How do you handle dealing with customers who make you uncomfortable -- when you were hired to be friendly and available/approachable?
July 3, 2009 11:29 AM   Subscribe

How do you handle dealing with customers who make you uncomfortable -- when you were hired to be friendly and available/approachable . . . and maybe for your looks, too?

I was recently hired as a barista at a well-known chain of coffee shops. Although I grew up an ugly duckling, my looks now are unusual/striking (although I don't see it, I'm told I'm attractive, and I get some modeling work). My type is especially favored by the demographic of the neighborhood where I live and now work. (For comparison, imagine I'm a six-foot redheaded white girl working in a US city's Chinatown.) After I was hired, coworkers told me that the manager based his decision partially on my "rare" looks. It's been a long time since anyone got hired at this location, especially without any experience, and all applications are now being turned down, so obviously there was some reason an exception was made for me -- that could be true.

Baristas are also chosen to be especially friendly and sociable, which I did know. I didn't expect to have difficulty with that, since I'm a pretty friendly and welcoming person, but I also didn't realize what it would be like to work with the general public. Even in high school, I only had white-collar office jobs. I don't mind this job -- the duties are mostly interesting and the coworkers are a lot of fun. In this economy, I'm okay with scrubbing toilets. But I just don't have any experience with dealing with the general public face to face, so I don't know what to do.

There are a lot of men who treat me in a way I'm not comfortable with. No customers have made lewd, explicit comments the way some men do on the street, but I still feel uncomfortable with the way some male customers interact with me. I'm not sure I can complain, though, since this is basically what I was hired for, apparently. Tips have increased 125% since I started working full-time, so the manager and coworkers are all happy (all tips go into a communal pot, then at the end of the week it's divided equally based on hours worked). I'm the one who feels not so happy, awkward and unsure of myself. If I were okay with profiting off my looks at the expense of my comfort, I could be making a lot more money doing sex work, but I consciously decided against that.

There are some customers who just look too much at my body or who treat me differently/uncomfortably. But those encounters are brief (usually just seconds while ordering or while I make their coffee) so I can deal with those if I have to. Anyway, I don't think it would be realistic to try to stamp out things like "good morning, beautiful" or "my drink tastes better when it's made with your smile." I feel like those should be totally fine with me if I had the coping skills I should have learned as a young teenager, but I was very, very unattractive until I was 20. So I feel like that discomfort is my fault and something I should learn to ignore.

However, the biggest issue feels different, and even if I had grown up attractive, even if I knew how to handle myself, I think it would still be problematic. There are a few eccentric older men who have made this coffee shop their hangout spot. I'll choose one, "Gary," as an example. He's older, retired, and spends almost all day here (from late morning until we close at midnight). At least once per shift, he'll come up to me and strike up a long conversation. This is while I'm trying to do other things (sweep, restock, clean) -- but I can't use that as an excuse since my #1 job duty is to be welcoming and accessible. Gary has also started bringing me gifts, which was fine when it was little things like Lindt truffles, but over the course of two weeks, it's progressed to DVDs (of a 3-hour interview he wants me to watch so we can discuss). Apparently Gary has given little things to girls in the past, but coworkers are remarking how much he likes me especially. All his gifts are presented with speeches about qualities he's projecting onto me. He's a little socially awkward and he seems like a dead-on "Nice Guy," so I'm scared about what he might expect, or feel he deserves, in exchange.

I don't feel physically threatened, I think. I'm a little concerned because he always stays until we close at midnight, and it would be easy for him to follow me the 2 or 3 deserted blocks back to my apartment. Mostly, though, I just feel like his behavior is inappropriate and making me uncomfortable, and I don't know how to avoid it.

I'm afraid to approach the manager because I don't want to be perceived as a complainer, not a team worker, or someone who's ignoring their main job duty. (I'm also a little concerned about the manager's impartiality if he did hire me based on my looks.) I can't be politely dismissive or brusque with Gary, or "too busy" to talk to him, for the same reasons -- being friendly is basically my top task. I can't blame company policy to turn down his gifts, since other girls always accept/have accepted them. I'm not sure what else I can do. To work, I wear loose black polo and pants, a loose green apron, my long hair tied back into a severe bun under a baseball cap, glasses rather than contacts, and no makeup at all. In general I want to appear not attractive, and especially not looking for validation or feedback based on my looks.

I'm also changing my behavior. Occasionally I would play around, dancing with the mop or humming along with a song, and I think this playful or fun nature also contributed to my hiring. Now I stop myself from doing that because I want to seem businesslike and I don't want to give Gary anything else to talk about, or a chance to see anything more personal about me. I'm also reluctant to be friendlier with other customers or with coworkers, in case Gary sees that and comments (to me or to my manager) that I'm not being equally genuine and open with him. So I feel that Gary, and the other guys like him, are having a significant effect on my confidence and my behavior, but that still isn't a solution -- in fact the issue is still escalating.

I sincerely appreciate any possible advice, since I have no idea what to do -- I just can't quit. In this economy I'm very lucky to have gotten even a job as a barista (full-time, with benefits!). I realize I'm kind of stuck in a corner here, which is why I'm coming to AskMe, so "just put up with it so you can pay the rent" may be the best suggestion there is, which is fine. Thank you guys so much.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (45 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Ugly Betty it up? Dress down? Wear bad glasses? See what happens.
posted by rokusan at 11:31 AM on July 3, 2009

All his gifts are presented with speeches about qualities he's projecting onto me. He's a little socially awkward and he seems like a dead-on "Nice Guy," so I'm scared about what he might expect, or feel he deserves, in exchange.

Tell your manager about guys that do this sort of stuff and ask him to take them aside and tell them it is unwelcome. This is what people who manage personnel do: you can't get bogged down in a 15-minute conversation with some douche if you're a storefront worker. This doesn't mean you can't talk to him briefly and ask him to stop, but more contact is exactly what people like this want. Hopefully, the manager will realize that this guy cuts into your working hours and hurts the bottom line (where his ass resides).
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 11:34 AM on July 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

Speaking pragmatically, if you are the reason tips have gone up 125% (thats more than DOUBLE) then you have a lot of bargaining power. A lot. You're essentially the most valuable employee in the place by considerable margin. That should give you more than enough power to have a talk with your manager and ask him to deal with the inappropriate advances from people like Gary.

Nobody is going to want to lose you at that store. Their financial well being in part depends on you. Use it.
posted by Justinian at 11:34 AM on July 3, 2009 [5 favorites]

Make it all about the company. Suggest that your company could get even more value for their dollar out of you if they sent you for customer service training. Any half-way decent customer service training will teach you how to handle uncomfortable situations in the workplace and maintain professional boundaries.
posted by Lolie at 11:35 AM on July 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

If anyone ever says anything that is cut-and-dried sexual harassment, speak to your manager immediately, and make sure they document the conversation.

