Service industry has its perks, sometimes pizza

Shelby Niehaus, Columnist

I do not claim to be an expert in economics. To be completely honest, I cannot define economics in any way that would satisfy someone older than the age of 12. Money and finances in sums larger than about $50 confuse me.

So usually, when I tell people I have developed an economic theory of customer-to-employee gift giving, they give me strange looks. But having been on the receiving end of some rather strange trinkets from valued customers, I feel like my theory is well-founded.

If you have ever been friends with a teacher or a secretary, you probably remember the seasonal gifts they pick up from the people they serve. These respected service positions usually attract gifts like lotions, bath products, fresh produce and baked goods.

While not everyone likes these kinds of gifts, they are often considered conventional and safe, if a little impersonal. I theorize that social status as a more respected service worker demands customer or patron gifts that fall into these conventional categories. After all, do you really want to give the secretary something odd when they are the one who finalizes your pay each week?

The further you travel down the service industry respect chain, the stranger gifts get. As a cashier at a store in a small town, I get gifts from regular customers quite often, and those gifts can be rather strange. At various points, I have received such gifts as a pound of kidney bean salad, a single hot wing, entirely too much sweet corn, leftover sweet potato casserole and turkey jerky.

Of course, I have also received Christmas cookies, homemade zucchini bread, chocolate stamped with a local farm’s logo and fresh, unprocessed honey, but those genuinely sweet gifts do not much balance out the stranger ones above.

Even though the gifts my customers bring by the gas station are often weird, and even though they are sometimes just leftover dinner courses that the customer knows they will not finish, I enjoy them the same. Sometimes they save me from going across the parking lot for a hurried Subway sandwich on my night shift, and other times it happens to be a snack I love dearly but cannot make on my own. Other times, it is something I know someone in my family will eat, even if I will not eat it myself.

And sometimes, I get very, very lucky. On rare occasions, the Italian restaurant down the road messes up a pizza order and needs to get rid of it. On these blessed days, the delivery driver (one of my regular customers, of course) brings a whole, unblemished pizza over to me just to get rid of it.

My economic theory still stands, but with one concession: these are rare outlier conditions in which lower-status service jobs garner better gifts. For these conditions to be met, the service worker must make friends with the local delivery driver. Looking suitably bored at work also helps.

If you like relying on safe gifts and you do not like buying your own lotions and hand soaps, maybe secretarial labor is for you. But if you can stomach kidney bean salad for the sake of the occasional free pizza, try out a job at the gas station.

Shelby Niehaus is a senior English language arts major. She can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].