bad waiters

How do you deal with bad service at a restaurant? I went out to dinner this evening and the waiter was just rude--not terribly so, but obviously and unnecessarily so. He had attitude about almost everything: when we pointed out that he gave us the wrong app and, again, when he brought a dressed salad that we had asked be served with dressing on the side.

  • Posted by: ATG117
  • May 21, 2013


GAcanuck May 27, 2013
No tip might suggest that someone is angry with their dining experience and leaving with that attitude, versus leaving a penny and being spiteful but possibly leaving happy as a result of the spite. Or it says "Yes, I saw where to leave a tip and put 1 penny. It's not that I forgot". In the 1980s I saw a waiter in the UK once follow someone outside with their bill to point out "Service not included". There are stories where two pennies are left for bad service ("my two cents"), or a single penny is added to a normal-to-good tip as a sign of the patron being particularly happy with service (e.g. A $20 tip plus a penny. The extra penny is a "Thank you, I appreciated the service more than just the money says.".) I don't consider the second one well known or accepted.

I believe the "sell yourself to the waiter" suggestion is about getting the best possible dining experience. A good waiter can read a table and figure out the right mannerisms to use, key customer satisfaction points, pacing for the meal and questions to ask. Not every table is an easy read and not every waiter gets it right from the start. As the customer we can help this along more directly. I would expect slightly different interactions for a two-top that said: "We're going to share several small plates first, then decide on entrees or desert. We are in no hurry and are here to relax." ; "My wife has never been to the restaurant but I have enjoyed several meals here." ; "We're from Somewhere-ville and are really looking forward to trying what the chef has to offer." Not that the service for any of these three should be sub-par but in each case would be slightly different. The waiter is the guy trying to help you get the most out of the experience so do whatever you can to help him help you.
pierino May 27, 2013
What I've experienced often in Italy in small, family run places is that the person who serves you might be the woman who is also cooking your meal. In which case I would typically say, "prego, fate lei." An extended translation would add up to "please, just bring me whatever you think is best." I've never been let down.
Emilia R. June 2, 2013
I am not sure why you think that leaving a penny is "being spiteful but possibly leaving happy as a result of the spite"... Unless I misunderstood you... I really think a very bad waiter’s service is worth no more than a penny; what’s wrong with that?
Greenstuff May 26, 2013
A question within the question: what do people make of this leaving a penny as a tip? That just seems nasty to me, and I'd sooner leave no tip at all. Have I missed some historical or cultural context?
Emilia R. June 2, 2013
Why nasty, Chris? I don't see why there should be any historical or cultural context...
ATG117 May 26, 2013
Totally agree with you, SuzanneETC. I'm not sure why I would ever have to sell myself to a waiter. I am paying for a service and an enjoyable experience after all. If something had gone wrong in the kitchen, I would never have held it against the waiter. But I think expecting a good attitude when guests are perfectly courteous (and even when they're not), is very reasonable and a very low bar.
SuzanneETC May 26, 2013
Service is always a fascinating hot button issue, each response is almost a little story in itself. I've served at family restaurants, cocktail lounges and top big city restaurants. The work is very hard, the whole team needs to be good and you really need to hustle and focus to do it well and sometimes things still screw up. People who do this work deserve our respect and since, by going to a restaurant we've implicitly bought into the current wage/tipping ratio of compensation, our appreciation with a good tip if things have gone well. But hang on here. While I do give waiters the benefit of the doubt (is this a kitchen screw up? Is the place understaffed?) there are some things that cross the line. Being snotty, over-the-top snooty, invisible, rude, overly intrusive (I agree touching is out) or across the room yukking it up with your pals as I try, with increasing desperation, to get your attention...I would never go out of my way to pay for these experiences? So once I'd received them, why would I reward the person who had such a negative influence on my evening with the same generosity that I give someone who's done everything right? My table does not have to 'sell' itself to the waiter. We need to behave as polite fellow citizens of the planet. The waiter, who is after all the person working in this equation, should present him/herself to us as a cordial, knowledgeable and adept facilitator of our happy experience. Did I always do this? Hell no. But when I didn't, I knew I'd screwed up, to a greater or lesser degree and if the tip wasn't good, I was hardly surprised nor resentful. And people who haven't worked in food service don't realize that it's just not that difficult to do it the way the customer wants, extra sauce, on the side, no potatoes at all on the plate, no whipped cream on the shake but extra chocolate syrup, and on and on. It's very much the waiter's job to check each plate before leaving the kitchen. It's so easy to have a house system to remember who ordered what -- so that no matter who is serving they will know, I'm always amazed when I'm at a very expensive restaurant and the waiter "auctions off the food," as my restauranteur friend calls it. It interrupts the flow of conversation at the table so unnecessarily.

