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OPINION

The Sorry State Of Service In America

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
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Paul Sancya

I happened to be driving by my local Java Juice last week when the thought occurred to me, out of the blue, that a smoothie might be nice. If you’ve ever been to a Java Juice, you know it’s expensive and maybe even a bit ‘crunchy’ for eastern Tennessee, but even the hippiest hippies working there can make a pretty darn good smoothie when they put their minds to it. Call me what you want, but I’m often a sucker for a good smoothie, and I’m willing to pay for it.

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With the open sign flashing and my taste buds set, I drove into a mostly empty parking lot and glanced at the time. It was 7:50 pm and they closed at eight. Was it too late? I worked at a restaurant for two years during college, both as a server and a cook, and it was never our favorite thing to have customers come waltzing in at closing time and expect to sit at a table and get served for an hour while tired workers try to do closing tasks and get out of there for the night. We still did it though, and with a smile. But this was a smoothie, not a sit-down meal, and the store was empty of customers. Surely they would appreciate the business, I thought.

When I walked up, however, I pulled on the door only to find it locked. But the lights were on and I could see what appeared to be the back of a female worker’s head behind the counter. She was sitting, facing the wall and looking down, probably playing with her phone. I gently tapped on the door, but she never turned around. I went back to my car and drove away, frustrated more with the state of the American workforce than the fact that I wasn’t getting my smoothie.

If only to make myself feel slightly less frustrated, I went home and wrote a scathing Google review. But the intent wasn’t just to get it off my chest, it was also to let the owner know what was going on in his or her establishment. Maybe they approved the worker closing early, but if they did she should have turned the sign off, and if they routinely did they should change their publicized hours. As any business owner knows, if customers can’t depend on set hours to know when they can get a product or a service, the business will suffer long-term. I guessed the owner did not approve, and when I got a response the next day along with an apology and a gift card offer, my guess was proven correct.

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This was just the latest and top of mind, but I could tell plenty more stories like this, particularly from the past three years. I’m sure you could too. Sadly, occurrences like this are far too common, and they represent what seems to be a growing disconnect between employees and employers who are often seen as holding infinite purse strings and paying their people as close to starvation wages as they can get away with. In this case, this employee seemed to be perfectly happy to cost her employer a customer, and unknown gross revenue, in exchange for getting to chill out on the company dime for the last few minutes of her shift. It would have taken all of five minutes to take my money and make my order, but she couldn’t be bothered. However, no doubt she will gladly and unashamedly cash her paycheck when it comes, and the irony will be completely lost on her.

We’ve all seen it. Service as we once knew it has gone to hell in this country, and it seems to be getting exponentially worse by the day. There are many factors driving this, of course, including and especially Covid and governments’ destructive response as well as the rise of leftism and entitled, socialistic thinking among America’s youth. But it’s killing businesses, which will in turn eventually be killed as ungrateful employees rob them blind and patrons avoid their establishments. Stick it to “the man,” entitled workers may think, but who is “the man”? In this case and countless more, Java Juice may be a “big business,” but locations are franchised to individual entrepreneurs, all of whom take tremendous personal risk to open and run their stores, and will take a huge financial hit if they fail.

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Maybe the worker whose back of the head I saw meant well and just made a mistake. Maybe some counseling from her boss will turn things around and she’ll end up doing a good job. She should at least get credit for showing up to work in the first place. Still, employers are increasingly being forced to consider whether getting rid of a non-productive employee is better than having no employee at all, and that's sad. 

Certainly, companies, both large and small, should hire the right people, pay them well, and hold them accountable to performance. That’s a given, but it’s easier said than done. What happens when you can barely find anyone willing to do your jobs? I’ve heard horror stories of businesses raising their wages to the point where they barely break even only to have almost zero applicants. At that point, government must reassess its role, because none of this has happened in a vacuum. 

The labor force participation rate among 20-24 year-olds declined over 6% from 2001 to 2021, from 77.1% to 70.8%. That equates to millions of young people choosing to sit on the sidelines instead of finding work to support themselves. So who is supporting them? Government? Family? Charity? Who is going to man the entry-level jobs so critical to not just the basic infrastructure of the country, but the way millions of Americans find enjoyment each week? When restaurants can’t find good help, they end up closing just the same as when they can't find good customers.

When businesses can’t find workers, they hire anyone who breathes, and service suffers both from the lack of help as well as the fact that the help that is there often does more harm than good. None of this is sustainable for an economy in desperate need of a spark, and there doesn’t appear to be a lot of hope in sight. Maybe things will begin to turn around when enough people try to go out on ‘date night’ only to realize there’s barely anywhere left to go.

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