the horror of service industry jobs

Illustrating the Horror of Service Industry Jobs

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“You chose to work in the consumer service profession and I’m a consumer. Service me”

Customer service industry jobs can be brutal. We’ve all experienced the cheery synthetic fluorescent lighting, the coworkers who are so beat down that they’re almost robotic, the weirdly controlling manager who thinks people actually want to be there and all the other horrors of working in a place like this. My favorite show, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, highlighted these horrors in a visceral way, and is a great example of why these jobs are so miserable.

*Warning – Spoilers Ahead For Buffy the Vampire Slayer – If you haven’t seen it yet, watch it on Hulu and then come back!

Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Service Industry Jobs

You might be wondering how a teenage drama showcases the horror of service industry jobs better than anything else. The truth is, Buffy is far more than a high school drama. It’s a show about growing up and navigating life that uses metaphors to showcase real word situations. One of those real-life situations that it aptly explores is looking for work.

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Finding a job is a rite of passage to adulthood, and for many of us, that first job is in the service industry. This is explored heavily in season four of Buffy. Xander, one of the show’s main characters and a best friend to Buffy, attempts to work at a number of low-wage terrible jobs. He delivers pizzas, drives an ice cream truck, and even tries his hand as a bartender. None of these jobs work out, but his floundering is relatable. A lot of us bounced from horrible job to horrible job, unsure what we wanted, unsure of our direction. And a lot of us are still doing it.

What is an Example of a Service Industry Job?

A service industry job is any position that’s primary focus is on helping people purchase things. A great example of a service industry is retail. The main job of a retail worker is to assist customers in finding what they need and helping them purchase their items. Buffy the Vampire Slayer explores retail work in season six’s “Life Serial”.

In this episode, Buffy is looking for a way to pay the massive amount of bills that built up while she was indisposed after season five. Giles, the group’s mentor, offers her a part-time position at his store, The Magic Box. Unfortunately for Buffy, a trio of wannabe big-bads makes it their mission to make her life miserable. They create a time loop, trapping her in the same 20 minutes of retail misery for hours.

Buffy’s short stint at the Magic Box does an excellent job of illustrating the drudgery that is life in retail. As Buffy herself puts it “I was bored to tears even before the hour that wouldn’t end”. Retail work is often boring, tedious, and unappreciated.  

What Kind of Jobs are in the Service Industry?

There are a plethora of jobs available in the service industry. These include positions in hospitality, call centers, and any other sectors where your job is directly related to serving customers.

The two biggest and most recognizable types of hobs in the services sector are retail, like we mentioned above, and food service.

Are Restaurants Considered Service Industry?

Restaurants account for a huge portion of service industry jobs, which brings us to the episode of Buffy where the real horrors of working in this environment are best showcased. This episode is season six’s “Double Meat Palace”.

The Double Meat Palace is a fast-food restaurant in the Buffyverse. Because of Buffy’s extracurricular activities, her career opportunities are greatly limited, so the only place that she’s able to find stable employment is in the food-industry.

Buffy embraces her new role. She wants to work and earn money. However, something peculiar is happening at the restaurant. Employees act like they have something to hide, never fully explaining how the burgers are actually made. Some of Buffy’s coworkers miss their shifts, never to be heard of again.

 

The manager is creepy. He focuses on productivity and thinks employees actually want to work in fast food. He’s also strangely secretive – not allowing Buffy into certain areas, like the walk-in freezer, and keeping the dehydrated pickle stash locked.

The entire atmosphere of the Double Meat Palace simultaneously gives off real-life fast-food restaurant vibes and horror movie vibes. The lighting and soundtrack enhance this phenomenon, and the viewer is left wondering if the manager really is a demon preying on hapless employees or if Buffy is just learning how awful service jobs really are. It could easily be either.

Seeing Demons Where There is Just Life

Buffy takes her concerns to her friends. People don’t behave this way! Her coworkers are weirdly scared of joking around, taking breaks, and doing anything that doesn’t support the company. They are withdrawn, downtrodden, and surprised that she even came back for a second shift. There has to be something foul afoot!

