Can Entitled Patrons Cause Psychological Damage to Wait Staff?

Customers who believe they are entitled to more than they deserve can have a negative physical and psychological impact on the employees who serve them, according to a new study. Glenda M. Fisk and Lukas B. Neville of Queen’s University in Australia, sought to determine the effects of high entitlement patrons on wait staff. “For instance, individuals high in entitlement behave competitively, misappropriate resources more often, are self-interested in romantic relationships, and allocate themselves disproportionate levels and types of rewards,” said the researchers. “The expectation of special treatment, absent any felt responsibility to earn such treatment, is found in a range of contexts including employee relations.”

The researchers enlisted 56 people who had an average of 3.4 years of experience waiting tables. They asked them to recall three specific instances in which a customer had expressed an attitude of high entitlement and how it made them feel, both physically and emotionally. The results revealed that the entitled patrons, who exhibited a feeling of superiority, induced stress in the servers. “Entitled customers threw food and money, snapped their fingers, haggled over the price of menu items, and refused to tip,” said the team. “Most frequently, participants noted that entitled customers were verbally aggressive, asking to speak with restaurant management or yelling and cursing at service staff when they did not get their way.”

The effect on the wait staff can be severe. “An examination of server accounts indicated that interactions with entitled customers can take a heavy toll on waitstaff; all but six participants reported some degree of attitudinal or behavioral shift as a result of their dealings with entitled patrons,” said the researchers. Nearly 64 percent of the servers reported emotional regulation and a negative cognitive reaction. Additionally, 12 of the servers said they felt inefficient and reported feeling decreased personal levels of accomplishment. The researchers concluded, “The current research indicates serving entitled patrons exerts negative effects on employee health and wellbeing, suggesting organizations play a more active role in helping their workers manage this construct.”

Fisk, G. M., & Neville, L. B. (2011, June 20). Effects of Customer Entitlement on Service Workers’ Physical and Psychological Well-Being: A Study of Waitstaff Employees. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0023802

© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

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  • Jennifer Smith

    August 12th, 2011 at 4:47 AM

    It is not nice to treat your wait staff badly. . . you never know what kind of nice “additive” your food may receive on the way from the kitchen to the table as a

  • neon

    August 12th, 2011 at 5:42 AM

    feeling entitled is okay but most people would ‘show’ it by being disrespectful to the waiting staff.and it is never a good thing to diss anybody.just because you are a customer doesn’t mean you can treat an employee speaks of you,not that person.its says about your nature and shows you in a bad light as a person!

  • Sally

    August 13th, 2011 at 8:50 AM

    Entitlement and narcissism go hand in hand. If you are taught that the world revolves around you, you’ll behave that way. Others are there to meet your needs. It’s an epidemic in our time. Schools encourage it, TV extolls it. Read Bowling Alone, one of the most insightful explorations of this problem I’ve read. The problem is complex, but altruistic behavior is more uncommon and interaction with other people less frequent, too. Is it hubris, fear or lax parenting? Too many distractions? It appears to be a generational shift.

  • Aprill

    August 14th, 2011 at 4:50 AM

    Do you really think that I, as a waitress, am going to let someone who is so stuck up and “deserving” cause me one minute of trauma? Um, no.

  • Gwen I.

    August 14th, 2011 at 4:33 PM

    Customers have listened too long to the “the customer is always right” mantra and believed it. That applies to a degree but once you start becoming rude and abusive to staff, you’ve lost the right to that. I’ve made some complaints about aggressive customers to my manager and he is not afraid to throw them out. You can complain and keep a cool head.

  • Darryl Mize

    August 14th, 2011 at 7:27 PM

    I’ve worked as a waiter in a Thai restaurant, and we get to hear quite a few comments that are racist. Not just at Asians, but towards non-whites in general. Our boss told us straight up we didn’t have to react to it and if they were rude, we were to just ignore them until they left or swap tables with another waiter if we couldn’t do so. We were not allowed to answer back because it would add fuel to the fire.

  • sabrina

    August 15th, 2011 at 4:42 AM

    there could be some hurt feelings
    but long term damage? no

  • Selena

    August 16th, 2011 at 7:57 AM

    How crazy to think that I am going to let some entitled and priviledged little snobs ruin the way that I feel about myself! I know that they can ask a lot but I am not willing to give up who I am and be brought down a notch or two by someone who has absolutely no right to make me feel bad about myself. I think I would rather waste my time on something else thank you very much.

  • Ian Lockhart

    August 17th, 2011 at 2:13 PM

    I would never be rude to a waiter mainly because that’s not in my nature to be so impolite. I’ll admit it, I’m not forgetting all those hidden camera video shows either that show the patron’s food being tampered with in some gross way either! LOL.

  • jomarcus

    August 17th, 2011 at 3:27 PM

    I wouldn’t say it’s psychologically damaging whatsoever. It really is the wrong thing to do to make demands of anyone serving you when all they want to do is their job. I managed a pizza eaterie and I would wait on the tables if we were short on staff at the last minute or had a particularly busy night. If a customer was rude to me, I would make a comeback and when they demanded to see the manager, I would simply say “You’re talking to him!”.