Most HR Departments will have a procedure to deal with all this, because they do not want to get sued for allowing sexual harassment to occur within the workplace. I'm not saying you're ever going to sue them, but any large cooperation has to step very carefully around these issues, and they know it.

I used to get hit on a fair bit at my old job. I got asked out and complimented. Fine, fine, it's my job to be friendly to people and I'm cute, they weren't being assholes about it. But when a creepy old git gave me his business card and told me I could tell people I traded my underwear for it (I am still getting livid remembering this), I went to my boss, and said I no longer felt comfortable helping him and that his behavior upset me.

My manager documented the whole thing, it was kept on record with Human Resources, and if they had allowed it to keep happening, or forced me to put up with it, they knew that it could reflect on the company. So, though it was my job to smile and be nice to everyone else who came in the door, I never, ever, ever had to help out My Version of Gary again.

It was a bit of a joke around the office, but no one held it against me, and I certainly didn't get fired.
posted by Juliet Banana at 11:39 AM on July 3, 2009 [9 favorites]

He's older, retired, and spends almost all day here (from late morning until we close at midnight). At least once per shift, he'll come up to me and strike up a long conversation. ... Apparently Gary has given little things to girls in the past, but coworkers are remarking how much he likes me especially. All his gifts are presented with speeches about qualities he's projecting onto me. He's a little socially awkward and he seems like a dead-on "Nice Guy," so I'm scared about what he might expect, or feel he deserves, in exchange.

Completely unacceptable. I think it's troubling that the precedent has been set that it's okay for Gary to give gifts to "the girls." Personally I find this exceptionally creepy and worry that he has boundary issues. It's also kind of wretched that your boss not only (possibly) hired you based in part on your appearance but mentioned this to you as one of the reasons you got hired. That's unprofessional. I'm...not sure exactly what would be the best way to address these issues.

(I think you have two issues: a manager who [apparently] thinks it's okay to hire a barista because of her "rare" looks and Gary et al.) I'd think the second problem would be made more difficult to deal with by the first.

I would, if I were you, dig out my employee handbook (or find one online or request one from a managre or something) and thoroughly acquaint myself with company policy about tipping/gifts/etc. If you shouldn't be taking gifts from the Garys of the world, I think you should stop. Sure, being friendly and welcoming is part of your job but it's not unfriendly or unwelcoming to maintain appropriate professional boundaries--especially with creepy psychic vampires like Gary.

I...ugh, I don't really know what to do but I keep typing because I want so badly to fix this situation for you. It sounds ugly and demoralizing. If nothing else, keep your resume up-to-date. Good luck.
posted by Neofelis at 11:41 AM on July 3, 2009 [5 favorites]

You are way too worried about being subservient. It is perfectly acceptable to be politely dismissive (and more) to a customer who is bothering you or creeping you out. I doubt anywhere in your job description are you required to humor weirdos past the point of personal comfort for you. There are sexual harassment laws and you might want to learn them to defend yourself in the unlikely event your boss disapproves of your being 'unfriendly' to creepos. Just being able to reference them would probably scare Boss into forgetting about it.
posted by norabarnacl3 at 11:45 AM on July 3, 2009 [10 favorites]

I'm afraid to approach the manager because I don't want to be perceived as a complainer, not a team worker, or someone who's ignoring their main job duty. (I'm also a little concerned about the manager's impartiality if he did hire me based on my looks.)

I wouldn't be afraid to do so. Your manager and your fellow employees likely see this, and if they're not complete idiots, will understand your concerns. I bet they would much rather help you solve the creepiness problems than have you quit. I doubt that you will be seen as a complainer, but as a person who has a legitimate gripe.

Otherwise, you are in an uncomfortable work environment. I believe that, while your work environment is not unique, it is more of an exception than the rule. You can find work elsewhere; there are plenty opportunities where people will love your personality, and will appreciate you in a non-creepy manner.
posted by jabberjaw at 11:50 AM on July 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

Minorities are used to white people, so if this is part of what makes you uncomfortable, you should try to understand, we're used to white people and it' s not like we haven't seen pretty white girls before and we only stick to the five blocks of Chinatown or Little India or whatever and then can't peel our eyes away from a goodlooking white person.

It seems like you're ill suited to your position. I would feel the same way if I had a job that forced me to interact with people all day. People are weird and screwy, and I prefer working in a capacity that allows me not to deal with customers all day long.

Just wait until he makes a lewd comment or something before you have him thrown out of the shop. If he starts getting all conversational, then you have to learn how to say, "Gary, I'm pretty busy right now. Do you need more coffee or whatever?" If you're polite and a little more reserved than you have been, and if you say, "I don't feel comfortable accepting these, Gary," then there shouldn't be a problem.

But I feel sorry for the silly old man who doesn't know any better and hasn't done anything wrong yet. He's just extremely lonely. Maybe you should give him a pamphlet advertising the local senior center or something.
posted by anniecat at 11:57 AM on July 3, 2009 [3 favorites]

Use this experience to perfect the customer service/customer management skills (basically, learn to predict scenarios, learn to communicate effectively) and then get a waitressing job. You can probably pick a restaurant you'll be more comfortable at, and you'll get the majority of the tips. And your beauty will work better in a more equal dynamic like that.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:58 AM on July 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

There are a lot of men who treat me in a way I'm not comfortable with. No customers have made lewd, explicit comments the way some men do on the street, but I still feel uncomfortable with the way some male customers interact with me. I'm not sure I can complain, though, since this is basically what I was hired for, apparently. Tips have increased 125% since I started working full-time, so the manager and coworkers are all happy (all tips go into a communal pot, then at the end of the week it's divided equally based on hours worked). I'm the one who feels not so happy, awkward and unsure of myself. If I were okay with profiting off my looks at the expense of my comfort, I could be making a lot more money doing sex work, but I consciously decided against that.

I think you're being unrealistic here. There are always going to be ridiculous men who check you out and you're aware that you're attractive and charming. They aren't saying anything to you and that counts.

Also, sex work is very, very different than what you're doing and putting up with, so the comparison isn't even remotely fair. You're just a goodlooking girl who has a job and may or may not have an advantage/disadvantage over that.

This job just doesn't seem to be a good fit for you. Either you quit and find new work, or you put up with it.
posted by anniecat at 12:05 PM on July 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

You really need to drop all this baggage about your looks and confidence. Don't try to get into psychoanalyzing Gary or other clients as nice guy stereotypes or any other projections of what you think they might be.

