DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am the manager of a gift store where my clientele mostly ranges from 40 to 70 years old. I have an employee in her early 20s who is sweet, super helpful and professionally courteous -- everything you'd want in a worker.
She has her own unique style, and changes her hair with fun colors or highlights; right now it's a very pretty shade of light green.
Several customers have made inappropriate comments to her about it, including laughing. One woman pointed at my employee, saying to her daughter, "See? I told you she had green hair. Isn't that nuts?"
My employee takes it in stride, smiling through it all, but I feel terrible. I've wanted to say something to these customers, but I don't want to lose their business. Nor can I afford to lose my employee. I'm not sure what I can say to get them to stop being so rude to a human being in public.
GENTLE READER: You think you have two problems: defending your employee and not losing business. Miss Manners sees four.
Correcting your customers' bad behavior would not just be bad business, it would also be rude (two problems). And not defending your employee is not just rude, it is bad for business (two more). After all, who wants to work for an employer who does not look out for the employees?
The important point is that your employee has seen this behavior so often outside the store that she does not expect you to call the police every time it happens inside it. There may come a time when the behavior is so bad that you have to ask the customer to leave, but most situations can be handled without losing either party's business.
Smile at the customer with the daughter and say, "Really? I like the color very much. Is there something you came in to buy, or something I can show you?"
And while it is rude to tell another person they are being rude, etiquette is silent about third parties: After the customer is gone, privately tell your employee how sorry you are that people can be so awful.