Teach me how to treat every professional with the respect and conduct they want.
October 10, 2011 5:01 PM   Subscribe

I know how to treat a waiter/waitress or a barista properly -- how do I do the same for my tech support guy, doctor, mechanic, tailor, or professor?

Being in the service industry, I've learned a lot about the ideal way to interact with a server, barista, or bartender. But knowing this (at times pretty intricate) code, --and seeing firsthand that many people don't know it or seem to ignore it -- has made me afraid that I haven't been treating the other professionals in my life very well, and curious as to how I might do better. So this is a question where I'd like to hear from people of many customer-facing professions about how they'd like to be treated, so I might better navigate my professional or otherwise transactional relationships. What are your pet peeves? What do you really want your client/customer/patient to do?

Secondhand knowledge, or received knowledge about this would be lovely, but I'm really looking for insider perspectives.
posted by liminalrampaste to Human Relations (21 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: You are not your professor's or university tutor's customer, and s/he is not providing you a service in a commercial transaction. In fact the surest way to piss off someone working in an educational institution is to come on with commercial rhetoric ie. "But you can't give me that mark, I paid good money for this course!" I'm not saying you'd pull that kind of thing, but you'd be surprised how many people do. If you're paying a fee for your education, then the commercial relationship is with the university/school, or to the State or Government which supports it.

Your teacher is your social equal who happens to know much much more about the subject you're in class to talk about, and much more than titles or being polite s/he probably just wants you to read more.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 5:14 PM on October 10, 2011 [13 favorites]

has made me afraid that I haven't been treating the other professionals in my life very well

I think that you have to bring in a tighter definition of "professionals" here: doctors, lawyers, professors occupy traditionally different domain of employment from skilled tradespeople, to which you can include serving staff, barbers, mechanics, etc. (Tech support comes somewhere between the two, depending upon the nature of the work.) Things like tip culture apply more to the latter than the former. To me, it's always seemed like a remnant of old master/servant relationships, but it's pretty deeply embedded. This isn't to belittle the professionalism of baristas; it's just a reflection on how the client relationship is socially construed.

For people who fit that narrower description of "professionals": pay on time, respect contracts, don't get revisionist about the bill; the best equivalent to a tip is a word-of-mouth recommendation to your peers.
posted by holgate at 5:14 PM on October 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

I think as long as you're being as respectful, fair and understanding to your other professional relationships as you are to your barista, you're doing fine. Basic needs aren't really that different when it's a matter of exchanging money for goods and services. Communicate what you want clearly, be polite, pay the correct amount when it's due.
posted by bleep at 5:19 PM on October 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

If my clients treat me with respect, I'm happy.

Honestly, this question is hard to delve into beyond that without specifics. And how is there an "intricate code" and "ideal way" to interact with servers and baristas? Again, if you treat them with respect and aren't a dick, that seems to go well, and not doing so can lead to lots of annoyances. But beyond tipping, what's so intricate? What's the complication? People are people and they enjoy being treated as such.
posted by J. Wilson at 5:31 PM on October 10, 2011 [4 favorites]

Seconding J. Wilson- what is this "intricate code" you speak of?

Be polite. Be nice. Remember that the person you're dealing with is, at the end of the day, a person.

"Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle." - John Watson
posted by mkultra at 5:48 PM on October 10, 2011

I agree with J. Wilson. As a customer/client, it isn't your job to learn some intricate code. If there's some esoteric information that you should be aware of, it's their job to let you know, because (a) they're the experts and (b) they're pocketing your money. As the one who's losing money, you shouldn't have to worry about whether you're doing every little thing right. The customer who gets every detail exactly right is a rarity — I'd say this happens less than 10% of the time. I have worked in a cafe, so I know that customers are constantly getting little things wrong. It's the cafe worker's job to be able to cope with this and to guide the customers in the right direction as needed. When I worked in cafes, I took great pride in the fact that I was able to give any customers what they needed, and it didn't matter if they were stumbling in at 7 a.m. half-asleep because they didn't have their coffee yet, or if they were physically disabled and couldn't do everything I might have naively expected every Joe Q. Customer to do, or what. A worker who gets offended at the slightest deviation by a customer/client from some imagined "code" would not be doing the best job at helping the people who are paying them, thus allowing them to have a job in the first place (i.e. those same customers/clients).
posted by John Cohen at 5:54 PM on October 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Techs probably have a harder time talking to you. We're not all socially awkward, with self-taught social skills, though some of us are. But even in person, we have a tough time finding the right level at which to talk to new people about technical things. Some customers don't want to know anything technical; others hate bring treated like they don't know anything; still others only know enough to be dangerous and appreciate being educated on the topic.

No doubt this applies to most skilled professions for which the skill is not a common one; certainly it's more important for your doctor to tell you everything you might need to know, while your mechanic might stick to telling you what you need to stop doing wrong (if that's the case), not the arcana of the top-dead-center setting on the timing-belt indicator.