Xander acts as the voice of normal person reason. He’s been in these horrible service jobs before, he knows how it goes. His reassurance that nothing is amiss reminds us all that what she’s experiencing is the reality for most of these positions.

“It’s fast food. I have swum in these murky waters, my friend. There is assorted creepiness, there’s staring, there’s the enthusiastic not showing up at all. I think you’re seeing demons where there’s just life”

Xander is right. These are the types of things we’ve all experienced with service industry jobs. These horrors are typical, not proof of monsters. The job itself is the real monster.

But There’s A Monster

Buffy is a horror show, so of course there is going to be an actual monster. But it’s not what you’d expect. The monster wasn’t the manager, as Buffy first thought. It turned out that he was just a typical low-level manager on a tiny power trip. He wasn’t even the worst manager; he just wasn’t a good one. Unfortunately, he met his untimely demise at the hands of the real monster, a Double Meat Palace customer.

This demon preyed on Double Meat Palace employees because they “slid right down” after working all day in a grease pit, and because these low wage employees are renowned for just not showing up. Ghosting is rampant in these fields, no one would suspect that they were murdered, they’d just assume they quit.

The Job Is Still Horrible

At the end of the episode, Buffy slays the demon and keeps her job at the Double Meat Palace. An interesting point about this episode is that killing the bad guy didn’t resolve the initial problem. The job is still miserable. It’s boring, the employees are the same, and Buffy still comes home smelling like cooked grease.

The new manager seems a little less creepy, but she still thinks employees want to work long hours and are happy toiling away in fast food. Her final words to Buffy are a reminder of the often-pervasive attitude mangers have about this type of low-wage work.  

I don’t like short-timers. I like people who want to be here. Maybe you didn’t take this job seriously before, but I want you to be shooting for this from here on out” she says, while pointing to her 10-year badge. Who realistically wants to work in fast food for ten years? Why do mangers think anyone is shooting for that?

Service Industry Jobs Are Horrible

No job is perfect. However, jobs in the service sector are cursed with a special type of horror. People who work them are underpaid and underappreciated. They have to deal with unruly customers and managers who don’t care about them in the slightest. Buffy was true to life in illustrating these positions with a flair of horror.

Unfortunately, it’s difficult for normal people to escape.  The majority of jobs available, especially to those with no college education, are in these industries. Some geographic areas only have these types of job openings available. The only choice some job seekers have is often in this sector.

Everyone can help make the jobs a little less horrible though. We can be respectful of the employees working these menial jobs. We can stop judging them based on their employer, and start treating them like human beings. That means no yelling at them because a coupon is expired, and not expecting them to be able to solve all of our problems. It also means being polite when they are assisting us, and praising them to their managers. Service positions suck, but we can all do a tiny bit to make them a little better.

4 thoughts on “Illustrating the Horror of Service Industry Jobs”

  1. While a lot of entry level jobs, service industry or not, are low wage and less than inspiring, there is usually a way to move up. I have one friend, no college degree, who worked his way up into managing a Walmart superstore. He made six figures pretty early in his career and retired early with real wealth. He had great talent and stuck with it and was rewarded. The way up is almost always by becoming part of management and working your way up in the company. But I agree service industry is a hard place to get ahead and has a lot of icky aspects. Its why I picked engineering, I was competing with a smaller group because most people weren’t attracted to math, chemistry and physics.

    1. Yeah, some folks can move up while working in service industry, and some of us get it as our first “real job” and decide to do something different. But not everyone can do that, and I appreciated the way this show illustrated the atmosphere. Really this was just an excuse to write more about my favorite show, but thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed it!

  2. That last paragraph is so, so important. It’s been a while since I’ve worked in the service industry but I can tell you, my like, seven years working in the grocery store (high school and university) definitely had an impact on how I treat people I interact with in the industry today. I remember how miserable the job could be at times; treating those who are doing the job I didn’t necessarily enjoy with respect is literally the least I can do.

    1. I think part of the reason that service jobs are so awful is that some customers are entitled jerks. It’s been awhile since I’ve worked in that industry as well, but I don’t see the bad behavior decreasing unfortunately. I treat people in any position kindly as well, a person’s worth isn’t based on the job that they perform.

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