This is something you need to speak to your manager about ASAP, as in first chance you can get. Make it clear in no uncertain terms that the behavior of certain customers is bothering you and making it a difficult workplace. Use specific examples, as you did in your question. The key here is linking your complaint with evidence. And, anticipating that your manager might be a sleaze bag, do not leave the meeting until he has a plan. If he says he'll talk to Gary, ask him when he plans on doing, etc.

There's nothing you can do about people casually hitting on you except to give them the stink eye, which is really effective and ego blowing. I don't know what it is about baristas that make people think they're some kind of third wave feminist fuck toys that you can wink at she'll lead you to her la boheme apartment where you'll get a quickie out, but I see this all the time at my local Starbucks.
posted by geoff. at 12:06 PM on July 3, 2009 [4 favorites]

The simplest idea is that you are a barista, not a geisha. Yes, customer service implies being nice, and making a smidge of small talk, but you were not hired to babysit and entertain the customers. If the customers are trying to monopolize your time, whether it's a middle aged woman rattling on about her dog for literally twenty minutes, or this Gary dude and his long conversation, they ARE taking you away from the job you were hired to do. Talk to your manager about it, not as a complaint, but a concern that you have over your own job performance being inhibited. All good managers should have some sense of protectiveness when their employees feel like some customer is giving them too much attention when they don't want it.

Do you close the shop alone? Or do you have one other coworker that you can ask to draw you away from the looming Gary? I've had coworkers in the past that are particularly susceptible to being chatted up by old men, and there is a kind of arrangement developed where one worker comes up and tells the other worker that they need to tend to the evening's such-and-such task. Conversational flow is broken, you have an excuse to leave the area, repeat as necessary.

I'm not the sort of person who feels like making a statement about men thinking they're entitled to half-hours of my time, even though that is exactly what they're doing, so I've learned how to deflect the chatty repeat offenders. Chat nicely for a minute, and then break eye contact, keep mopping or stocking or whatever, while throwing an aside comment back at them as you continue doing your actual work. Move out of their general area, keep at your tasks. Garylike dudes are not like the other people that you're friendly to, because the other people know that it is casual retail conversation, not some invitation to become BFFs forever.

As far as the rarelooks/tipping thing...well, keep an eye out for untoward behavior, but I think we're all kidding ourselves if we don't think that being various levels of attractive doesn't assist our daily interactions. You might be the pretty one at the shop, and that's making you self-conscious, but it sounds like the problem you're most worried about is these dudes who keep chatting you up for long periods of time, not the one-liners or tips.
posted by redsparkler at 12:08 PM on July 3, 2009 [4 favorites]

People like Gary need to be made aware that you have time for them professionally by being pleasant and helpful to them for the brief time it takes to fulfill their coffee order or whatever, but that you are a busy person both at work and in your personal life and that you simply don't have time to watch his dvds etc.

You can say "oh, that's kind of you but I just don't feel comfortable accepting gifts from customers" or "that sounds interesting but I'm afraid I just don't have time". It's perfectly polite to do so. You are allowed to have boundaries and you are the only one who can enforce them so start doing so. it doesn't mean you are rude.

If your co-workers are benefiting from your employment, I'm sure one or two of them would be happy to walk you home at night.

Do not let people like Gary gain a toehold.
posted by lunaazul at 12:12 PM on July 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

I know it's hard, but you need to quit being friendly to the customers who make you uncomfortable.

These type of people thrive on attention, and if you don't give it to them, they tend to get bored and move on.

In Gary's case -
Don't smile at him.
Don't accept any gifts from him, no matter how small.
Don't let him monopolize your time by trapping you in an endless conversation. Polite chit-chat is okay. A 15 minute monologue is not.
And if he really doesn't get the message that his attentions are unwanted - Don't answer when he speaks to you unless he's ordering something. When you're sweeping/restocking/cleaning, ignore him. Even if he's standing right there talking to you, just don't answer. And if he says something inappropriate to try and get your attention, you have a perfect right to turn on him and tell him, coldly, with murder in your eyes, that that is not acceptable and that he needs to leave you alone.

Also, seconding that you talk to your coworkers! It's so much easier if you can present a united front to these creeps.
posted by snowleopard at 12:13 PM on July 3, 2009 [3 favorites]

First, I'd have a chat with your manager and the other girls and let them all know that you're really uncomfortable with Gary and anyone else who fits the description, tell them what you want to do, and ask for backup. You might just defuse a bit of jealousy there, too, by saying you wish he'd take a hike. Then, you could try a bit of old fashioned bs on an old fashioned guy, the sort of "you're a dear, sweet man, and I do appreciate your kindness, but I'll get in sooooo much trouble if I take a giftie as it's against the rules. Chocs I could slip in my pocket, but, really, even though I appreciate it, I cannot take anything else from you." Sort of butter him up one side and down the other while gently pushing him away. If he tries it again, you can sweetly remind him that he doesn't want to get you in trouble, does he? Meanwhile, keep the broom in between the two of you. It's hard to discourage old codgers as they might not have anyone else to give gifts to, but it's gotta be done. And, it's good practice for later when a younger, friskier one approaches.

I know this is not by the rules, modern sexual harrassment advice, but sometimes it's the only way to deal with the pensioners as the rules were different way back when. And, you don't want to insult him too much as he might take his group of oldies somewhere else. Tough spot to be in.
posted by x46 at 12:16 PM on July 3, 2009

You're in a tough spot. Some people here seem to be assuming that your worries about voicing your concerns are groundless, that all you need to do is speak up and the manager will follow the rulebook and ward off the creeps and everything will be hunky-dory (or perhaps that even if this isn't the case, it should be the case and you owe it to yourself and all women employees everywhere to act as if it is, and if you get fired, sue the bastards); I've worked in enough places to know that people often don't follow the rules and there's often little or nothing an employee can do. The type of interaction you describe is depressingly common (cf. the Hollywoodized version in As Good as It Gets). Your best bet is probably to, as you put it, put up with it so you can pay the rent, and hope that a better job comes along; if you find you can't, then sure, talk to the manager, but I doubt anything will come of it. If it were the kind of place where that would bring results, it wouldn't be the kind of place where your situation is common and accepted.

> Minorities are used to white people, so if this is part of what makes you uncomfortable, you should try to understand, we're used to white people and it' s not like we haven't seen pretty white girls before

You've misunderstood: the "six-foot redheaded white girl working in a US city's Chinatown" bit was a comparison, not a description. She could perfectly well be a Chinese-American working in a largely white neighborhood. The point is that she stands out in some way.

