DEAR AMY: I work in a small cafe. We serve a lot of visitors from out of town, have a good reputation and good reviews online, and are often very busy. Lately, I have been feeling anxious about going to work because we have received some very negative reviews on TripAdvisor over what are minor issues. We have also had customers openly yell at us. My employer has stood behind the employees in every instance, but I cannot help feeling extreme guilt over some of these reviews (in which I was one of the servers involved). There are days when I have trouble forcing a smile for someone being rude. I have feelings and am trying hard to make everyone happy and serve them quickly! I have two questions for you: As a public figure who receives lots of feedback — positive and negative — how do you distance yourself from all the online negative feedback? No matter how many happy and polite customers I serve in real life, the angry ones online leave such a lasting impression. My second question is about how to respond to obviously unhappy people. It seems to have become OK to yell at or berate a young person working part time for a minor mistake, or because it's busy. How do I balance being a good server with standing up for myself as a human being?
DEAR STRESSED: I receive a lot of online negativity, and I don't always handle it well. I try to take criticism constructively. I try — always — to be polite, and in many cases, people react well when I respond well.
I do not go out of my way to find reviews. I don't read through the hundreds of reviews of my books, or the thousands of comments posted underneath my column in the many outlets where it is published. Why? Because online commenters are most often talking to each other (which they have every right to do), and I have to get out of bed every morning and go back to my desk.
Unless it is part of your job description, you should not check online rating sites for reviews. Your manager should check these sites, and will handle responding to these reviews, using them to help train the hardworking staff.
Your job every day is to do your best to serve your customers, to admit any errors and address them promptly, to behave respectfully, and to learn and grow as you go. No — people should never yell at you. When they do, you should assume that they are having a bad day, and you should never take it personally — even if they want you to.
Your best, most patient, and highest-tipping customers will often be former servers (like me) who know what it's like. This will be great training for any future job.
DEAR AMY: I recently got divorced, bought a modestly priced house and renovated the inside. People are always pleasantly surprised when they come inside my home. My dilemma is that they (often people who are providing a service call) will almost always ask me what I do for a living. I am on long-term disability but don't really wish to offer up this information, nor do I want to be rude. Do you have a response I could use?
Disabled and Stylish
DEAR STYLISH: People might ask you this because they are impressed by the inside of your home and are perhaps assuming that you are a professional designer.
(My perspective on this is based on the fact that in many decades in many different homes, no tradesman or tradeswoman has ever asked me what I do for a living.)
If you don't want to supply any information at all, you could respond: "Oh, I do this and that." "I'm a freelancer," or, "I'm between gigs."
You could also respond to this question by saying, "Oh, why do you ask?" The answer might be: "Well, your home is so gorgeous. I wondered if you are a designer taking clients."
DEAR AMY: I am so tired of your PC nonsense, I could scream. "Not (Usually) a Hothead" wrote about calling an in-law a "racist ... moron" and storming out of the house because the relative suggested a political theory. And you agreed with the jerk who openly abused this family member!
DEAR DISGUSTED: You are incorrect. I called out both the "birther" conspiracy theory this in-law spouted, as well as the "Hothead," who verbally abused him before storming out. Both were wrong.