Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Dealing With Poor Service at Restaurants

I often hear people talk about how they went to a restaurant with terrible service and I always ask, "well, what did you do about it?". Generally they say, "Oh, I gave a bad tip", but rarely do I ever hear about someone complaining to management about receiving bad service. This is really unfortunate, because most of the time managers are very receptive to customer complaints and you can often get a refund for terrible service, if not a gift certificate or at least a sincere apology.

There are varying levels of inadequate service, and it's important to respond appropriately to each level. First, be aware that generally, you get what you pay for, and you shouldn't expect the service at your local Applebee's to be as good as a four star New York restaurant. Keep your expectations reasonable based on how much money you're spending, and don't ever expect perfection.


There is a minimum level of service that should be expected at any establishment. You should be treated politely by your server, have your order brought to you in a reasonable amount of time (barring any extenuating circumstances) and eat food that is cooked properly. The server should check back on you at least once or twice during your meal and respond to you when you try to get his/her attention. Now, waiters and waitresses are human, and if they mess up your order once, are running a little behind because the floor is packed or forget to refill your water every few minutes, you should be forgiving. In a casual, inexpensive restaurant, still give the full tip. In a fancy restaurant, lower your tip to 15% or so (15% used to be the going rate for good service, but these days the normal rate seems to be edging up to about 18-20% or so).

Then there are times when service is mediocre, but not horrible. The waiter seems annoyed by everything you ask of him, or he doesn't come back to check on your table at all during the meal. In this case, definitely lower your tip to between 12-15% in an inexpensive restaurant. In a more expensive restaurant, you might want to talk to the manager (again, if you're paying over $50 a person, you have the right to expect polite, attentive service).

But if someone repeatedly makes mistakes (or makes one huge mistake, like forgetting to tell the chef that you're allergic to something so that you end up with an allergic reaction) or treats you with disdain, it's definitely time to talk to the manager. Instead of creating a scene by yelling "I WANT TO SPEAK TO YOUR MANAGER!" at the waiter, have one person discreetly get up from your table and ask the host or hostess to speak to the manager. It's far better to bring up the problem at the restaurant instead of waiting a few days and calling back, as it may be possible to still salvage your meal if you address the problem right away. It's understandable if you don't do this (a lot of us are totally nonconfrontational, or just don't want the hassle), but you are fully within your rights to bring poor service to the attention of the manager, as long as you do so in a polite and quiet fashion.

Explain to him or her the situation, what exactly happened, and that you're disappointed with your experience. Remember that the nicer you act, the more likely you'll get something in return. If it's early in the meal, you can request a new server. DO NOT ask for a refund or demand anything. As I said before, most managers will be very understanding and accommodating if you've had a bad meal. If they're not, don't go back, tell all your friends about how awful your experience was and maybe go on an internet messageboard such as Chowhound where you can make your experience known.

No matter what, it's important to remember that being a waiter/waitress is an EXTREMELY tough job. If your server appears to be trying very hard and is polite and apologetic for any delays or mistakes, give him/her a break. And don't forget to reward good or great service with a good tip in the 20% range.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

You're right on about speaking up when the service is less-than-stellar! We did a podcast on restaurant etiquette in October and mentioned a similar point. If you're interested, you can find it at:


How Not to be Dreadful - Restaurant Etiquette

Meg said...

Thanks, I'll check it out!