About a year ago I was in a bar with a friend and a bunch of his friends, who were strangers to me. One of them immediately struck me as the kind of person I would not associate with voluntarily. He was nice enough to broadcast the fact that he was an an insufferable asshead by being incredibly rude to the bar staff.
If you're in any kind of social setting with someone who is a dick toward service industry employees, you may safely leap to the conclusion that this person is terrible. In every way. Without fail.
Let's call him Chad. Chad was the typical ex-fratboy in his late twenties, all spray tanner and tacky Ed Hardy shirts covering his now-ample gut. A few years out of some undoubtedly expensive MBA program, Chad carried himself like a Very Important Person. But he clearly wasn't one. The conversation (he loved talking about himself, naturally) indicated that he had some sort of low-level, demeaning job that he considered beneath him. His manner of speaking to the bartender and waitress was a combination of how you'd picture Mitt Romney speaking to his lawn maintenance workers and how Maxim magazine would recommend sizing up one's next rape victim. When the bartender suggested he knock it off, does anyone care to guess what Chad did next?
Yes, he loudly demanded to see "the manager."
He complained to this gentleman for several minutes about the staff's failure to meet his high personal standards, and the manager, clearly used to this sort of thing, politely mollified him with soothing words that made him feel important. He turned to our group, many of whom he did not even know, and said, "You see? That's how you get the kind of service you deserve."
Mind you, we're just in some hotel bar. This isn't the Waldorf-Astoria or Windsor Castle or any other place where one might expect, however unfairly, hand-and-foot service from staff. This was just a bar/restaurant with a bartender and a couple of servers who probably had day jobs and a hundred other things going on in their life of more significance than Chad's drink order.
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I've never worked in the service industry. I got a job doing janitorial work at the park district when I was 15 and skipped the McDonald's/Chili's/Fast Food rite of passage. Accordingly, I have no first hand experience with how awful people can be in that environment. Watching Chad was an important revelation for me. I saw him and understood immediately all of the stories I've heard from service industry employees over the years. I realized how many Chads there are in this country – self-styled Important people who aren't important at all. He's spent his whole life envisioning himself as one of the big shots, one of the people who hires and fires and takes orders from no one.
But now that he has entered the real world he's not hiring or firing anyone, and he takes orders from everyone. He's nobody and nothing.
The service industry becomes the outlet for his own frustration and impotence; here are some people he can boss around for a while. Here are some people who are beneath him, whom he expects to be kissing his ass. There certainly isn't anyone else doing it. He even gets to reward and punish them with a tip. It's almost like he's the boss! But not really at all. He's just a supreme d-bag basking in the momentary thrill of bossing someone around.
Every time I have been in a tipping situation since then I've thought about Chad. Putting up with people like that is worth at least 17%.