> Speaking pragmatically, if you are the reason tips have gone up 125% (thats more than DOUBLE) then you have a lot of bargaining power.

I think you too have misunderstood; I may be wrong, but I suspect she means tips have gone up 25% (i.e., the new amount is 125% of what it used to be). That kind of misstatement is extremely common, and the idea that one new employee could more than double tips is extremely unlikely. If your understanding is correct, of course you're right that she's a superstar and can probably get her way.
posted by languagehat at 12:22 PM on July 3, 2009

If they knew how uncomfortable their wandering eyes and clumsy lines make you, most men would stop. Unfortunately, we are often bad at noticing when someone enjoys a compliment and when we are just leery. There is a lot of self deceiving going on and we are ashamed and defensive when caught from it, but it passes and usually people start to feel better about themselves when they have finally been shaken out of their fantasy. Being nice may be part of your job, but enabling their fantasies isn't and if you can stop them, you'll be doing a favor for them in the long term, so don't let being nice to stop you.

Probably your manager isn't unabashedly dirty minded, but just a bit old fashioned. If you tell how uncomfortable some attitudes make you, he will channel his fascination with your looks to chivalric action and really tries to make your situation more bearable.
posted by Free word order! at 12:38 PM on July 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

I think you too have misunderstood; I may be wrong, but I suspect she means tips have gone up 25% (i.e., the new amount is 125% of what it used to be). That kind of misstatement is extremely common,

Well, that wouldn't be a misunderstanding on my part but a mistake on the OPs part.

I agree it makes a difference. Someone who increased tips by 25% is important. Someone who increased tips by 125% is the most important employee in the store.
posted by Justinian at 12:45 PM on July 3, 2009

Being friendly while making beverages is one thing. As you've pointed out, you have other things to do in between like sweeping and restocking and Gary needs to understand that you're not his personal all-day floor show. I think it's worth mentioning it to management. I find it hard to believe that they'd encourage you to waste your time keeping one patron happy while there's work to be done. You can continue to be friendly to him and everyone else without feeling obligated to cater to any needs that extend beyond what the average customer expects.

As to the gifts, I'd tell him that while I appreciate his thoughtfulness the company only allows employees to accept their portion of what's in the tip jar. Period.

Since he's staying so late (doesn't the shop kick people out and give you a chance to clean up with no customers around?), please make a note of what he drives. If he ever follows you, drive directly to the closest police station. Don't ever drive home with him in tow.
posted by contrariwise at 12:49 PM on July 3, 2009

The fact that you feel uncomfortable closing with Gary around may be a place to start with your manager -- tell him you feel uncomfortable and ask him what the options are for making sure you get home safely and Gary-free every night.
posted by jacquilynne at 12:55 PM on July 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

You don't have to make anyone understand why you are uncomfortable. You need only explain that you are uncomfortable.

If you say it to Gary, you set expectations of your boudaries, and you will probably need to continue to enforce them over time, tirelessly pointing to the line in the sand each and every day.

If you say it to your manager, you set in motion a warning to him and to the company's HR that they have a potential sexual harassment case on their hands. And if they ignore that after you've officially told your manager about it, then that might be considered sexual harassment too--on their part.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 12:58 PM on July 3, 2009

You're in a pretty crappy situation, and I have no advice at all, but you might be interested in the LiveJournal Baristas community. They talk about situations like this, and other challenges of working in that field. Maybe you can get some support or advice from others who've handled the same kinds of customers.
posted by TochterAusElysium at 12:58 PM on July 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

This is long, but I have a lot to say on this. I am also a female that once spent much of my time in a community where I had "rare good looks" and only grew into those "rare good looks" at 17 or 18. I too struggled with how to deal with these unwelcome advances.

First, and I know this sounds awful, but you have to become way more cynical than you seem to be right now. I firmly believe that most people are good. At the same time, I firmly believe that men will behave toward me in ways that they deem acceptable and I do not. You just have to accept this-- other people don't know that they're skeeving you out, and they will continue to skeeve you out because of it. Forever. You may be able to teach an individual, but you can't teach the world how to act appropriately toward you.

So, step two-- how do you deal with the individual? I think there were some good tips above-- cut out overtly friend acts, don't talk excessively, and don't accept gifts. I don't think you need to cut down on the silly/fun parts of your personality as long as you beef up your confidence in handling these inappropriate acts. You need to acknowledge your Gary first as a customer (someone who is paying you for coffee), second as a person (an individual in your community that deserves your respect), and third as a sexual entity (or someone who views your relationship to him in a sexual way).

To serve a customer, you need to smile politely and provide the coffee.
To serve a person, you need to make friendly, polite, and inoffensive small talk. This does not mean that you go out of your way-- just that you look and act kindly toward him.
You have absolutely NO obligation toward him as a sexual entity. And he knows that. If he has a little crush on you, he's trying to make you feel obligated to behave sexually toward him-- so crush his attempts to make you feel obligated.

My suggestions:
1) Invent a fiance. It doesn't matter what your sexual orientation is. Start wearing your "engagement ring" if at all possible (wear it on a necklace if you must wear gloves). If Gary asks you about him, say you don't like to talk much about your boy (perfectly acceptable answer). The fiance is important because it defines you as taken, but leaves you room to actually not have a fiance at any point in the future.

2) If Gary presents you with gifts, say that you mentioned his earlier gifts to your fiance, and you don't feel comfortable taking them anymore. Suggest that, as much as you appreciated his earlier gifts, you can't accept them anymore-- that he needs to start sharing his gifts with other friends. IMPORTANT: When you say this, you need to sound as if you're in control of the situation. Don't sound apologetic. Don't sound sorry, or as if it's your fiance preventing you from taking the gifts. Make it sound like it's your decision, which it as. As soon as you've said your "I'm confidently declining your gift" schpeel, I suggest you IMMEDIATELY leave the situation. Say something like, "oops, I forgot something," leave before he can respond, and don't come back. It's all about staying in control. If you continue accepting his gifts, you're giving him the power. Take it back.

Steel yourself; he may attempt to offer you gifts again. Repeat the same process. Don't let him argue it; the longer you continue to accept his gifts, the longer you let him believe that he has some sexual presence in your life.

3) Re: lewd looks/"thanks, gorgeous" comments: Take it with a sense of humor. These are (somewhat gross) compliments. Again, this is where the confident face/voice comes in. If a gross guy says, "Thanks, gorgeous" to you, laugh with a cocky voice, "Hah, thank YOU gorgeous." etc. Turn their compliments into something ridiculous.

