I arrived at Bangalore airport covered in sweat and carrying a semi torn bag. It had been an extremely muggy summer day, and I spent quite some time outside to get Uber to the airport- one cancellation after another, you know the drill. The long ride through Bangalore traffic snarls was exhausting, and the cab’s AC was not working either.
I arrived at the airport early enough to catch some breath and get a cup of tea, before I queued up to enter the departures lounge for my flight back to Kochi. So I found a seat in the first cafe I saw, and collapsed on the chair, perspiring. A waiter swiftly came to me with a menu, stared at me for a few seconds, looking how dishevelled I was, looked at my semi torn baggage, and handed me the menu with a look of concern. I ordered an expensive cup of Earl Grey- you know how airport prices are! He hesitated a little bit while taking down the order, and then pointed me to the price and gave me a quizzical look, as if to ask “are you sure”? I confirmed the order, which seemed to confuse him even more. Soon tea was served, without the complimentary biscuit that I saw others ordering tea or coffee getting with their plate. Now I am not really that much into biscuits, but as a trained ethnographer, I could clearly see what was going on! Before I could finish the tea, the waiter brought me the bill, as if in a hurry. I glanced around to find that I was not holding anyone up and there were plenty of empty chairs. So this must be because he had suspected that I couldn’t afford the tea, and would run away without paying. I told the waiter that I will pay in a bit, after I had finished my tea. While he moved away, I could see in my peripheral vision that he was keeping a strict watch on me. Now it started becoming uncomfortable. I could have spoken to the manager, but I didn’t expect her/him to understand. So I waved the waiter, paid and left. No, I did not tip, which I generally do.
Now, what is the point of me writing this here? The point is precisely this- there is a huge gap in providing proper customer service training in the service industry. I do not blame the waiter. If you are born and brought up in a heavily hierarchical society, and have experienced stereotypes play out all your life, you are bound to internalize them. I am sure if I just upped and left without paying, the waiter would have to pay my bill from his own pocket. If I complained to the manager, the waiter might lose his job or receive a pay cut- low paid customer service staff are often the expendables for companies. The problem is not with the waiter; it is with the training which does not focus on making customer service staff aware of their internalized biases, and how to work through it to treat each customer with equality and empathy. We need to rectify this. We need to be mindful of the tinted glass, and wipe it clean in customer facing roles. A customer is a customer. It doesn’t matter how they look, what they wear, which religion they follow & where they’re from. If they seek a service & pay for it, they deserve to get it.