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Politics and Pop Culture: Video of workplace abuse calls for change in food service environment

Last week, a video showing a man verbally abusing workers at a Tim Hortons drive-thru went viral. He screamed profanities at them and demanded they make him an extra-large dark roast with a double espresso. The reason for his outburst was that the store’s card reader was down, so they were only accepting cash. Even though a sign was attached to the menu board clearly stating they were cash-only for the day, the man arrived at the window with no money expecting to be served for free and with a smile.  

Even if the Tim Hortons workers had done something wrong, there is no excuse for this kind of behavior from a customer. This incident is a good example– though an extreme one– of how customers, employers and the government treat customer service workers in the food industry.

Food service workers are forced to be yes-men; if they don’t comply with a customer’s demands, they are reprimanded by their superiors. Thus “the customer is always right” mantra has created an industry that allows customers to walk all over workers. More than 60% of food industry workers report facing abuse from customers, and almost 50% report facing abuse from managers. This mistreatment is why so many establishments are severely understaffed and have had to cut their hours. Workers have grown tired of being taken advantage of and exploited. 

In addition to being abused, customer service employees are overworked and underpaid. The federal minimum wage is $7.25, although Wyoming and Georgia have theirs set at $5.15, only adhering to the federal minimum wage in circumstances where the employee is not exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act. In other words, student workers, interns and new trainees are not entitled to $7.25. Both of these numbers are far from a livable wage. In fact, no person earning minimum wage can afford a place to live. To afford a typical one-bedroom apartment, a full-time worker would need to earn an hourly wage of at least $21.25, almost three times the federal minimum wage. 

A common phrase I keep hearing these days is, “Food service workers have gotten lazy.” I’ve heard it on social media and from people in person, but this claim is extremely out of touch. Food service workers have not gotten lazy, they have simply realized their worth. They are paid minimum wage, so they give minimal effort, and I applaud them for that. Why should they be expected to provide stellar service in an establishment that doesn’t even pay them enough to survive? 

Whether or not people realize it, food service workers are important and deserve to be treated as such. Mistreatment is the principal reason people quit food service jobs, and 66% of former restaurant workers said they would consider returning if their needs were met, including better treatment and better pay. 

The incident at Tim Hortons, and similar incidents, is a product of its environment. Customer abuse stems from mistreatment by the establishment itself. The call is coming from inside the house. 

Brianna Tassiello is a sophomore studying journalism at Ohio University. Please note that the opinions expressed in this article do not represent those of The Post. Want to talk to Brianna? Email her at

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