That in mind, help the professional find your level. Be open to learning about the problem, if you can, or gently but firmly state that you'd really just like it fixed, if it's all the same. Techs will want to tell you if you're doing something wrong, and nearly all of us know of a politic way of doing so, and what to tell you to do different. Techs like new problems, not repeat problems, so we'd rather you didn't break something exactly the same way every time. As long as you're dealing with professionals, some of them will tell you you're doing something wrong. That's one of the reasons you pay them, so take in the knowledge, and sometimes you have to un-learn what dad always said about cars, or what your cousin's roommate said about copyright law.

Also, Pros aren't really impressed with your internet research. We like that it shows an interest, but it can be a waste of the pro's time explaining why certain possibilities were eliminated.

Also, don't tip your tech in money-- it's not expected, and like I said, techs can be awkward and might have a hard time receiving one. Baked goods or beverages are the way to go here. And when a professional has a lot of coworkers, make a dozen of whatever-- given a particular tech problem, there's a good chance I'll ask my coworkers for input anyway, so you never know who solved your problem.
posted by Sunburnt at 6:01 PM on October 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

I like my job. I'm good at it. My "pet peeves" do not get me worked up on the job and cause me to mistreat customers.

However, since you asked... I work in a retail (record store). Here are some things I wish customers wouldn't do:

1. Customers who wander around the store talking loudly to their friends with obvious questions meant for me. ("I wonder where they keep the ...." or "Do you think they have..."). Just ask! The workers behind the counter aren't monsters. Approach them and tell them what you want.

2. Do not ask me what's playing and then come back a week later and thank me because you've downloaded all the artists' albums or that you bought them at my competition. We play music in the store because we want to turn people onto new stuff and sell it to them. If you're too broke to buy it from us and have to download it, that's fine. Not everyone's got cashflow--but don't brag about it to us; keep it to yourself.

3. Do not special order items and then not pick them up. Markup on most items is 20%. For every obscure item you order that I cannot return to my supplier, I have to swallow the profit on five other items of equal value before I break even.

4. And just because you've gotten a deal in the past does not give you the right to bitch when you don't. We have a lot of regular customers we discount product for. But when a new staff member is there who doesn't know you--or we can't offer the discount for whatever reason--and you demand the discount the "other guy" gives you, you look like an ass. And if the non-new staff can determine who you are you will never get another discount again. The easiest way to not be entitled to special treatment is to act entitled.

5. When things don't go your way the worst thing you can say to the staff is, "I'm a regular customer!" Believe me, if you were a regular customer, I'd know who you were. Without exception every single person I've served in 25 years in retail who says, "But I'm a regular customer!"... isn't.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 6:43 PM on October 10, 2011 [5 favorites]

A good professor will see themselves as an educator. Here is what you need to do to treat them with respect:
  • Show up for class. On time, every day. Have your phone off. Don't check Facebook on your computer or read newspapers in class.
  • Do all the assigned reading and homework on time.
  • Go to office hours to get help, long in advance of when your paper is due or your exam is.
What not to do is mainly those things that treat the professor as someone providing a consumer service rather than an educator:
  • Don't act as if the graded portions of the class are the only important parts.
  • Don't ask if you missed "anything important" when you're missing a class.
  • Don't argue that other circumstances in your life demand raising your grade.

posted by grouse at 7:34 PM on October 10, 2011 [6 favorites]

One pet peeve of mine (in my supervision mode) is someone trying to second-guess what I'm going to want ahead of time and not be prepared for other possibilities. Do not count on me cutting you some slack - be prepared to do everything by the book.

Just because I let the other guy bend a rule or do something the easier way does not mean I will do the same thing in your similar (to you) situation. I'm paid to know the difference between risky and not risky and act appropriately. Some things that affect that decision are not known to you.

I guess that might have analogous situations sometimes when you're dealing with people that have to enforce rules on you.

The other thing that used to drive me nuts when I was a mechanic, was people telling me what I needed to do to fix their machine without telling me the symptoms of the problem. I preferred they report what makes them think there is a problem, then when I come look at it, THEN tell me the crazy-ass theory of what's wrong with it. That way I can check it out right there and figure out what's really wrong with the machine, and not waste a bunch of time prepping for the wrong job.
posted by ctmf at 8:08 PM on October 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I'm not necessarily asking for the answer to a secret code, or things I can impress people with -- just ways to make sure I'm being a good customer or client, and make people's jobs easier. Many responses so far have been helpful and informative; thank you.

Since you asked, these are some things I've learned about how, ideally, one should treat service people. These are not at all required. Good people in service try to treat everyone pleasantly. But following these guidelines will make your service people especially happy. This is for Canada, by the way -- especially as applies to tip amounts. Canada is a tipping country.


