Steven Slater: Avenging Service Hero

“It seems like something here has resonated with a few people. And that’s kinda neat.” —Steven Slater

Steven Slater exits aircraft
From FreeStevenSlater.com

There are monsters among us.

Every day we witness bitter, demanding, resentful trolls—so mired in their own misery—release their dyspeptic nature on innocent bystanders. They shop at our grocery stores and work out at the local gym. They are passengers on flights and sit at neighboring tables at restaurants. They drive the cars you avoid on the highway.

Woe to any who come near these intrinsically bitter people. To witness their pain is to feel it. They dish out their misery with abandon.

These male and female malcontents attack with a simple dispatch of a dehumanizing remark, an acerbic demand, or snippy comment. Their unhappiness is so vast, simple interactions become an emotional sinkhole that can pull unsuspecting victims—the passer by, cab driver, nanny, waiter, coffee shop barista, or flight attendant—into their wicked depths.

As someone who has worked in restaurants for decades, I can tell you from experience that the service industry gets more than its fair share of monster customers. Angry devils dressed as customers step through the door of restaurants, hotels, department stores and retail outlets every day. They bring their anger and their blood-thirst with them as they demand all sorts of things no normal person would ask for*.

Often, these malevolent beasts go without rival. Anyone in the service profession is required to be accommodating, no matter how difficult and unreasonable the customer. We silently take the venomous attack and hope for the ugliness to pass. What else can we do?

Yesterday, a Jet Blue employee offered another kind of solution to the “customer is always right” paradigm. In a controversial–and widely celebrated move–flight attendant Steven Slater snapped after being sworn at by an aggressive customer obsessed with overhead baggage space. He took his I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore thoughts to the loud speaker, told off the offending customer, inflated the airplane’s emergency escape slide, popped open a beer, and slid off the plane. He drove away, only to be arrested later.

Service Avenger

In what could have been a small, personal triumph for one overworked flight attendant has become a kind of battle cry for thousands of people across the country. In  just a few days, Steven Slater has accrued more than twenty thousand Facebook fans,  a website in support, a legal defense fund, and a handful of folk tunes have been penned to extol his actions.

*Warning: This video does contain some questionable language.

Steven Slater is an avenging folk hero for the service industry. Many of us day-to-day working folk can’t help but cheer him on. Slater has given voice to our internal monologue complete with a public tell off, an emergency slide, and a celebebratory beer.

Service Folklore

We in the service industry often swap stories of lone figures we knew who stood up to brutality in one final, last-day-on-the-job stand. We share these stories over beers at the bar after an especially long day of work. These stories cheer us up and let us know that if it ever really gets bad, there’s always One Last Stand we can take.

There’s the story of the girl who walked off the job on the busiest shift of the year just to make the boss pay for all the months of abuse he dolled out. Or the guy that ordered a cab to arrive at the bar just in time for him to hang his apron on his bosses shoulder so he could walk out of his good-for-nothing-job and make a fast get away. I knew a co-worker who tossed his apron after getting sat the same group of regulars that frequently came in. They were known for buying not much more than a side of fries and then would demand baskets of free bread and butter, piles of sliced lemons so they could make their own–free!–lemonade, stay for hours, and left pennies for a tip. “To Hell with THIS!” he yelled as he crumpled up his apron and threw it on the table of the no-tipping customers. The customers were so shocked and embarrassed by the scene, they stumbled out of the restaurant never came back again.

Everyone has an “I’m mad as hell and I can’t take it any more” story we keep in our back pocket for a dark days.

Do you have any great stories about standing up to emotional bullying you’d care to share?

*I have witnessed customers demand: a free meal because the special they liked so much wasn’t on the menu any more, a discounted meal because a woman at the next table was wearing too much perfume, a discount because their dessert was served while someone stepped away from the table to use the bathroom, a full refund because they found a hair (theirs) in their dish.

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Brooke Burton nominated for best food writing

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Food Woolf Written by:

Brooke Burton is an Los Angeles-based restaurant professional and hospitality expert. She is a freelance food writer, speaker, and co-author of The Food Blog Code of Ethics.

3 Comments

  1. i LOVE this post because it’s so true. it’s disgusting how many people want others to feel miserable with them and so they have that infectious attitude of misery and anger. ick! i am not friends with any of the “trolls” you described, thank goodness!

  2. Moe
    August 13
    Reply

    Once upon a time, I worked the overnight shift at a famous deli, infamous the most outlandish abuse I’ve ever witnessed or experienced by management or clientele – and, for drive by shootings. Aside from the district manager who pocketed server tips from private events and happened to be a walking sexual harassment lawsuit, there were guests who projectile vomited in the dining room, countless others who walked out on their bill (I used to have to chase them across the street with security), and still others who hurled racist and homophobic rants at their servers when their grilled cheese took more than 5 minutes to prepare. It is still the only place I’ve ever worked that had to be evacuated by the sheriff’s department – with shotguns – in the middle of a shift.

    One day, I was working what should have been the more merciful brunch shift, where the guests threw well toasted bagels at their servers’ heads rather than threaten their lives with deadly force. I was running a full 8 to 12 table section, and my patrons ranged from hung over and cranky, to generally miserable to be alive. Maybe it was that last 8% tip left in small change, or the way that last guest asked why their well done steak and modified-three-hundred-times-egg-dish-surprise was taking so long, but something inside me finally snapped.

    I remember walking into the dining room, calmly, with an arm full of dishes that I was careful to put, rather than throw down in a waiting bus tray. I then let out a sound. No expletives, no rants. Just, a sound.

    When I looked up, the entire place had stopped. Everyone sort of stared, and I imagined them all thinking “how did that come out of 150 pounds of you?”. For a brief moment, I thought things might change for the better, at least for that one shift. Maybe this moment would inspire compassion and show the people in the place that we, their servers and bussers and food runners, were human beings with actual feelings. I worried, nay hoped, that my outburst might cost me my job. I imagined taking my apron off right then and there and tossing it to the ground while waving Saturn fingers at the manager and telling table 42 where to stuff their fresh ground pepper and filtered room- temperature water.

    But nothing happened. Brunch conversations picked up where they left off, I picked up the well done steak and modified eggs from the kitchen, and then the 10% tip they left in quarters, nickels, and pennies and deposited it into a therapy fund.

  3. August 15
    Reply

    oh do we have stories. Between the both of us, we have over 40 years (20 each) of combined service horror stories. Of course, there are great moments that highlight the good in the human race, then there are the others that deserve to be in the douche-bag hall of fame.
    Thank you for this post and thank you for Steven Slater for not hurting anyone during his moment of “going postal”. Bravo for safe blow ups!

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