A Disney Holiday; or, What We Can Learn From the Mouse

I recently got to do something I had never before (and probably never will again) experienced: Walt Disney World during the holiday season. Having done that, finally, I can safely say that I will never do that again. This isn’t because I had a terrible time. Quite the opposite, in fact. WDW will always have a special place in my heart, and I don’t know if anything could ever change that.

And I will return. There is too much to love about WDW to never walk its grounds again. The next time I do return, however, will be during a much less busy time of year. I have never seen such ridiculous crowds. It was truly remarkable.

There was one plus to being stuck in such seas of humanity: Seeing customer service at its finest levels during the most trying of times, a sight that I would describe as inspiring.

Similarly to how Disneyland is referred to as “the happiest place on Earth,” WDW is dubbed along the same lines as “the most magical place on Earth.” The greatest threat to destroying that magical experience is allowing your patience to be eroded, a common issue among customers.

And I saw it at WDW in spades. We had lunch at a restaurant in Liberty Square at the Magic Kingdom, just outside of the Haunted Mansion, and the line was, literally, out the door. Hunger and long lines are a perfect recipe for customer grumpiness. And when that is combined with the fact that EVERYTHING has a line, that grumpiness will continue unabated.

That’s the thing that customers either fail or refuse to understand: This is the busiest time of the year, for not just theme parks, but for all walks of the service industry, from delivery companies to retail establishments. It’s just that time of the year when the demand for these services explodes, and a little understanding into that fact will go a long way toward improving your experience as a customer. Prepare yourself for the wait, and allow yourself to be pleasantly surprised if there isn’t one.

But what can the service industry worker do to not only make things more pleasant for the customer but also survivable for themselves? Look to the Disney Cast Members.

First thing, keep a level head. Find some way to remind yourself that you can only control so much of a given situation. When you service tens of thousands of people a day, stress is going to come into play. Yet, they are among the most friendly, accommodating, and helpful people you’d ever hope to find. Finding some place of peace will aid in that.

Here’s the caveat: I know this is going to be the most difficult thing to do, since customers will not make that easy. A customer who feels he has been wronged or merely inconvenienced can be the most vile, inhuman creature on the planet, and having to deal with them in that situation is miserable. So, while not impossible, it will be incredibly difficult.Secondly, be as friendly as you can be. I know many of these customers will not deserve your kindness, but sometimes all you can do is grin and bear it. Now, I’m not telling you to just be a doormat for them. All I’m saying is it’s illegal to slap them. I’d rather fake politeness to a jerk than spend a night in jail.

Thirdly, do what you can for them within the scope of your job (and what you think they deserve, without harm to your job). Again, I’m not saying to bend over backward for a customer who’s just being a jerk because they can. Just remember it’s illegal to hit them. And it’s good to have a job.

Whatever leeway your job affords you is valuable tool at your disposal to be used at your discretion. If someone needs directions, you can give it to them and it might mean the world to them. But if they ask you for something that you are, for whatever reason, unable to provide, don’t feel bad about it, even if they give you grief. That’s one thing my current job has taught me: You aren’t a fireman and it’s not your job to put out fires. If someone has a problem, I apologize and direct them to someone who can do something. Cast Members do the same thing.

My biggest takeaway from my trip was how to deal with the stress of volume. I can’t imagine what it’s like dealing with that many guests on a daily basis. But I know what it’s like dealing with twice the normal number of packages in the same window of time as normal, and you have to find a way to deal with it. You can’t control the volume of customers or items, but you can control how it affects you. Can it overwhelm you at times? Sure. It definitely has overwhelmed me before.

The key is finding a way to push through and keep forward momentum. My method is to bite off small chunks at a time, finish one neighborhood before worrying about another. Package by package, house by house, street my street. Forget about the whole stone, deal with the chips. That avalanche can bury you so easily if you allow it. Take breaks as often as you can and allow yourself to ability to process and refresh, or else you will crumble under the weight.

My other takeaway is blue milk is delicious.

Stay strong this holiday season, comrades!

-The Retail Explorer

Road Trip; or, Minneapolis or Bust

For those of you who don’t pay attention to U.S. college athletics, my alma mater, Texas Tech, played in its first ever Final Four in men’s basketball. If you need more info, here’s a bare-bones: Every year, the top 68 teams battle it out in the NCAA tournament through seven grueling rounds of competition, with the last four teams standing being referred to as the Final Four. Prior to last season, Texas Tech had only ever been to the Sweet Sixteen (one of the final sixteen teams left). Last season, we made it to the Elite Eight, before losing to eventual champion Villanova. This year, Texas Tech was picked to finish seventh in our conference. We not only won our conference, but we also made it to the Final Four. So, you could see how our excitement was intense. We decided that we may never see something like this again, and set sail for Minnesota, the site of the 2019 Final Four.

From our area, it ended up being about a fifteen-hour drive, broken up with a stop in Kansas City for the night. You may say, “omg that sounds torturous!” And you’d be right…partially. Oklahoma was quite lovely, really, as was Kansas. Missouri and Iowa, on the other hand, felt like they lasted about two to three times as long as they actually did. But Minnesota provided a nice respite.