As an example, if he says:"You're looking mighty fine today." DO NOT say: "Thanks," or "In this old thing?" DO say: "Same as everyday!" or "Only as fine as you, *cheesy smile & thumbs up*" Make the compliment goofy, not sexual. And work to see those compliments as goofy through your own lens too-- it will make you feel more comfortable.

4) Re: fear of being followed by Gary. This is a BIG issue, but unfortunately is not something you can do anything about until he is overtly sexual. Please, please, the first time Gary says anything overtly inappropriate, report it to your manager. Until then, your manager can't do a thing-- but once Gary crosses the line, your manager can (and WILL) do anything he can to protect you. My suggestion: Hoodie sweatshirts and a bike. I know you may not NEED a bike to get home, but I always ride my bike around the city at night just for safety-- no one can get you on a bike. Second, hoodie sweatshirts cover your face and make you look bigger than you are. Again, don't act demure-- act confident. Hold your chin high, on the bike or walking, with the hoodie or not.

If you do sense anyone following you on your way home, I suggest you do this: Turn around, face the guy squarely, and say "Can I help you?" as icily as possible. Again, it's all about confidence. You're gorgeous, and you can deal with skeevy guys-- you just need to be confident about it.

5) Consider taking a self-defense class. A lot of the self-defense tactics & confidence will carry over into other parts of your life. The time and expense of the class will suck, but you won't regret the confidence you'll learn.
posted by samthemander at 12:59 PM on July 3, 2009 [23 favorites]

First off, any handwringing over being hired because of your looks seems a bit disingenuous, given the fact that you also solicit/participate in modeling work as well. So you de facto objectify your own looks in other employment situations. However, the difference with this situation is that you absolutely have the right to set boundaries and to not be sexually harassed at work. I'm nthing the folks who have told you to go to your manager with concerns...I've had to do this before myself and I can promise you that a good manager can figure out how to help you limit inappropriate behavior.
posted by availablelight at 1:13 PM on July 3, 2009

There's something about your attitude here that also seems to be making you feel more vulnerable than you need to be, in most of these exchanges at least. Even if they're complimenting you, it doesn't mean you have to talk to them, accept their gifts, or feel like you're there for their pleasure.

Comments on your appearance can seem very intimate and vulnerability-producing, but they actually don't have to be. There are all kinds of compliments and interested looks. Many nice statements have stopped rattling me as I've gotten a bit older and seen them used in different contexts -- as just a statement of fact (she did have amazing hair), a compliment offered to make someone feel good,* or even just someone's way of being polite. Some are offensive. None need to make you feel beholden or vulnerable. They're really just sort of beside the point. Someone finds you pleasing to look at, at this moment. The response to that fact could range from "well, whatever" to "isn't that nice? anyway, whatever." (Real advances like Gary's are a separate thing -- I'm talking about the more mundane daily comments.)

In general, can you try not to take the comments and looks personally? It's more like a comment on your outer shell rather than something about who you really are? A shell that gives you a certain power, and that you'll only have temporarily, and that isn't really you yourself? As you say, it's more about what they're projecting. Then, try to not take it personally, or let it get under your skin at all, or let it get personal.

At the bar where I work, I typically accept it as a pleasantry, but keep walking or cleaning or pouring coffee -- don't break stride. I try to divert attention back to either the professional environment or, if I know them, to them and their real life, "how's your daughter?" [totally deadpan tone of voice -- ] "Why, aren't you nice, and what can I get for you?" "Here's your change, handsome." "Oh, thank you Gary, but you should hang on to this video -- I could never watch it. I'm too busy refilling these sugars," then pick up the sugar jars and walk away to go fill them. On preview, I've seen the "make it goofy" thing work very well, too, whereas here I'm recommending "make it mundane." You seem to think it's part of your job, and in a certain way it might be, so just be bored and professional and totally impersonal about it.

You can actually probably say whatever you want, with a smile. Where I work, one guy noticed that the dishes had gotten someone's shirt damp and asked her if she was getting ready for a wet T-shirt contest ("because you'd do well"), and the guy next to him agreed and said that he was going to make a calendar with all us {PizzaPlace} Girls. In response, one waitress told the first, "you don't have to take that, when he talks about the calendar, I just say, 'oh and a big F U to you too, Carl!' If he can dish it out, I'm sure he can take it!" and another walking by said, "oh good, it's our daily dose of sexual harrasment!" with a huge laugh.

Good luck.

* I once saw the sweetest exchange between a 60-something year old bus driver and a 70-something year old woman who seemed to have become friends, and who shamelessly exchanged compliments, "good morning, beautiful," "why hello, handsome."
posted by salvia at 1:15 PM on July 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

As to the gifts, I'd tell him that while I appreciate his thoughtfulness the company only allows employees to accept their portion of what's in the tip jar. Period.

Seconded. His offering you a gift does not obligate you to accept it.

I think you need to stop overthinking both your own attractiveness and your manager's reasons for hiring you. You're a human being and deserve to be treated with respect, regardless of your appearance. You're an employee and deserve to do your job in a safe environment. It sounds like you feel obligated to be the "sexy barista." If you're affecting a flirtatious manner with all customers, and it happens to be giving the wrong impression to people like Gary: stop. That's not your job. People will like their lattes just fine if you make them without any flirting.

There's no way around the vaguely creepy "It tastes better because of your smile" crap some men are prone to say. But at the same time, you don't need to encourage Gary's behavior, or anyone else's, if it crosses a line. Talk to your manager--it's not complaining, it's taking care of yourself. He may even be sympathetic if Gary's attention is taking you away from other customers or your other responsibilities. Surely this one customer (or any other older man trying to monopolize your time during a shift) does not purchase enough coffee to make it worth it to your manager to let him harass you. Moreover, you were hired to be friendly and make coffee, not to be anyone's actual friend.

Also, do you have any friends you could recruit to come visit you at work who could interrupt Gary/whoever if need be?
posted by Meg_Murry at 1:19 PM on July 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

I just wanted to note that there is a lot of anecdotal evidence to suggest that being cold to customers doesn't actually lower your tips, especially if the server is pretty woman. So feel free to be an ice queen with select creepos or everyone if you so choose.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 1:38 PM on July 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

Consider that this really may not have as much to do with your looks or even you. This behavior has been pretty typical of my experience working in customer service as a young woman (waitressing and various male-magnetizing retail) and people will interact with you in ways that they would not necessarily interact with any other stranger. You are in a public position like that, accessible and approachable, and even though the job is to serve them coffee (or food or help them pick out a shirt or ring up their vitamins) some people will take this a step further and take advantage of your position; you can't get away and you're supposed to be nice to them. Anyway, my experience is that the highest incidence of this behavior happens from retired men targetting young women. The young women are usually always friendly and won't tell the guy to back off; they will, at the very least, put up with the attention, even if it isn't reciprocated. The men? They're lonely. They're bored. For whatever reason, they enjoy talking to you. It may or may not be because of how you look, but I get the impression that you are victimizing yourself because you're so attractive and unique; this line of thinking can be dangerous and it'll help your well-being a lot if you cut it out.

