Many of the young people growing up in middle to lower-class families have been putting in extra hours while they can during the summer. Some stock shelves. Others staff a cash register at the counter or drive-up window.
They put in their time so they can afford that ticket to a movie, that tank of gas for a road trip or shoes that exceed the annual back-to-school budget.
Routines change when the school year arrives. Restaurants shorten their hours as the chill of fall sets in. Managers start tweaking the schedule as sophomores enter the workforce. At the same time 18 and 19-year-olds put in their two weeks' notice as they leave for college or a better-paying job outside of the service industry.
Point is, we're all going to be dealing with some newbies as we put in that food order over the next few weeks.
I've scrubbed grills and swapped out the oil in fryers -- notice I didn't say "grease" because, as I was taught, oil isn't "grease" until it hits the floor.
I've emptied garbage cans, counted back change, wiped tables and washed dishes. I've placed inventory orders and rolled out buttermilk biscuits from scratch.
I did all of those things because Mom and Dad weren't an ATM. If I wanted a ride on the pep bus to Friday night's road football game, I was going to have to pay for it myself. I got to pick out a lot of dinners in my house because I came along to the grocery store and helped pay for it.
So, I understand the catch-22 our teenagers face. They have to work shifts so they can afford a night on the town, yet they can't go out on the town because they have a shift to work. When do kids want time off? Weekends. When are their employers going to need them the most? Yep.
These teenagers experience all kinds of people and take all kinds of abuse at minimum wage. I could, and still can, tell the difference between the customers who worked a counter in their journeys to adulthood and those who didn't. The older ones have no tolerance for a delay in their food order. Their kids are the teenagers who throw food or leave a mess behind on the table as they walk out the door.
Customers, give the kids a break when you see them putting in the effort -- even if the experience isn't flawless.
But, young teenager (and the managers who are supposed to be training them) you have to live up to your end of the bargain, too.
Rule No. 1: If you're not happy, at least fake it for me as a customer. It will get you a promotion or a good reference down the road.
Rule No. 2: No "sirs" or "ma'ams" at the drive-thru menu board. Voices are a funny thing and as your customer comes around the corner you might learn that you guessed wrong. That applies to a customer's phone calls, too. All high-pitched guys and deep-voiced women will thank you.
Rule No. 3: And this is big. "Here you go" (or worse, dangling a bag or pushing a tray forward in silence) doesn't fly with me at the conclusion of an order. My money helps keep your business open and your hours intact. I'm also choosing you over someone else, so "thank you" is fine. "Have a nice day" works too. "Here you go" is like fingernails to a chalkboard -- managers, nip this one in the bud. It's epidemic. Seriously, you might as well throw in a "now, get out of my face" to the end of that one. It drives me nuts.
Rule No. 4: If the wait has been especially long, acknowledge it. Believe it or not, when someone tells me "I'm really sorry, I know you've been waiting a long time" the experience, within limits, becomes more positive than a visit with more timely service.
Rule No. 5: Make it right. If you put onions on my cheeseburger, I'll grumble, pick them off and deal with that aftertaste. But, if you forget my cheeseburger altogether, I'll have to come back. When I do, don't just give me the cheeseburger. I've already paid for that. Find a cookie or a freebie coupon to acknowledge my inconvenience and give me a reason to return. (And yes, I'll try to do my part by checking the order before I leave the parking lot.)
If we're counting on one hand, we've reached the thumb haven't we? Teenagers, you're going through that annual adjustment and we're pulling for you because of your ability to grow -- no matter what job gets you through your formative years.
Now, if only we could fix some of the rude adults we've encountered along the way ...