Your Order with a Side of Stress

Guest Writer, Natasha Mayer 

Imagine this – it’s a Friday night. You decide to grab a bite to eat at a nearby restaurant with your significant other for a relaxing start to your weekend. But, your entire night consists of long waits for your drinks, for your food, and for your bill. Every time you want to get your servers attention, they are out of sight. Even when you finally get their attention, your interactions are impersonal and rushed. 

We’ve all been there, an enjoyable night out tampered by poor service. 

On the other hand, we’ve heard that being a restaurant server can be stressful, but really, what’s so hard about it? 

I’ve played the character on both sides of this story. Now, let me introduce you to sthe servers point of view. 

Long ago, Theorell and his colleagues (1988) observed a high level of job strain recorded by waiters who “experienced the highest levels of job demand while also occupying a low position on the decision latitude scale.” A high level of customers, each pertaining their own set of demands and needs within a distinct timeline, is shown to be quite stressful for servers when they lack the authority to make decisions on the restaurant’s method of operation. 

The service industry involves a high level of social interaction with clients, often expecting servers to work under high degrees of pressure but needing to appear as though they are not, to obtain desired outcomes for the success of the restaurant. Grandey, Fisk and Steiner (2005) noticed that when employees have a reduced sense of job autonomy, there is an increase in job dissatisfaction and job-related emotional burnout. 

Worse yet, there is something called customer status elevation, which has been normalized in the customer service industry. A slogan such as “the customer is always right” is an example of the expected demands of workers in regard to clients. Although, customers are entitled to a degree of quality of service, some situations exceed appropriate service expectations and can lead to entitlement. 

A sense of entitlement in certain customers leads to negative behaviours towards service workers such as aggression, contention and hostility. 

Fisk and Neville (2011) studied the effects of customer entitlement on the customer service workers’ well-being. They had concluded that customer entitlement increased psychological negative well being in workers with negative feelings, such as stress, inefficacy, as well as decreased confidence and personal accomplishment. 

It is clear that customer entitlement can be a chronic source of physiological arousal and strain, leading to a work-related burnout for servers. 

What can be done? 

When confronted by entitled customers, Fisk and Neville (2011) dictated a frequent series of behaviours adopted by the servers in hopes to reduce the negative outcome experienced. These behaviours included retaliations, attempts to change customer behaviour, revenge, and seeking management support. Most often, these techniques were unsuccessful in reducing their own psychological and physiological stress and failed to counter the general restaurant organization policies surrounding customer satisfaction. 

Bowman and Stern (1995) suggested that if impossible to escape the situation, external problem solving such as asking for support from co-workers, prioritizing tasks, setting boundaries to create realistic expectations and outcomes throughout the shift, have all shown to be beneficial to the servers well being. 

Although external control in a fast-pace restaurant environment may not always be feasible, adhering to internal coping strategies may be the most beneficial strategy to aid in coping with entitled customers, as well as a valuable tool for numerous daily trials. 

This leads to the study of Cha, Cichy and Kim (2009) who studied the effects of emotional intelligence on social skills and stress management in the service industry. Emotional intelligence (EI) is generally defined as “the ability to perceive accurately, appraise, and express emotions; the ability to access and/or generate feelings when they facilitate thought; the ability to understand emotion and emotional knowledge; and the ability to regulate emotions to promote emotional and intellectual growth” (Mayer & Solevey, 1997). 

The authors concluded that individual’s effectively utilizing emotional intelligence indicated a higher outcome for personal and organizational success. 

Individuals with the ability to recognize emotional patterns in themselves and others increased positive outcomes in social situations, in addition to the effective management of their own stress. 

This intelligence in return can aid in managing conflict and influence behaviours of difficult and/or entitled customers, deemed to be beneficial in the serving industry. 

In controversial belief, the greatest tip any waiter or waitress can receive is not money, but rather the gift of emotional intelligence. 


Bowman, G. D., & Stern, M. (1995). Adjustment to occupational stress: The relationship of perceived control to effectiveness of coping strategies. Journal of counseling psychology, 42(3), 294. 

Cha, J., Cichy, R. F., & Kim, S. H. (2008). The contribution of emotional intelligence to social skills and stress management skills among automated foodservice industry executives. Journal of Human Resources in Hospitality & Tourism, 8(1), 15-31. 

Fisk, G. M., & Neville, L. B. (2011). Effects of customer entitlement on service workers’ physical and psychological well-being: A study of waitstaff employees. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 16(4), 391–405. 

Grandey, A. A., Fisk, G. M., & Steiner, D. D. (2005). Must “Service With a Smile” Be Stressful? The Moderating Role of Personal Control for American and French Employees. Journal of Applied Psychology, 90(5), 893-904. 

Mayer, J., & Salovey, P. (1997). What is emotional intelligence? Emotional development and emotional intelligence: Educational implications (pp. 3–34). New York: Basic Books. 

Theorell, T., Perski, A., Akerstedt, T., Sigala, F., Ahlberg-Hulten, G., Svensson, J., & Eneroth, P. (1988). Changes in Job Strain in Relation to Changes on Physiological State: A longitudinal Study. Scand J Work Environ Health, 14, 189-196

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