And I much prefer the European (or certainly French) protocol of not removing anyone's plate until all are finished and only leaving the bill when it's requested. And no, I'm not 'working on it' I'm eating it...but I don't hold that expression or the two other habits against waiters because they're cultural.
pierino May 27, 2013
Suzanne, you make some excellent points on how dinner service ought to be run. I too hate that expression "are you stil working on that?" Just as bad is when the server drops the check on your table and says, "I'll take that whenever you are ready." You are right it's an American cultural habit, but it's also a habit in the industry where the waitstaff is tought to help turn tables---unless you are at The French Laundry or someplace similar. I've enjoyed many, many meals in Europe and vastly prefer that style of service.
QueenSashy May 24, 2013
When I encounter a really bad waiter, I ask him/her pretty openly (and very kindly) "have we done something to upset you?". It usually works like a charm.
bigpan May 24, 2013
I agree with WileyP. For intimate dining for 2, or a party of a dozen, I try to go to the restaurant a day or two early, introduce myself to the manager, get suggestions for best table to sit at (large parties annoy other paying guests so seek out a corner), discuss payment (one check versus individual) etc etc. It makes it easier on the restaurant, you , and your guests.
MTMitchell May 24, 2013
Thought you all might appreciate that I just had dinner with some friends at a new place in our small town owned by very reputable restauranteurs who own some great restaurants the big city...and we had just plain bad service (rude, condescending, slow, sloppy did i mention rude?). Also my entree was so bad that I sent it back, which I think I've done maybe twice in my life. I wasn't offered anything else instead and it stayed on our bill. However, we took all the advice above. We laughed about it (and ordered a little more wine and shared plates), we tried to talk to the manager (he wasn't "available" so I'll call tomorrow) and we left a 10% tip, which is much lower than our usual, and possibly the lowest tip I've left in a long long time. I know that the food was out of her control but the bad attitude, condescension, and sloppy pouring weren't.
Melusine May 23, 2013
I grew up in a food service family -- at different points in time, grandparents, parents and siblings were involved in institutional, franchise food, hotel restaurants, country clubs and ultimately, a lovely restaurant of their own for 20 years. I can deal with wait staff having a bad day, running interference for a messed up kitchen, not being attentive, being too attentive... What set my teeth on edge was a waiter who just flat out didn't know what he was doing and seemingly didn't care. The owner/manager gave me a warm welcome, the initial waiter knew the menu and was pleasant. The person I was turned over to was awkward, uninterested and didn't understand eye contact -- just dumped plates on the table and wandered off. I caught my original waiter's attention -- the manager was off the floor -- and quietly and sincerely suggested someone take that poor gentleman aside and explain a few things to him, since he wasn't doing the restaurant or himself any favors. I left a full 20% tip, in the hopes that the new kid on the block was still learning and the staff was splitting tips. Doesn't ever help to point out someone's transgressions to them -- especially in public, leave nasty comments in a guest book or on FB, or as Pegeen commented, a pointedly miserable tip to teach someone a lesson. Let the management do that for you. A phone call the next day is also very effective.
Emilia R. May 23, 2013
Yes, Europeans have a lot to teach Americans—on restaurant and all other business matters. After all, Europe is thriving economically, right? Now, as for cowardly, I have the feeling you wouldn’t call me that to my face… And, by the way, the people involved in preparing my meal won’t get a penny of the tip. Cheerio!
pierino May 23, 2013
