The Best Way to Deal with Bad Service

I took my mom out to lunch yesterday. Or to be more clear, I intended to pay for her but the meal was comped. A half hour after we ordered, we noticed the cooks were shutting down as the entire dining room had been served, except us (it was an open kitchen).

I caught up with my waiter by the open kitchen and asked about our food. The manager happened to be standing next to him (I didn’t plan this. I was lucky to find our waiter) and he asked if what I said was true. The kitchen expediter seemed to acknowledge the presence of a ticket for our meal and the manager apologized profusely and offered to comp our meal if we stayed. He also sent over some complimentary dip while we waited for our meal. The food was very good and I was impressed with the manager’s handling of the situation. I’ve had some not-so-great service as of late in restaurants and it’s made me less inclined to dine out.

And it got me to thinking, why do I get bad service? Part of it is that I don’t order drinks as often anymore and there is some anecdotal evidence that waiters are more attentive to big-spending parties. We could always go the racist angle. (My mom did, but there were some other minorities that got food). I’m sure this was an isolated incident. I’m sure it had nothing to do with us.

But of course, I’m still digging on the Internet on what to do. OnĀ Quora I liked the following suggestion on “If I receive poor service from a waiter/waitress in a restaurant, what’s the best way to show my displeasure?

If the food was good but the service was atrocious I walk to the host and tell her that I hated the service but loved the food and can’t bear to tip for that piss poor of a performance but want to show my gratitude for good food.

–Mikka Luster

On the other hand, when we have exceptional service I ALWAYS ask to speak with the manager. I have a philosophy that the managers usually hear nothing but complaints all day while excellence is normally taken for granted. So when they have a server that is above and beyond I make sure they know.

–Cleo Mouri

I can definitely think of some fancy schamnce places I’ve been to where the food was divine but the service was lackluster. It doesn’t feel right to cheap on the tip or to give a good tip to such lackluster service. This seems to go well with my idea of right and wrong. That should always be counterbalanced with always praising a waiter/waitress when things are going well.

But overall, I don’t think I’ll do this. Instead I would opt for the following approach:

When your waiter/flight attendant looks gloomy or is not doing his/her job properly, instead of teaching him/her a lesson as many people suggest, ask with a strong interest in your voice: “Are you OK? Are you sure you are OK? Did something happen to you today?” When they start wondering why you are asking (which usually follows your question), tell them your concern and what you are displeased with, but in a very supportive (not aggressive form).

–Slav Bochkarev

Tip extra . . . . Criticizing someone else who is already in a lower position than you (they are serving you) is not an easy thing to do, especially if the goal is to improve the overall experience (as opposed to just making a point). That’s why I suggest , as the person in power, you should have to pay extra for your ability to criticize the waiter. It feels like the modest approach to an already tricky situation.

–Max Siskin

It seems really easy to think just about me, me me. How I’m trying to reward myself for my hard work by going to a nice restaurant and now I’m being ignored and feel like crap.

It shouldn’t be that way. It’s true. But I’m not being served by robots.

The waiters/waitresses have to deal with obnoxious people every day all day all the time. They have their own struggles. It’s probably not easy getting by on their salaries. And sometimes I go to work and have a bad attitude. No one is going to yell at me for that. No one is going to call over my boss and yell at me in front of both of us.

These responses totally got me out of my own bubble. It’s the restaurant’s job to show me a good time. But I can show compassion and understanding to every one with whom I interact. That’s my job.

In the future, if I encounter bad service, I will flag the waiter down away from my table and ask if there’s anything wrong and actually listen. And then I will commiserate because we’ve all been there before. I will also calmly explain how our night is going not so great. I will say we are neither thinking about changing our tip nor calling the manager over. We are not threatening anything at all. We just want to have a nice meal. Then I will ask how we can work together to make that happen.

How do you handle bad service at restaurants?

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