Well, the Final Four didn’t turn out exactly as well as we’d hoped. Tech ended up finishing second in the nation after an emotional, hard-fought game. Not bad for a team considered an afterthought before the season began. I’m so incredibly proud of them.

As I write this, we’ve one leg of travel left to complete, from Kansas City to home, and I’m sure you’re wondering what the hell this has to do with anything retail. What’s the one thing you encounter more than anything on a long road trip?

Rest stops.

Let’s talk about rest stops. After having driven through six states, here’s my ranking: Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, and Iowa. Yes, I’m sure you’ll say I’m biased, but Texas’s rest stops are top-notch. Have you ever seen the rest stops on the state border? They’re borderline palatial, massive welcome centers surrounded by the six flags of Texas.

And then there’s Buc-ee’s. I’ve seen supermarkets smaller than Buc-ee’s. It pretty much is a department store with gas pumps and incredible bathrooms. They even sell, no joke, furniture there. Anything you want, they probably have it.

Beyond that, Oklahoma had fantastic gas stations. My favorite was OnCue. Expansive, clean, and stocked with every manner of drink and snack you can imagine. I found a fantastic lemonade there that I still haven’t found since I left Oklahoma. The staff was incredibly friendly as well. You’re doin’ fine, Oklahoma.

I don’t have an explanation for why Iowa’s ended up lacking. They were smaller, older stations usually, and I guess that’s the biggest difference. I’m not sure why this is the case. That’s just how I found it. I’m not going to go into much detail as to why or critique any of this any further. I just find the differences fascinating.

While I’ve enjoyed this trip across the country, I won’t be disappointed to leave some of this behind. The best parts have been the friendly people I’ve met along the way. The facilities, on the other hand, have been a mixed bag. I wish I could explain why. Perhaps some reflection will help provide some illumination. Until then, we’ll see you down the road, comrades! Next stop: Home!

-The Retail Explorer

Service Industry Racism; or, Put Down the Taco, and Piss Off

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Dear Customer can really be a racist bastard when given the chance. This is not news, sadly. It’s been this way for decades, exacerbated recently by the growth of the internet, the vast availability of camera technology, and the rhetoric of Donald Trump. I don’t like to get political on here, but much of this racism has been emboldened by him and those who have not only given him credence, but have embraced him as a champion. It began here, with a reality TV star announcing his candidacy for the highest political office by calling Mexican immigrants “rapists”.

And it’s only gotten worse from there. We’ve had a resurgence of white supremacy We’ve had a rise in anti-immigrant sentimentality and policy. Racism of all kinds has seen fresh breath and renewed vigor, and it’s incredibly disturbing.

It’s also incredibly baffling. In all of my attempts at understanding, I am still no closer to any clarity as to why anyone would spurn embracing other cultures. One thing is for certain, though: Racists are perfectly happy enjoying the fruits of immigration while simultaneously condemning the same immigration that allows those fruits to prosper here. I’m not focusing on racism out in the general public, though it’s not hard to find. (For further in-depth reading, I suggest checking out this article from the ADL. And that’s just about anti-immigration, not all racism.)

I’m not here today to provide a history lesson or an in-depth analysis of the immigration reform issues in our country or prove that racism still exists in this world (It’s already abundantly clear.); I’m here to say one thing to the racists of America: Shut. The fuck. Up.

Seriously, shut up. Check your racism and privilege at the door, or don’t walk through it. What I’m focusing on in this article is racism out in the service industry. I’ve seen, and posted about, two stories this year alone in which anti-Hispanic sentiment has been captured at a Mexican restaurant. And who knows how many other incidents have flown under the radar. My point is this: You can’t have it both ways. You can’t have the foods of foreign cultures and then get up and arms when you find out it’s been prepared by immigrants.

I’m not going to point out the obvious hypocrisy is here, that we’re all, aside from Native Americans, the products of immigration. It doesn’t matter how far back it goes. We’re all the children of immigrants. This goes without saying, so I’m moving on. I will, however, point out that this fact does not go unnoticed.

The majority of this anti-immigrant rhetoric in restaurants has been flung towards Hispanics, or really anyone speaking Spanish and not looking white enough. This is not exclusive, mind you, but the vast majority have been directed at the Latino community.