While the economies of Italy, Spain and Portugal may be in the tank. They do all dine better than we do. A meal is something to be savored. And it's not like they don't work hard. They'll be at work at 9:00 and yes a two hour lunch, but then they'll work until possibly 8:00 in the evening. It's always interesting trying to guess when restaurants will actually be open. In Rome it can be very hard to find something on Sunday that isn't a hotel or tourist trap. Mondays and Thursdays can also be a problem.
Rachel S. May 23, 2013
I worked in the front of the house of a restaurant where everyone was paid fair wages based on experience and split the tips evenly. Not all restaurants operate on the same pay-scale, and some very much care about their employees sharing in the monetary compliments of patrons. After all, there are some diners who base the size of their tip off of the quality of the food in addition to the quality of the service. This may be rare, but I felt it was worth pointing out that it is sometimes hard to know just how tips will be received.
Pegeen May 22, 2013
Never, ever, leave a penny, centime, etc., for a tip. That's a cowardly act - please think about all the other people involved in preparing your meal besides the server. If you are that disappointed with the service, you have an obligation to speak to the head waiter or any management on site. How else will they ever improve?
lloreen May 22, 2013
The waiter will probably be very amused and think you are just a typical "Amercaine," fact, you will make his day. People love it when you confirm their cultural stereotypes. They only get unsettled when you act in a way that upsets those expectations. He will be disappointed in the 1 centime tip, though, since Americans often overtip out of habit.
I know we have this idea that the French are very rude and stuck-up, but I really didn't find that to be true. Everyone was very kind to me, even though my French is less than perfect and I have an accent.
It is true that "fair wages" are a relative concept....there are organizations that try to determine a "living wage" in the US for that reason. I mean that someone should be able to pay for housing, food, transportation, and health costs with their wages. The actual amount you need varies by community.
Emilia R. May 22, 2013
Mmmm.... I thought Americans in general couldn't speak French, so it would be quite surprising that the waiter would think I'm American... Well, I'd be glad to know I'll make at least one French happy! My entire life I dealt with French. French friends of mine always told me the Parisian French is very rude, but I haven't been to Paris yet. As for wages, the best "organization" with proven results--whenever tried--is called Capitalism. ;-) (PS: Eu não sou americana, se não notaste ainda...)
lloreen May 22, 2013
Funny enough my problem with waiter in the US is not that they are rude, but that they are too chipper and intrusive. It was kind of a reverse cultural shock the first time I had dinner after returning from France and the waiter kept interrupting the conversation with this hyper sweet voice and maniacal smile to say "and how are we enjoying the meal!? Still working on that!?? (while ripping the plate from under my poised fork). Back off, waiters! I know they act that way because they need the tips and people expect them to be ever-present and over-friendly. That is why I really prefer a system where waiters are paid a fair wage and tips are optional.
(Yeah, I encountered a few rude waiters in France, but only in the tourist areas. They won't pretend to be your best friend or hold your hand, but they are professional at least. And sometimes a little insolent and snarky, but in a flirtatious way...especially if you can dole it back)
Emilia R. May 22, 2013
If I ever go to France, I plan to take a large bottle of ketchup. I'll go to a restaurant, order some "frites" and splash them lavishly with ketchup--and listen to the nasty comments from the waiters around. When it is time to pay I'll address the waiter in French--which I speak fluently--and give him a piece of my mind, leaving him 1 cent for tip. PS: "fair" is a very subjective, relative, ethereal concept…
pierino May 22, 2013
