9 Cursed Food-Service Phrases To Banish From The English Language

Recoil in horror at the most hair-raising, nerve-wrenching utterances from either side of the counter.

Working in food service can be great. You get to cook tasty meals, feed hungry people, and watch as they and their appetites walk blessedly out of your life. It's a simple and uncomplicated process, almost as old as meat over flame.

But with the wrong mix of patrons or staff, a shift at the diner can be a deep-fried, teeth-grinding slice of pure hell. Sometimes a single phrase is all it takes to catapult your day from one extreme to the other; at other times, it's the cumulative weight of banal interactions that can topple your morale. Whatever the case, that pendulum can swing pretty quick.

But at the risk of inducing flashbacks and nightmares, we've assembled a list of the most egregious food-service phrases uttered by the worst of coworkers and customers alike. Avert your eyes, members of the hospitality industry. This is going to be brutal.

“Hiring Smiling Faces!”

Let's start with a typical slogan you'll often find in the front window at restaurants. Think about how reductive this is: To the manager or owner hanging this sign, the people behind the counter are nothing more than a set of glistening teeth. There's no empathy for the worker here, only the expectation that the worker show up and aim their disposable smile across the counter at the customer.

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I'm not saying that an employer needs to hold everyone's hand, or be ultra-sensitive to the whims of any difficult or unreliable employees. But when you're looking to bring in new hires, it's probably best to at least pretend that they're, you know, people.

“The customer is always right.”

Do I even have to elaborate? Anyone who's spent more than an hour in a service position knows this to be a glaring, festering falsehood.

As a customer, it's fair to expect employees to attempt to meet a reasonable request within the scope of your transaction. But once your demands push past the bounds of the person's (or business') ability to meet them with a reasonable amount of effort or speed, you've become the problem. Not only are you wasting the employee's time with your ultra-specific order (no, Starbucks doesn't need to open a whole new bottle of syrup for you because "You can tell when it comes from the bottom half"), but you're also inconveniencing the people in line behind you.

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“We’re a family here.”

I'm not sure when this bit of marketing jargon took hold, but it has spread like a plague through hiring departments. A multi-million-dollar business may advertise itself as a "family," but in practice, this is so universally untrue as to be insulting.

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Does a family require you to work unpaid overtime? Do your parents call at odd hours with urgent and unreasonable demands? Do your siblings slack off and blame you for their mistakes? And does your family expect you, no matter what you have going on in your life, to drop everything and show up with a ready and chipper attitude?

Actually, wait. That's starting to sound pretty accurate. I take it back—some workplaces are exactly like a family.

“I guess it must be free!”

"Hi, my name is Darren. I'm the funniest guy in the local chapter of the Benevolent Order of Muskrats. I wear golf shirts every day and take up two seats on the airport shuttle. My wife cringes every time I joke with a service worker. But what does she know? I'm hilarious."

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Seriously, though, every checkout clerk hears this probably once per shift, whenever an item fails to ring up properly. Do yourself a favor and keep this little gem to yourself.

“How late are you open?”

This is among the most terrifying things to hear a caller ask when you're deep in the throes of a closing shift. It puts your hackles up and wears on your nerves as the clock ticks toward the moment when you can douse the lights. There's generally a one-in-three chance that the person asking this question will show up in those final minutes. And there's a further likelihood that, despite the time between the question and its consequence, they still won't have decided on an order.

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“…And I want it made fresh!”

This one is a straight-up insult to the competency of you and your fellows. If you, the customer, find yourself parked before a menu board in the last three minutes before the drive-thru closes, know this: The folks inside have probably already turned of the grill, the fryer, or the slicer, and cleaned whatever tools you'll now force them to dirty. Oh, you'll get your food made fresh. But it'll be made with spite, not love.

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“If you’ve got time to lean, you’ve got time to clean. 

It's hard to even type that one out all the way without cringing. Now, sure, I've worked with plenty of folks who need a little motivation to keep themselves on task. But if you notice they have a little extra time and there's something begging to be cleaned, just point them in the direction of the task, rather than outright condemn a worker's momentary pause. This one is condescension, pure and simple.

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“Are we having fun yet?”

Shut. Up. I don't know where this trite bit of wasted air came from, but if I could break the laws of physics, I'd go back and scrub it from the timeline.

What is even the proper response to this inquiry? And what exactly about my facial expression made the customer comfortable enough to ask me this mindless question? I would rather have been insulted; at least then I'd have a good excuse when the HR goblin rolls around to ask why I heaved potato salad across the counter.

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But customers aren't the only guilty party here. There are legions of half-conscious coworkers that treat this question as regular banter. Seriously, I'm asking: Why?

“Fuck it.”

Look, I get it. Sometimes, service workers are asked to perform tasks above and beyond their pay grade. I have vivid memories of being forced to boil out a trio of deep fryers, without the luxury of proper training or safety equipment.

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So as a minimum-wage employee, sometimes it's okay to say "Fuck it." If you don't set some boundaries, there's a decent chance you'll get stepped on. But when it comes to the tasks that were outlined in your job description, we can all at least make an effort. When your lax approach shifts your burdens to your coworkers, then the problem doesn't lie solely with the employer. It's you.

This instance, and all of the phrases above, can be avoided by showing a little empathy. Life is not a video game, and the individual across the register isn't an NPC. Be kind, show some respect for their personhood, and don't be a jerk. Whether you're buying or selling, it'll make all of our lives so much easier.

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