Spit in your soup might not be unintentional

Dr. Emily Hunter
Dr. Emily Hunter
Dr. Emily Hunter

By Amanda Yarger

A Baylor professor’s study is gaining national attention for finding that 6 percent of food service industry employees contaminate food and engage in other deviant workplace behaviors.

Dr. Emily Hunter, assistant professor in management, said the causes behind these attitudes vary.

“We perceive deviance or bad things at work happening because of a few bad apples, but the research shows it’s all a part of a circumstance or situation,” Hunter said. She said often, an employee can inappropriately react to a situation.

Hunter co-authored an internationally recognized ten-year study focusing on workplace deviance. Workplace deviance is any behavior that may negatively impact the establishment atmosphere.

A survey of approximately 400 service industry participants found a majority of servers have engaged in deviant behavior. Almost eighty percent talked poorly of a customer, while 72 percent lied to a customer. Approximately 43 percent argued with a customer and 6 percent contaminated food.

As of May 2013, over 3 million Americans were working in the food service industry, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Known for its fast-paced atmosphere, the service industry’s environment provides many stressors that can affect employees’ interactions with customers, Hunter said.

Some servers, however, have the natural tendency to become agitated. Employees who have the inclination to be angry may have a difficult time controlling that anger.

Inability to hide that anger could lead to direct conflict with a customer through a passive-aggressive attitude. Employees may ignore customers or offer fewer services because they feel the risk of punishment from their company is low.

“The majority of bad behaviors are those less likely to have consequences,” Hunter said. “They’re less likely to get fired for ignoring a customer or talking about a customer behind their back. Even arguing with a customer is not as bad as contaminating food or stealing a tip.”

Fraudulent tipping and food contamination represent two of the worst offenses recorded in the study. Eleven percent of Hunter’s survey participants admitted to adding a tip to a customer’s bill.

Often a server may act defensive in response to customer’s attitude without a full consideration of the complaint by the customer, causing a situation to escalate.

Robinson junior Coleman Swoveland bartends and serves at Torchy’s Tacos. He admits he ignores a customer who acts rude.

“I’m more likely to not upsell or save them money,” Swoveland said. “I wait until they leave and then I’ll make a comment about them.”

A business can use different methods to help ease the frustration employees may experience at work, including allowing servers to give small discounts or take periodic rest breaks.

Edinbury freshman Elvia Cardenas, a server at Pizza Hut, said her supervisors allow employees to stop service to patrons who are rude or disruptive.

“We have a policy that if a customer is rude, we actually tell them, ‘I’m sorry, but let me speak with the manager,’” Cardenas said. “Then we go and get the manager and tell them they’re being rude.”

Instead of reacting defensively, Hunter suggests allowing servers to offer small incentives to the customer in exchange for the complaint.

“Allowing employees to offer small discounts or reparations to try as a first step to help a customer feel satisfied when they leave, you may never need the supervisor,” she said.

Other methods employees may use include emotionally distancing themselves from the customer. The customer can also do their part to not provide additional stress for the server.

Interactions can become “tit for tat” between the customer and server, Hunter said.

“By being impatient or demanding, the server may want to get back at them,” she said.