There is a signature look that one gets from the employees of a certain establishments where morale is low. The first part of that look is that it is a look at all. In general, as a customer, I am grateful to to be acknowledged and left alone. In this dynamic, I’m one of a faceless blur. A healthy company’s employees treat me as if I were special, but they do this as a rule, to every customer. It’s when I sense that I’m being looked at by an employee as an individual that I get uncomfortable.
Despite everything corporations say about treating every customer as if he/she were the only one, endowing a customer with the kind of individuality that I’m talking about, that is, treating a customer as a human, belies an imbalance in the viewer. There is something lacking in an employee who sees a customer not as a customer but as a person that makes them bigger than they ought to be. They are discontent, and it manifests itself in various ways: resentment and lust being the two popular ones.
That I am seen at all is disquieting. Then there is the matter of the sentiment of the gaze.
It is not so much what is in the look, but what is lacking from it. There is no sense that we are sharing in a symbiotic relationship of consumer and provider. Rather, it is a look from across a divide, it is an “us vs. them” look. It is a look that leaks wariness. I saw that look tonight at Frita Batidos when we walked in. Again as we left and two employees trained their eyes on the mess our children had made underneath our table.
And then there was the employee who rolled her eyes at the customer in front of me as he walked away. As a rule, eye-rolling at customers is not good for business. If I see you roll eyes at another customer, I can only assume you’ll roll your eyes at me when I turn my back.
This look, it is the result of bad management. There is only ever one explanation for discontented employees, and that is a management style that alienates and demoralizes.
There are two other examples that come to mind of local businesses suffering from poor management: Plum Market, which I have always understood to be a place where unhappy people with disposable income go to shop. The now-defunct Merchant of Vino is another one from a few years ago. Merchant was coincidentally run then by the same founders as Plum. I shudder still when I remember the frequency of the tensely surreptitious looks from the produce stockers when you walked in the door. The Beckettian I can’t look, I must look conflict of a person at odds with their own discontent. They were horribly ashamed to be so pathetically bored.
It is offputting to be made aware that you have that power as a customer. I tend not to want to go back.
I can’t go back. I must go back (because I always convince myself that this time… this time it’ll be different).