To anyone with a soul, it’s sickening, a disgusting reminder of the facts of living in Trump’s America, in which immigrants aren’t people; “[They] are animals”. And Dear Customer is more than happy to oblige in furthering this message. In each of these incidents, these racists hide behind the same tired phrases that play like a greatest hits album of contemporary American racism: “Show us your passports.”; “…speak English. Not Spanish.”; “Go back to your country.”; etc. Even politicians are facing backlash for enjoying immigrant cuisine while defending the restriction of immigration and promoting a culture of racism

In this electronic age, where everyone has a video camera on hand at any given time, a lot of racists are showing their true colors, and while many of them aren’t ashamed of being outspoken in their absurdist outrage, the rest of them choose the cowardly road: They leave a note (such as the one above). It’s the grandest hypocrisy of them all, and the one I highlight today: Allowing a culture’s food to be a part of America, while prohibiting that culture’s people from becoming a part of it as well.

https://www.eater.com/2016/8/21/12574342/waitress-anti-immigrant-racist-note-tip

Some go bolder, like spray painting their hateful messages on the edifices of businesses. Honestly, if you’re going to be a racist, at least be accountable enough to do it to the person’s face. Racists haven’t traditionally operated that way, though. Why else would the KKK wear hoods to hide their identity? The internet has allowed for this perceived anonymity to continue. The good news is though that racists seem to think that that electronic white hood seems to extend to every corner of the internet, including social media (including Facebook, which really doesn’t work the way racists think it does). The cloak themselves in their First Amendment right to freedom of speech. The only difference between KKK members of previous decades and contemporary racists is that those KKK members understood the distinction the First Amendment outlines: It is the prevention of government suppression of free speech, and has absolutely no protection from public and private sector retribution. While the government can do nothing against you for saying racist things, the public is only restricted in that respect by the laws set forth by the country, state, county, and city. They can fire you from your job and ostracize you from your community, and they knew that. Nowadays, racists just don’t get that, and we can all be thankful for that. It helps us to pick them out more easily and treat them like the scum that they are.

And it’s not just customers who can be racist. No, that pendulum swings both ways. Employees and owners can be racist, too, and the retribution is often just as swift. Just ask the owner of Asher Cafe and Lounge, who posted on Facebook, “We bring people from shithole countries because shithole Democrats need shithole votes so they can turn America into a shithole.” Or the owner of Holiday Club, who posted a controversial meme insinuating that the policy of separating children from parents at U.S. border crossings is justified since they are all just trying to come over illegally, and not asylum-seekers, as it has been contended. Or the owner of Taco Cid, who allowed these ridiculously racist shirts to not only be created but to be worn by employees. Or this McDonald’s employee, who decided to call a customer a “n*****”. Or the owner of Eddie’s Steak Shed, who’s now getting deported because of the policies of Trump, for whom his wife voted.

(It’s interesting that this highlights the big hole in Trump’s immigration logic: Most illegal immigrants aren’t getting in through illegal means, such as via an unsecured border; they’re getting in legally and overstaying their visas. It also shows the major downfall in the two-party system: You can’t pick-and-choose which policies to vote for in a candidate. You pick one candidate/party or the other and accept the full package. The economy was a bigger sticking point for this woman than the harsh, racist anti-immigration rhetoric and policy. I don’t know enough about political science to go too deeply into the debate of the two-party system, so I’m moving on.)

Illegal immigration is a very complex and sticky issue. While the majority of illegal immigrants are visa overstays, there are some that do cross borders illegally. Just ask the citizens of Dillon, Montana, where the only Mexican restaurant in town is run by a woman who entered the country illegally ten years ago and has since become a pillar of her community. Or the citizens of Galax, Virginia, where a population increase of Latinos has made the disparity between Trump’s racist claims and the reality of the people as bright as day. It’s not all sunshine and enlightenment, though, as racism is still an enormous problem that is still on the rise, as Univision documents here. With as many as eleven million undocumented aliens in the country, and fifty to seventy percent of laborers being among that population, QSR paints a picture of uncertainty for the restaurant industry going forward. “The National Restaurant Association estimates that nearly a quarter of all American restaurant workers are foreign-born,” the article states, and while some look at immigration reform optimistically, and with open arms, others are not as certain. Forbes makes the argument for immigration’s merits in the restaurant industry, as immigrant populations are an enormous support column for the agricultural industry, as well as restaurants and street vendors.

It’s a complex issue, and only time will tell which way it swings. The only thing we know for sure is that racism is an appalling blight upon our society, and must be stamped out. And while there are many people out there who voted for Trump, believing that immigration should be conducted via legal channels (Honestly, who doesn’t think that this is the way it should go?) and that he was the man to do it, it is impossible to not only separate the man from his words, but it is also impossible to separate yourself from his stance.

Beyond that, there are also people in his camp that believe that no immigrant, legal or otherwise, is a good immigrant. Those are the racist pricks who are fine benefiting from immigration while condemning the practice altogether. They’re a-ok with going into a Mexican restaurant, having a margarita and some enchiladas, only to degrade the staff when they find out that they might possibly an immigrant. Their hypocrisy is massive. They’re fine benefiting, so long as the veil of ignorance remains unfurled between them and they staff that caters to their needs. As long as they don’t know the person is foreign, then everything is fine. But once that veil is lifted, how dare they exist in this country and try to be productive members of this society!

You can’t have it both ways, racists. Either embrace the wonderful melting pot of American immigration and enjoy the fruits thereof, or leave the lasagna and ramen and pizza and tacos and go have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Oh, wait.

-The Retail Explorer