lloreen hits on an interesting point here. American restaurants, especially high end ones are in the business of turning tables. In Europe they expect you will take your time and yes, the waiters are paid a living wage because it is a respected trade. "Service" is mostly included in your bill already so whatever small gratuity you add is appreciated. I recall years ago taking some business colleagues to a swank Italian restaurant in New York. The tables were jammed together and if you set your fork down a Bangladeshi bus boy would immediately grab it. This was an Italian owned company (Milan) to make it even stranger, but that's NYC. Despite our server's anxiety we deliberately dragged it out with after dinner cordials and conversation. The server was at least rewarded with a significant tip but I'm sure management was fuming because they were significantly overbooked (that's NYC too) and needed our table.
Restaurants in Europe expect only two or three turns per night. Hell, in Spain they don't even sit down until 10:00. In New York they are aiming for five to eight turns just to keep the lights on. That's not the fault of the waiter who is probably anxious about that call from his agent as well.
Emilia R. May 22, 2013
I am very straightforward, so I would simply tell the waiter that if he is having a personal problem, it is not my fault, and since I am paying for the food and his service I expect to be treated with respect and courtesy. If that doesn’t work, I would leave 1 cent for tip. Then I would ask to speak with manager and refer what happened, making sure I mention the waiter’s name. I think it is my Basque blood that makes me so blunt, not sure... I’ve once asked a very impolite cashier if she was having digestion problem; she was completely taken aback and I chimed in: “You know, there are good products in the market that can help you better your mood!” She was embarrassed and tried to explain she was having personal problems, but I told her costumers had nothing to do with her problems. I guarantee that people behind me were cheering inside!
Emilia R. May 22, 2013
PS: As a rule I always, always treat everyone the same courteous way. I love to laugh with people--not at them. And my husband and I have a rule to always tip a bit over 20%, since waiters are paid so little. So take this all in consideration when reading my post.
ChefJune May 22, 2013
It doesn't matter if the waiter is having a bad day. (S)He has to wear their "happy face" when interacting with customers. I would have spokedn with the manager before the meal ended, if the situation was as "off" as you described above. I have some friends who would say to the waiter in question, "I'm sorry you're having a bad day, but please don't take it out on me." [YIKES! If I were the server and someone said that to me, I'd be mortified.]
SKK May 22, 2013
In my view, dining out is a special event, akin to going to a concert or the opera or many other wonderful gatherings. Dining out may be about community - chefs, preps, wait people, host/hostesses, and others. Possibly as a diner the gateway is to appreciate rather than judge.
Pegeen May 21, 2013
Meant to add... Never complain unnecessarily in the hopes of getting a discount or freebie. That's bad manners and bad karma.
pierino May 22, 2013
Oddly I was recently comped on two meals in the space of a week. I politely pointed out to the front of the house person what was wrong with the dish, not with the expectation of being comped, but to alert management to problems with their menu. In fact in both cases I insisted on paying anyway. Nonetheless they took the items off of my bill.
Pegeen May 21, 2013
I agree with the folks above who have said that it's very important to take a few minutes to voice or phone in your concerns to the management. Better to do it before leaving the restaurant because you'll be too busy by the time tomorrow rolls around. If no one is told, they can't address the issue. Be calm, specific and impersonal. A friend once told me she wouldn't complain because she was afraid the person would get black marks against them and what if they lost their job? I said hey, maybe it's what that person needs in order to 1) improve their skills and advance in their job or 2) motivate them to find a more suitable job. No logical business owner wants negative press. If you're reasonable in your complaints, I think any manager is going to listen.