1) Try not to get your bill split up in complex ways. Going halfway is fine, but going three ways or four ways takes a lot of the server's time, especially on a busy night. Much worse still is if you ask for this pasta to be consigned to this bill, and that cocktail to that bill. If you must do this, please let the server know beforehand. ALSO: If you pay partly by cash, and partly by card, make sure that the cash includes a tip. Many people inadvertently tip very badly, by, say, having one person throw in $40, and then having another person pay $40 with debit -- the result is that the server is tipped for a $40 table, and not an $80 table.

2) If you're not drinking, or otherwise spend a minimal amount of money at the restaurant, realize that offering you special snowflake service (music requests, multiple table changes, order changes, multiple substitutions) ultimately results in less financial reward for the server, and thus they will be less happy about doing it -- although if they're good at their job, they won't show it.

3) 10% is not a standard tip, 15% is. After tax. 20% is good. If you wait awhile because the front of house is understaffed, understand that tipping less probably won't get the management to change the schedule. It just means the server goes home with less money for working harder. Guidelines one and two can be waived if you tip extra well.

4) For goodness' sake, don't yell at your server across the floor unless the situation is truly dire.


1) Especially if it's busy, try to have your mind made up when you get in the line.

2) If you're at a place that takes its coffee seriously, espressos and macchiatos to go will be viewed similarly to asking for condensed milk on a striploin steak. Just an odd thing to do, and a waste of a good product.

3) By all means engage and talk to the people behind the counter. They'll love you for it. But understand that sometimes they have to work like robots to get through a rush -- they're not trying to be surly, it's just that they can't maintain a conversation. And please don't be offended if they have to break off the conversation to deal with something.


1) Know when you're at a mostly beer and shots type place, or a cocktail type place.

2) If you ask for a complex drink, try and tip well.

YMMV of course. If you find any of this spectacularly odd, feel free to MeMail me.
posted by liminalrampaste at 8:09 PM on October 10, 2011

Wife of a technician here....

Respect the technician's knowledge and experience, especially if that's why you chose said technician in the first place.

Don't bug the technician with repeated requests for "status updates"--You're taking up time that could be spent working on your gear.
posted by luckynerd at 8:33 PM on October 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

I gave the lawyer and broker who handled my condo purchase gift certificates to a day spa and electronics store. My mother used to make candy for my favorite teachers at school for the winter holidays.
posted by brujita at 9:24 PM on October 10, 2011

2) If you're at a place that takes its coffee seriously, espressos and macchiatos to go will be viewed similarly to asking for condensed milk on a striploin steak. Just an odd thing to do, and a waste of a good product.

Really? whenever I worked in a cafe we figured that some people just don't like all the latte (milk) in the lattes. Short blacks and machs are how some people roll! And hey, wouldn't it be more purist to skip adulterating the coffee with milk?

I think all these rules are summed up as "don't be a jerk."
posted by titanium_geek at 9:45 PM on October 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: When someone comes to your home to perform a service, offer them something to drink. If they are going to be around for a while, provide a brief orientation (bathroom is over here, feel free to grab ice+water from the dispenser on the fridge, stay away from the extremely angry iguana over here). It's pretty much automatic for me to offer a drink to a service provider in my home, but the reactions I often get are akin to if I made them a six-course lunch and arranged a back massage.

In other words, it's a basic bit of common courtesy that seems to be much appreciated.
posted by zachlipton at 9:55 PM on October 10, 2011 [4 favorites]

I'm going to argue with you on 1. I think it depends a lot on where you are. I live in an expense account town (Ottawa) where almost every single restaurant you go to will ask if you want separate bills. I moved here from Vancouver where it is virtually impossible to get separate bills (or it was 4 years ago). I have been told all kinds of crazy reasons by Vancouver servers why separate bills are not possible including that it would be impossible to get all the food to the table at the same time that way because the kitchen wouldn't know the orders were all from the same table.

Separate bills--simple ones that have your whole meal + drinks on them--also pretty much resolve the situation where the server gets stiffed on the tip because everyone is using bad math. I used to think they were kind of tacky, now I just think they're practical.

For the rest, I think you are making this more complicated that it needs to be. Be respectful, use the magic words, don't be a trouble-maker. When it comes to specific advice, be aware that people may be giving you tips that are appropriate regionally but completely gauche or offensive where you live.
posted by looli at 10:00 PM on October 10, 2011

Response by poster: looli, that's really interesting, thank you. I love regional variance with this stuff. I agree that 'be respectful, use the magic words, don't be a trouble-maker' is a good guideline for, well, almost all non-intimate human relationships. I guess I asked this question because outside of my expertise, it's sometimes hard to know exactly what 'trouble' or 'respectful' mean. If nothing else, I will now bring delicious cookies to good tech guys.
posted by liminalrampaste at 10:06 PM on October 10, 2011

Liminalrampaste, I totally get you. I get the flop sweats trying to figure out who to tip and when.
posted by looli at 7:17 AM on October 11, 2011

Best answer: I think it's a fair question, at least as far as medicine is concerned- after all, it is sort of a service industry.

