Monday's column noted that employees are more likely to be polite and courteous in newly opened stores and restaurants than in older and busier establishments.
Most comment from readers has fallen into two categories. The first consists of those who say, "Our place isn't like that. We're just as anxious to please today as we were on the day we opened." Those in the second category say, "Let me tell you what it's like to serve the public."
Amy Whiting has been a waitress for about four years. She says waiters and waitresses are paid only 55 percent of the minimum wage and are supposed to get the remainder of their income from tips.
Amy says, many new employees start off with pleasant, helpful attitudes, but after a while they become "uncaring, irritated and depressed."
What causes the change? For one thing, customers who ignore the fact that waiters and waitress must depend on tips for their living.
Amy says it is very frustrating to be complimeted for good service by a party of people and at the end of the night be given a $1 tip. Not long ago, a friend of Amy's worked hard to serve a party of 20 that remained almost until closing time. She was complimented for her good service, but when the diners paid their check ($188), they did not leave one cent for the exhausted waitress. Amy says, "She had tears in her eyes when she told me about it."
I will admit that if I were a waiter who had just been stiffed by a party of 20, my next customer might find me something less than a paragon of courtesy and attentiveness.
It is easy to be poor and happy, but not simultaneously.
Four department store clerks have also asked to be heard. Of the two best letters, one was from a woman who wants her name withheld and the other was from a woman who gave no name and explained, "I trust you, Mr. Gold, but inasmuch as stores are big advertisers, they are able to find out just about anything they want to."
This miffs me a little because at The Washington Post we pride ourselves on keeping our news and business departments absolutely independent of each other. When I use information or comment tendered to me on a confidential basis, I do not reveal the identity of the source to anybody, not even my wife.
The first letter says, "I will admit that clerks sometimes act snippy, give poor service, etc. But there is no basis for implying that such conduct is widespread.
"Most department store clerks like their work. We try to help customers, and although we take an incredible amount of abuse from some of them, the old pros among us learn to roll with the punches. We don't make much money, but we are very good at what we do and we keep cool except under extreme provocation."
The second letter said, "Department store clerks are faced with conditions that make the work less than pleasant. Some transmit their unhappiness to their customers.
"We are required to hang our coats in lockers that are situated in dirty, roach-infested areas. Because brown-bag lunches left in the refrigerater are stolen, we must leave our lunches in those same lockers.
"Our purses are inspected by security people as we leave the store. I know that employee theft is a major problem, but it is humiliating to undergo this kind of scrutiny from a security force that is rude and patronizing and regards all of us as thieves.
"Management is in dire need of lessons in employee relations. Supervisors and their assistants are under such pressures that they literally yell and scream at salespeople, and do not have time to discuss schedule changes with them. They just post the changes. For enduring these working conditions we will (starting Feb. 1), be raised to between $4.35 to $4.75 an hour, depending on our grade. We are paid for a maximum of 37 1/2 hours a week. If we work longer, we are subtly requested to fake our time sheets. In spite of all this, most of us like our jobs and like to give courteous service. If some of us at times fail to do that, I hope you will understand why."
Yes, I have understood from the outset. Sometimes you blow off steam because you're human. We're all guilty of doing that occasionally.
But my point is that business people can't afford to send a customer away unhappy. Their competitor across the street has learned to smile and be polite even when there is smoke coming out of his ears.