I work in customer service at a pretty popular establishment in my neighborhood, so it goes without saying that once in a while a customer really piques my interest. I'm wondering how to go about letting them know that I'm attracted to them without breaking the employee/customer barrier or, worse, losing my job. After all, they're just there to shop, not get hit on, even if they think I'm cute too. On the flip side of the coin, what are the rules when I'm the customer? I know bartenders and waitresses are a no-no, but what about that really cute girl at the liquor store?
Fringe Benefits: You bring up an interesting subject, Fringe, something I will now be forced to think of as the employee/customer barrier. In the past, I've always assumed that when pretty young things behind the counter threw in a smile and lots of eye contact they were trying to get me into bed. The kids at Starbucks, for instance, seem to absolutely adore me, and I don't think it has anything to do with the tip jar because I'm too cheap to tip. Thanks to you, I now have to consider the possibility that they're just, you know, doing their jobs. That would certainly explain why, when I pass them on the street later in the day, they look straight through me, like I'm an escapee from a leper colony on the far side of the moon. Okay, I should have tipped!
You've asked about both sides of the employee/customer barrier. Let's start with the employee side since it's the trickiest. Obviously, you don't want to do anything that might threaten your job. On the other hand, most employees who deal with the public are expected to throw in a smile and lots of eye contact, which just happens to look a lot like flirting. So, how to flirt without flirting with disaster? Here's what I would do: I'd give them the same you-and-only-you attention you give everybody else, only more so - not a lot more, just enough more. Hold the smile a little longer. Keep the eye contact going. Then, while touching them gently on the arm, lean over and whisper in their ear, "Satisfaction guaranteed." Kidding! But do smile longer and keep the eye contact going.
That's pretty much all you should do unless you work at, like, a massage parlor. As for the other side of the employee-customer barrier, I'd say the field is wide open. Theoretically, there's nothing to stop you from walking right up to an employee and asking him or her out. Practically speaking, it can be rather awkward, especially if they rip off their hair net and scream "That's it, I quit!" But there are no laws to be broken, no company rules to violate, just the need to set the right mood so the employee doesn't think you're one of those guys or gals who drop in at commercial establishments expressly to hit on the employees. And if you don't think that happens a lot, you should dress up like a pretty young thing and take a job in the service industry.
So, my advice: Keep playing the role of customer, biding your time while getting to know the person a little better every visit. If he or she works the desk at a plumbing business, you may have your work cut out for you, since there are only so many ways your toilet can go on the blink. Otherwise, just take your time and lay a foundation. Then, when they least or most expect it, ask them out for coffee. The worst they can do is say no. On the other hand, the two of you may take customer service to a whole new level.
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