Anyway, if Gary's behavior really puts you off, do not put up with it. Just because you're serving him coffee doesn't mean there are no boundaries. Be polite with him, but if you aren't comfortable accepting his gifts, then stop accepting his gifts. Don't lie and tell him it's not policy to accept gifts from customers because it's a lie and some of the other girls might be fine with his attention or actually enjoy talking with him and sharing his gifts. Just tell him you don't accept gifts from customers. Be polite. If you can't be that direct, the above suggestion of saying you're too busy refilling sugars seemed good to me. But please keep in mind that men like this don't generally expect to club you over the head and drag you home or anything like that. They're finding a way to spend their day. It's too bad that it bothers you. I grew to absolutely adore some of the customers and enjoyed making connections with people who didn't seem to have friends or family; it made me feel, more than any other job, like I was actually doing some good when I saw how affected these individuals were simply by me being nice to them (this does not, and should not, require that you get close to the individual in any way. It's just acknowledging them as a person). So, as has been pointed out, this job may not be the best fit for you--there certainly is more to customer service than just ringing up purchases. That said, if anything feels wrong to you, don't ignore your instincts.
posted by Polychrome at 1:52 PM on July 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

Read The Gift of Fear.

I'm scared about what he might expect, or feel he deserves, in exchange.

I don't feel physically threatened, I think. I'm a little concerned because he always stays until we close at midnight, and it would be easy for him to follow me the 2 or 3 deserted blocks back to my apartment. Mostly, though, I just feel like his behavior is inappropriate and making me uncomfortable, and I don't know how to avoid it.

I really hope he hasn't been following you, he might already know where you live. You are scared of this man. You have every right to be. Listen to yourself and trust your instincts. You have the right to protect yourself. It is your first priority, over and above being polite or any obligation you have to your job.

If this job makes you uncomfortable--and it really seems like it does--you have two options:

1. Change yourself
2. Change your job

Which one will be easier?
posted by kathrineg at 2:20 PM on July 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

If you're hot, you're going to have to learn how to deal with unwanted advances sooner or later -- not just at work but in life in general. (Sure, you could frump it up and look less attractive, but that's like asking a rich guy to give away his money -- not gonna happen!) Your job is just getting you much more exposure than you're ready for at this point and it's a little overwhelming. The upside is that you will acquire the very important skill of tactfully blowing off men sooner, rather than later. Treat this as a positive, a social challenge. This is a learning experience that will serve you very well in life.

I know it's sad, and it shouldn't be this way, but as a barista you're acting as a sort of surrogate girlfriend for a lot of lonely guys. You are why a lot of these guys come to your coffee shop. And lonely guys think that if they give you money (yay, tips!) or gifts (boo, creepy!), you'll like them better. (Common -- and just as misguided -- in the outside dating world too.) Of course, it tends to be the same at any service-industry job where tips are an important part of your income -- servers, baristas, bartenders... and yeah strippers, etc. at the other end of the spectrum. Flirty hotness + lonely guys = better tips. It's bogus on many levels, but it comes with the territory. Smile, be sweet (but not TOO sweet), and laugh all the way to the bank. Essentially, learn to deal with it and profit from it, or think about finding another line of work because this is not going away.

Okay, so some examples:

If the guy is getting too friendly, or you think it might head that way, subtly mention your boyfriend. You probably don't have to smash their ego with a direct "I have a BOYFRIEND, jerk!" and a scowl. A lighter, "Hahaha yeah my boyfriend has that same exact jacket! Drives me crazy cuz I'm a big Duke fan..." or whatever will generally do the trick. And yes, you will always "have a boyfriend". If you're getting really strong vibes from them, then upgrade the "boyfriend" to "fiance".

Regarding gifts, "I'm sorry, but my boss says I'm not allowed to accept gifts (anymore). (New) Company policy." Follow it up with a BS story about a girl at another store who some creep started bringing gifts to... and it blew up into a bad situation at work... anyhow, sorry!

Regarding date offers, "I can't, but I'm working Thursday afternoon if you want to come in."

It will take some time, but you'll soon develop appropriate friendly-but-unavailable pre-emptive blow-offs for just about every situation. Collect em! Trade em with your (hot) friends!!
posted by LordSludge at 2:35 PM on July 3, 2009

When I worked in Specialty at Whole Foods, we had a couple of customers who would, on sight, cause employees who saw them before anyone else to flee: "Gotta go down to the walk-in and get...something!"

One guy in particular was notorious for being a gigantic timesuck. He didn't do any weird personal/sexual/flirting stuff, but once he started talking he wouldn't stop.

So, yes, talk to your manager, and and talk to your fellow employees. We would back each other up - if we saw one of us stuck in a conversation with him, we'd keep an eye out, and if it seemed like it was going to be endless (and it nearly always did), one of us would go up to the person who was stuck and say something like "Hey, don't forget that you have to go meet with [manager]/receive the order from [company]/help So-and-So with inventory," etc. Good luck.
posted by rtha at 2:41 PM on July 3, 2009

Unless being a barista has changed, your #1 job is not to be welcoming, it's to do a good job making coffee and drinks. You do not have to cater to every whim of the customer, and you can stand up for yourself. The stereotype is usually that baristas are cold and snobby than that they will let you harass them. I know this is more so at the small local places, not the big chain(s), but you aren't required to accept this behavior as a requirement of your job.
posted by ishotjr at 2:58 PM on July 3, 2009

You should read Questionable Content. (online comic about young hipsters who work in a coffee shop)... if nothing else it will make you laugh. Dont be dissuaded by the crappy art in the first few , it gets better.
posted by jmnugent at 3:03 PM on July 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

For what it's worth, this happens even without the obvious sexual component. It's been a long while since I worked in a customer-interaction type job, but even as a not particularly outgoing guy, there would be some customers who just got on my nerves in that overly-friendly unnerving boundary-crossing won't-go-away way. Sometimes it's social ineptness; sometimes it's a cultural difference. It obviously happens more to women, but it's not just that you're female.