Anyway, I think by far the best things you can do to be a good patient:
-Be not just on time, but early for your appointments. If you're late, then your appointment runs over, then the next patient scheduled has to wait longer, etc. Especially if you're right in the morning, it can screw up the whole day for the office. Besides, if you're early and the person who's scheduled at that particular moment is running late, often times they'll just go ahead and see you. Also, if you're not going to make it to your appointment, call and tell them. Then they may be able to squeeze someone else in. Or, if you're the last appointment that day, go home early!
-Don't lie about stuff. Really, it makes it easier on everyone if you're straightforward in your visit. So many people try to tell doctors what they want to hear and it makes it harder to give appropriate care.
-Actually make an attempt to take your doctor's advice. When patients come in because they are feeling crappy, but then it turns out they haven't been taking the medication/ following the diet/ doing whatever else they are supposed to be doing, it's difficult for the doctor to help you because . . . well, if you aren't going to follow their advice, what else can they really do?

Besides that, the usual stuff applies. Be nice and polite. If you appreciate their help, tell them so. Obviously most doctors don't really need any sort of gifts of monetary value, but I've seen patients bake cookies and stuff which generally go over well and get shared with the office staff.

(IANAD, but I am a student and have spent a lot of time following docs around in their offices/ clinics and this was the sort of thing I mostly noticed them and the office staff getting annoyed at patients over.)
posted by GastrocNemesis at 12:33 PM on October 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: So much of what GastrocNemesis said applies to the hairdressing industry as well, but I'm going to follow up with a couple of things.

- In addition to not being late (ugh, this is such a thing! we send out a bloody reminder text and everything!), please don't pitch a fit if I'm not immediately ready when you walk through the door. I don't want to rush my previous client, just as I'm sure you wouldn't want me to rush through your time. Give me some breathing space; I know you're there, I'll get to you soon!

- Don't complain about the prices. I didn't set them. I get very little say in them. If I could, I would raise them, because I work on commission. When you make a fuss because you're being charged x instead of y and you didn't think to read the price list beforehand, all I'm hearing in my head is that you don't value the work I've done and don't think I deserve a proper wage.

- When I ask you how you'd like me to cut your hair, don't say, "The same as last time." I have a pretty amazing memory, but I've probably done 200+ clients since the last time I saw you. It's doubtful that I'm going to remember exactly what I did. Help me out.

- Similarly, don't say, "Do whatever you want." Part of what you're paying for is my skill and ability to know what will suit your hair type/colouring/face shape/styling ability/etc, so I can certainly give you some guidance, but I can't decide for you. Put some effort into the choice, otherwise you're certain to be disappointed.

- If you're bringing your child in to have their hair cut, some tips:
-- Wash their hair. Especially if they have a tendency to get things stuck in it. I can only be so gentle when I'm trying to comb through the day-old food in your kid's tangles.
-- Similarly, brush it every now and again, or better yet, teach them to brush it themselves.
-- Use conditioner. It's not just an adult thing.
-- Please don't bring them in if they have communicable issues like chicken pox or head lice. It's not my job to remove nits; in fact, I'm not technically supposed to finish a hair cut if I've found a live louse. Do you want your kid to be the one with the half finished hair cut? No? Make sure they don't have bugs crawling around in there. And don't lie about the number of days it's been since the chicken pox showed up or that "most of them have scabbed over." I'm pretty sure you can wait another week, it's just a hair cut.
-- Don't let your kid kick/hit/pinch/grope/spit on (yep!) me, or at the very least, a light reprimand wouldn't go amiss. If you're really intent on having me cut his/her hair, holding flailing limbs will go a long way toward making me inclined to finish.
-- I am holding incredibly sharp scissors. This is a given. Understanding that I could cut myself or your child is helpful. Warning your child that I will cut off his ear if he doesn't sit still is not helpful.
-- Have a good idea of how you'd like me to cut their hair. I can't just "start with half an inch and then see," because I have 15 minutes, not 45. You're paying 10 bloody quid, let's get real. Pick a length, and don't force me to do the haircut a second time because you've changed your mind.

Whoa. Angst. Sorry.
posted by catch as catch can at 4:54 PM on October 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

But aren't these all just localized examples of the Golden Rule?

My suggestion is, treat everyone with politeness, respect, patience, and empathy. A little humor helps, too. *shrug* You may later prove yourself unworthy of my friendliness and good manners, but I am going to give you the benefit of the doubt when we start.
posted by wenestvedt at 12:26 PM on October 13, 2011

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