    We are not your serfs.

  • Belle Carson

    August 17th, 2011 at 4:31 PM

    I’m never rude to wait staff. I have had wait staff be rude to me before and I did not take it lying down. I had left a $5 tip on a $20 order once. The waitress said to me “Is that all?” and sneered at it as if it was a dirty rag. I was so offended I literally snatched it back and went straight to the manager’s desk to let him know that I would not be back.

    Was that rude of me? Yes perhaps, but her comment and general demeanor was completely uncalled for. I think $5 is pretty generous for a $20 tab. It spoiled my whole meal because it ended like that.

    Tips were after all optional and she hadn’t been that attentive or friendly during our meal. If you don’t have the disposition to wait on people, find another job.

  • Sasha Devine

    August 19th, 2011 at 12:35 PM

    Customers that haggle when the price is plainly displayed are the worst. If there are four walls and a roof over your head, the price is generally not up for debate. The ones that throw food around and snap fingers at the staff? Those are the ones that need the manager to call them out on their behavior and tell them to get out the door.

    I don’t get where the public got the idea that waiters should be subservient to them. The best laugh is we probably make more money if you add in our tips than most of these boisterous college kids ever will with their odd summer job.

  • Katie Campbell

    August 19th, 2011 at 4:00 PM

    If anything, all the wait staff do is bring the food. If you have a problem with the food, you should take it up with the chef. If you have a problem with the prices, talk to the manager. If you’re going to be a pain, do everybody a favor and talk to the cashier while you buy a frozen pizza from Wal-Mart and eat alone. Give the diner staff a break eh.

  • Jane C. Rodriquez

    September 26th, 2011 at 3:53 PM

    Time for me as a waiter in an upper scale restaurant to weigh in. As a waiter I know this entitled type of person all to well. They frequent at the restaurant I work at, and we dread having to be their waiter. The regulars that come in and are known for their poor wait staff treatment, cause us to argue over who gets them. It is common for us to have dialogues like “Uh oh, Joey’s back, John how about you take em”, and Joey will respond “I just waited for [insert another arrogant costumer here]”. So you can see for us experienced waiters we dislike helping these people. But who I really feel for is the new guys, they are horrified when treated in such a disrespectful matter. And most of the time they get yelled at for something that isn’t their fault. Bad food, long wait times and inadequate napkins aren’t the waitstaffs fault! Part of the reason so many waiters quit early is because of these entitled people. Twice I’ve walked in on girls crying in a back room after being embarrassed in front of everyone by an entitled costumer. So just be nice guys, you might not realize it but your attacks hurt. And remember karma bites back!

  • Fergus

    April 6th, 2012 at 4:03 AM

    I have worked in so many service (waiting) positions over the past ten years ive lost count and ive seen everything the industry has to offer from the high end establishments to small struggling businesses. The main things i think people should remember about their waiting staff are that they tend to be under a deal of pressure from four main areas. the first is their pay, which is usually the minimum their employers can get away with. the second is managerial pressures (customer is always right) as they have to turn over a profit, they tend to side with the unpleasant customer. Chefs can be great, however having been one myself ive seen and participated in (to my great shame!) abuse to the waiters when customers complain, they can be as horrible as the worst customers. the last is the customers which we’ve all read about above. my advise to those who are not happy with the sevice they recieve should always take the high road and leave generous tip, this may help them to rethink their position or at least brighten their day (remember they earn very little and have to put up with a lot!)
    Laststly thank you! to everyone including the writers of the article and the psychologists for trying to make the world a better place for those who serve you!!!

  • Leisha

    July 8th, 2016 at 7:41 PM

    Whenever I see wait staff being treated badly I always make sure I corner them on the way out and tell them that the customer was a jerk and that they did nothing wrong, I also ask them if they are okay and tell then that we were really happy with out service.

    On occasion I have actually approached the offender and told them that they were completely unreasonable.

    I especially loath people that pick on young kids who are just trying to earn a buck…and very often for their education. I mean, what kind of mega a**hole do you have to be to abuse a kid? Especially when that kid could be psychologically affected by that treatment?

    There are ways of expressing frustrate not derision at bad service without embarrassing someone of reducing their self worth.

    How hard is it to say “I am aware this is probably not your fault, but it took a really long time for the food to come out, and it was cold when it arrived – could you pass this feedback onto your manager on our behalf?”. Because ultimately? It is the manager’s problem to fix any issues in the process that would cause such a problem.

    Whether or not the wait staff communicate the complaint is unimportant, it’s a non-confrontational way to get the point across that their may be problems somewhere without hurting anyone, or sending them to the doctor’s office for anti-depressants.

    Customers do have a right to identify and mention bad service, they don’t have a right to reduce someone to a nervous reck to make themselves feel superior.

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