I agree with some other posters that you should at the least mention to your manager that Gary makes you uncomfortable. That is part of his job as your manager. Ask your coworkers how they deal with this kind of thing. Watch people who seem to do a good job of it. Having your boyfriend, or "boyfriend", pick you up at the end of your shift occasionally might help. If social signals don't work, tell Gary directly— kindly, but unambiguously— that you don't feel comfortable accepting gifts from customers like that. You don't need any more justification than that. Make it clear that though you're friendly, you have a boundary, even if he is a Nice Guy.

And, yeah, learning how to deal gracefully with people who are more interested in you than you are in them is a skill that will serve you well, if you can learn it here. Consider if you were in a different job, say accepting merchandise returns, in which a lot of your customers were pissed off and some took it out on you. You'd need to learn how to cope with that, too. It's not a fault in you that you're bothered by this, it's a very human reaction; the hard part is learning how to deal with it without dehumanizing yourself (or your customers).
posted by hattifattener at 5:05 PM on July 3, 2009

Two points:

1) You can probably handle this nonverbally--and developing the ability to do so might be a useful skill for you. When he approaches, narrow your eyes, let your mouth and face droop, and look annoyed. When he talks to you, look around you, and seem very, very distracted... as though you keep forgetting he exists. When he says something not directly related to an order, turn your head to the side, as though you are listening to something in your own mind, and only turn back after he's finished talking. Then say, "What?" as if you didn't hear him, but weren't interested in what he said anyway. Then move elsewhere, or better yet, talk to someone else. Basically, whenever you see him, *immediately* look unenthusiastic. Make sure he gets the point that he's the cause, rather than that you need cheering up.

2) If this persists, explain to your boss that Gary is causing you to be less friendly, and to be less interested in letting yourself look good... and that you're beginning to suspect that this might have an impact on the other customers, and business generally...
posted by darth_tedious at 5:13 PM on July 3, 2009

Being beautiful is a blessing and a curse. Working with the general public is just a curse.
First off, men are pursuers, so many of them hit on anything with boobs *just in case* she might go for it. Take it with a grain of salt. The advice to respond with goofiness or teasing, mentioning a boyfriend, only works if you are confident and sincere. Some men just don't care, all they want to do is flirt and/or pursue. The older they are, the more inappropriate they tend to become, I think this is a generational thing.

And yes, the old lonely man who gives you gifts. I would say harmless, but if you're made uncomfortable by it, let the manager know, and simply let Gary know that you can no longer accept gifts. Maybe there will never be a real sexual aspect to his interest, other than you're nice to him and nice to look at. You're selling coffee, not lap dances, so you don't need to spend 30 minutes with each customer talking about god knows what.

I bet Gary is just happy in his fantasy that he is young again and some beautiful girl is giving him the time of day. I'd say he knows he doesn't have a chance in hell, but he'll keep on because hey, what else has he got going on?
posted by anniek at 5:47 PM on July 3, 2009

A little off the wall here, but do you by any chance wear contacts? When I was in a hash-slinging role, I would take mine out and give big big smiles to all the blurry people. Not being able to see people's facial expressions really took the edge off.

(I can see well enough at arm's length to do sidework and what have you.)
posted by Lesser Shrew at 6:09 PM on July 3, 2009

Congratulations on your newfound good looks. You don't seem that comfortable with them, though, and it seems to me that your unease with them are compromsing you professionally, and maybe eventually personally. Wise up and get a job that makes you proud of your achievements, not your endowments, where you are more in control.

I'm sorry to be sort of harsh, but as someone who has likewise been blindsided by unprecedented male attention and found herself naively unprepared, I reiterate: don't objectify yourself. Wise up, get tough.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 10:15 PM on July 3, 2009

A crummy situation.

It sounds like you're fairly sensitive about Gary's feelings. I'm a woman who had the same problem years ago in restaurant and bookstore jobs. It wasn't about beauty but more about an extreme naivete and emotional generosity towards lonely, awkward people on my part. It went far beyond friendly customer service. The way I see it now, older men like Gary would glum onto me because they could depend on me to make them feel accepted. They often ending up creeping me out, but I was very passive, and didn't have any practice in setting boundaries.

The older I get, the lonlier I feel in day-to-day interactions. So imagine how these older, awkward men feel. No wife, no social network, perhaps children don't call or visit enough. They get swept up in the attention you pay them and begin to hope/believe they have a 'special connection' with you. How far they run with that fantasy depends a lot on you.

Because I felt sorry for one such man (and because I enjoyed the attention myself), I didn't shut things down early on when I felt uncomfortable. As a result, I ended up hurting his feelings very badly and am still ashamed of the whole situation years later. I ended up going out for coffee with him, going out for lunch. Going to his house, talking for hours on the phone. He wanted me to read the same books he did so that we could talk about them. He bought me gifts, he wrote poems about me.

I pretended for a good year to enjoy his company and to be delighted by his poems and gifts. I couldn't see that it was completely unethical of me to let him believe that I was so interested in him when all the while I was annoyed and creeped out by his behaviour.

Finally, I grew the fuck up. I started avoiding him and didn't return phone calls. It wasn't nice, but it pretty much had to be done. And that was the end of that. But I ran into him on the street one day a couple years later and the look of hurt in his eyes just killed me.

My point is this: consider that it's not helping Gary any for you to defer setting up boundaries with him. You can still be friendly, kind and enjoy your interactions with him too. But you have to figure out where you're going to draw the line, take a deep breathe, and do so. This, for your own good and for his.

If, however, you get the slightest instinct that Gary is capable of stalking and/or assaulting you, ignore everything I've said and speak to your manager or even police immediately.

posted by kitcat at 11:04 PM on July 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

As a manager of a coffeeshop, I can only say: talk to your manager. One creepy customer is never, ever, ever, as important as even the worst employee. The second that a customer crosses the line with any of my co-workers, it's time to go.
posted by hafehd at 11:44 PM on July 3, 2009


1) Why is Gary even being allowed to give gifts to employees? The manager needs to tell him this is unacceptable. I mean, it would be cool and everything if it was more of a gift to the "group" or to one or two baristas for making him awesome coffee, or something. The fact he is known for giving gifts to young individual females is asking for trouble. You need to tell your manager that Gary is weirding you out and that should prompt your manager to tell Gary to cut out his behavior. If you've increased the tips 125%, the manager has a pretty powerful incentive to make sure you stick around.

2) If your manager does nothing, you need to tell Gary you don't feel good about taking gifts from him anymore. You can tell him it's just not something you feel good about, and you can leave it at that. If Gary whines about it, just shrug. You are giving him SOOOO much power right now about worrying how he feels.

