A couple years ago I worked at a smoothie shop on a college campus. More than my juice blending skills, I got to practice my customer interaction skills.

One interaction involved a frantic search for a missing piece of an orange juicer. My efforts were fruitless. Soon the impatient customer demanded a refund, but I had no clue how to issue refunds. Regardless, I spent the next moments panicking and poking at the buttons on the register. When my manager finally showed up to save the day,  she calmly denied the refund, pulled the missing part from the drying rack, and made the juice.

Another time, I arrived at work on a Sunday to find customers waiting outside. We didn’t open for another half-hour, but they were late for some event and I was overly eager to help. I let them in and made their smoothies. At the time, it seemed like I was going above and beyond my obligations as an employee. The customer comes first, right? It took my manager’s scolding afterwards to realize that I had gone beyond what I was allowed to do as an employee.

Being too agreeable is a recipe for chaos. In both cases, my customers would have been better served by bluntness rather than empathy. I should have told the first customer that the orange juicer wasn’t working today. I should have told the early birds that the store was closed. I’m pretty sure by helping them, I further delayed the event they were late to.

Fast food is an endless stream of busywork. With queues out the door and wait times up to ten minutes, it’s difficult to not feel rushed. But being rushed never helped. I would spill smoothies and mix up orders. The more hurried I acted, the more often my customers grew impatient. I had to learn a new mindset. Everyone would get their juice eventually. I could deliver drinks with a smile, and it almost seemed like my customers became more accepting of the wait as well.

It’s worth preserving my serenity over fixing every problem thrown in my path. I learned I can’t please everyone. Setting business boundaries allows me to provide a more consistent service. I’m grateful for this lesson, and hope to remember it often.

Of course, the greatest lesson was how to make a mean smoothie.

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