later as a waitress at a local diner, I definitely got my fair share of bizarre and inappropriate comments.
However, one day, while serving a customer their Cuban coffee, which is a popular, specialty coffee in that part of Florida, I was told something that I literally did not know how to react to.
The male customer said to me, "Stick your finger in it, it'll make it sweeter."
At the time, those words felt gross. They were ‘cringy’ before ‘cringy’ was a thing. I tentatively smiled and tried to ignore those words. This was a customer. And the customer is always right. Right?
Ignoring and not hearing isn’t the same thing. I definitely heard the words being said to me. I just tried not to react in the way my instincts told me to react — which was to give the person supplying those words a good piece of my mind.
From comments about my body and my weight to inquiries about my love life, the siege of inappropriate verbiage from random customers — both male and female — was almost relentless as a young woman moving through the world of food and customer service.
Dealing with the public can be brutal. Absolutely brutal. Especially if you’re a food server or work in any kind of customer service capacity.
When you’re a young female trying to make ends meet, it can be difficult to feel like you’re in control in any sense of the word when your livlihood feels like it depends on ignoring rude comments from paying customers.
It can be a struggle to even think about speaking up when a customer says something you know feels wrong but you’re too afraid to say something out loud. It doesn't always feel comfortable to address it.
Sometimes, we’re just trying to survive with our heads barely above water. Life goes on whether we call out rude people and their inappropriate words or not.
There are times when you should say something but you don't out of fear or awkwardness.
Flash-forward 20 years. I no longer have to rely on a paycheck from a job with random customers who think it's okay to make inappropriate remarks just because I'm their food server or barista.
Now I can see the folly of my ways in ignoring the comments — but I can understand why I let them go at the time.
Having a paying customer tell me to stick my finger in his coffee never felt right. It was gross. However, in the end, it taught me that some people simply don't know how to behave appropriately, especially to the people who work in the food service industry and that it should be okay to speak up to a customer when they display that kind of behavior.
Lesson learned. And don’t put your finger in anyone's coffee.