3) For future reference, you REALLY need to land a future job where you keep your own tips. Not only will you feel like your looks are an advantage, but from the sound of it, you will probably be making much more money than you do now. (Eventually try waitressing, bartending, any job where you keep your own.) The additional benefit is that you will learn better social skills as a result of it too, since you'll be forced to learn the ropes of social interaction with many different types of people on your own (it is both an initially scary and eventually VALUABLE life experience).

4) I work in an environment where female servers are constantly fending off guys (many of them drunk), and it's a skill that's learned over time. The experienced servers usually inject some form of humor into the situation or just roll their eyes if the guy seems harmless. But then again they're working for their own tips. You're not, so you definitely should feel more free to react icily to some approach.

Because I'm completely jaded, here's the difference:

(Sharing tips)
Guy: "You sure look beautiful today."
You: (silence.)
Guy: "I said you sure look beautiful today. How about a smile?"
You: "Did you want a large or a small?"

(Keeping your own tips)
Guy: "You sure look beautiful today."
You: "Thanks. I feel like shit..." (blah blah blah -- insert small talk here)

You might want to try reading personal blogs of waitresses, and you'll get a good sense of how they deal with come-ons and constant male attention. is a good link (ganked from waiterrant). She has what I think is pretty sane and humorous attitude to male attention and customer bullshit in general.

Good luck!!!
posted by thisperon at 4:33 AM on July 4, 2009

Your looks don't mean you owe anyone anything - you don't owe your boss/co-workers more tips, and you don't owe lonely/creepy old men company. Your looks are for you (and the people you choose) to enjoy.

There's been a lot of good advice on this thread. So I would just add that, yes, you may have got your job because in our imperfect world female beauty has financial value, and that may be a benefit to you. But our world is imperfect and as many times as you'll benefit (from beauty, female-ness, etc), you'll lose out too - in ways that are unfair, arbitrary, shallow, etc. In my opinion, as long as you do your best to treat people ethically and with honor (and not based on their looks or checkbooks) you don't need to feel at all guilty for taking the benefits when they come - you'll get the costs too (it sounds like you've already had some of the costs, in growing up a duckling).

There are hundreds of ways to defuse situations like the one you've described - several have been suggested here. You have to find what works and feels natural to you (which will probably change over time). But ideally I think they all come out of a sense of entitlement - to the respect, personal space, and dignity that you're committed to providing for the other person.

What you're experiencing is a kind of exploitation - exactly of your youth, inexperience and looks (as you've identified). Chances are, unfortunately, that attempts (even subconscious, non-intentional) to exploit you won't end, even if your personal characteristics change. So you have to find your own sense of entitlement and center of power to be able to deal with what comes.

In a situation like this, I agree that talking with, or even just observing, other women in similar roles and how they handle this could be very useful and empowering. No one's born knowing this stuff!
posted by Salamandrous at 8:34 AM on July 4, 2009

Being friendly and approachable does not mean you need to lay out a welcome mat in front of your sexual self. You need to get on board with the concept of boundaries. If men are making you uncomfortable at your job you need to articulate your boundaries in a friendly, approachable, professional manner. It's as simple as saying no thank you to gifts and comments that are inappropriate at the workplace.

I'll be honest with you. It's a bit precious to me that you're willing to play on your looks for jobs and tips but you're not willing to take some responsibility to defend yourself. You are not helpless. Right or wrong, female attractiveness will gain you some advantages and cost you others. Since you are working the advantages, you'll need to deal with the downside.

Every time you let this crap slide, you set up a pattern. Next time it happens, nip it in the bud. You do that a few times and the problem will either be resolved or come to a head in a way that your management cannot ignore.
posted by 26.2 at 5:46 PM on July 4, 2009

It does not matter if your manager hired you for your looks. He's your manager, not your pimp. If the expectation really is to attract customers in with your looks, service creeps like gary, receive their advances with a smile, and make them feel good so they'll keep coming back, one or both of you is in the wrong profession.

There is nothing you can do about the men who say things like "good morning, beautiful" or "my coffee tastes better with your smile." Lots of men, all ages, say things like that all the time, to all sorts of women. They're either genuine flirts, or insincere schmoozers, but they're harmless either way, they just enjoy thinking THEY are charming. Perhaps these comments are a reflection of your looks, perhaps they're not. Some people can sense insecurity, and like to say things like that to make you blush. No matter their reason, these same men say stuff like that on the street, in bars, they're the sort to move you out of the way or slide past you while putting their hands on your back. Some people are just that way. Some women, regardless of looks or age, love this and flirt right back. Some don't, no big deal.

About people like gary, or about gary specifically, you HAVE to speak to your manager. You have to talk to him about it, and make sure it is documented for CYA purposes. Let's say Gary REALLY creeps you out, more than he does already, and you stop being as friendly to him. Or, what if Gary comes in with an inappropriate gift (like tickets to attend a show with him), or what if Gary asks you out? Or if he does corner you after work. If any of these things happen, and you turn him down, what happens when he's hurt and tells your manager that he ordered coffee from you and you said something rude and offended him terribly, or he caught you with your hand in the tip jar, or any other awful accusation? I'm not saying he WILL do this, but what if he does? It'll be his word against yours. Sure, you might have a coworker who says they didn't hear you say anything to Gary, but if you're manager is a customer's always right sort of guy, it's going to be hard to defend yourself. Gary could get even uglier and call the headquarters. Yes, this is probably more dramatic than what will really happen, but it'll be much easier to defend yourself if you already have it documented that gary makes you uncomfortable and that you don't want to accept his gifts. Once you tell your manager about the way Gary makes you feel, anything inappropriate that Gary might do becomes the managers problem. Gary could be a HR liability in waiting (even though he doesn't work there), and your manager needs to figure out what to do, you don't need to be the one to figure it out. So if you're really worried about job security for complaining about Gary, just imagine how much worse the situation could become if you don't say anything?

While you're at it, ask the manager what he feels is the appropriate way to refuse Gary's gifts. I'm willing to bet that there's nothing in the employee handbook requiring you to accept his gifts, so let the manager devise a strategy for you. Then you won't have to worry about poor customer service, you're just following your manager's guidance.

In case I wasn't clear, the men who flirt with you, you're just going to have to deal with. Do not complain to your manager about the one-off customer who looks at your body or pays you a compliment, no matter how lecherous the stare or compliment. As long as they take their coffee and go, no big deal. People like Gary, who stick around all day, bring you gifts and create a situation where it's not unrealistic to wonder if they might pose a threat to you, those are the ones to discuss with your manager.
posted by necessitas at 7:41 PM on July 4, 2009

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