Miscellany: Diner's Journal on frequently has interesting notes about how to address problems with wait staff (and also difficult customers).
Just type "waiter" into the box for "Search this blog"
ATG117 May 21, 2013
We tipped 20% because it's what I generally do, and frankly I've never been in a situation where a waiter did nothing terribly wrong but, rather, ruined my experience at the restaurant through his bad attitude alone. Perhaps its because we were so generous at the time that it bothered me after we left. I suppose if we had tipped less, I would have felt like the message that needed to be communicated was.
pierino May 22, 2013
ATG, looking forward that's the way you should handle it next time. Wait staff generally get paid squat because it's understood that they work for tips. "Work" being the applicable verb. For a waiter with an attitude to receive 20% as entitlement...well you are just encouraging bad service. Good luck next time.

Voted the Best Reply!

WileyP May 21, 2013
I would assume from the way this discussion has flowed that we are not talking about breakfast at the local Denny's restaurant, but an evening out at a more culinarily respected eatery. (Not that I have anything against Denny's or other fast-order hash houses - I certainly enjoy them, too!) Two things I try to remember on the rare occasion I visit one.

First, I need to sell myself and my party to the wait staff just as much as the wait staff needs to sell themselves to us. As with the secretary/receptionist at a doctor's or attorney's office, the wait staff is as important as the skilled professional that drew you to that place of business to begin with and can make our visit a really nice experience or a really bad one. One does not act snooty or arrogant or talk down to wait staff. One is not rude or pretentious to the wait staff. One assumes the wait staff is knowledgeable and skilled in their duties unless/until shown otherwise. You catch a lot more flies with honey than with vinegar.

Second: If the wait staff is rude, talks down or acts unprofessional to you or your party, reflect it in your tip and explain the situation to the restaurant management. If the situation is unacceptable to the point that it spoils the dining experience, leave the restaurant after telling the management why you are leaving. Pay if you must, but do not leave a tip (or leave $1 as Half-Pint suggested), and make sure the management gets a private ear-full of just why you are leaving to go to Denny's where the wait staff is more professional!
Emilia R. May 22, 2013
I think it is very funny the idea that someone has to sell himself to a waiter--no, I'm not saying waiters don't need to be treated with courtesy! Let's apply this philosophy to, say, my husband, Terry, who is vice-president of a small, but reputable HVAC company. So, a customer, who wants to air-condition his office, has to "sell" himself to Terry? I guess you get the idea. I was always under the impression that a business has to sell itself, make itself needed by the consumer… That's the beauty of Capitalism!
HalfPint May 21, 2013
I'm with pierino. Why would you tip 20% if you were so unhappy with the server? If I was as upset with the server as you appear to be, I would have left $1 to make my point. And I would have spoken to management before leaving, if not the next day. Don't put it off, just give them a call. They can't fix the problem if they don't know that there is one. My experience with restaurants is that they often try their best to fix any problems.
pierino May 21, 2013
Among the few interesting shows remaining on Food Network are "Restaurant Stakeout" with Willy whathisname, and "Restaurant Impossible" with Robert Irvine where they break down to owners what is going wrong behind the pass and in the dining room. HalfPint's point is well taken. If the owners don't know that their servers are not motivated and that the food coming out of the kitchen is crap, and the expediter doesn't know what he/she is doing, then you have a huge mess. There needs to be a reliable manager on the job up front all the time, greeting the regulars and sorting out the communication between front of the house and back of the house.
local Y. May 21, 2013
There are so many aspects that contribute to your experience at a restaurant and only a fraction of them are in the control of the server. They have the burden of being the happy face that approaches your table, calm and collected after the kitchen has messed up an order and they. Now they need to tell you it's going to be 15 more minutes and take the brunt of your hungry belly anger. And yes, there are certainly servers who are 'less than perfect'. But patrons are also often 'less than perfect'. So, while we like to obsess over the fact that our server was rude, and that ruined our experience; lets also think about how many people are rude to that server on a given night. Lets think about that when a server approaches your table with good humor and a smile. It takes a lot to do what they do. They aren't all great, but it is a difficult job and not every server at every restaurant is going to be perfect every time. In my opinion, the best possible thing to do is to contact a manager while you are still at the restaurant. This gives the manager the opportunity to try to turn your experience around and make things right for you. It also gives the manager the opportunity to critque the server constructively and specifically. Just leaving a 10% tip may leave a server wondering what, specifically, he or she could have done differently.
MTMitchell May 21, 2013
I agree on the tip -- we left our "you lucky, lucky kids" waiter 12%, I think. And I think providing some constructive feedback can be helpful. I can't always be constructive, so...One other thing that does really, really bug me -- and I know it's not the server's fault -- is that close to half the time I order something -- bottle of wine, main course, appetizer, dessert, no category is untouched -- the server comes back a few minutes later and tells me that they're out of whatever I ordered. It's to the point now where when we go out my friends or my husband will ask me what I'm ordering, and what my back up is. I really appreciate getting that information upfront, before I've looked at the menu and decided that the short ribs and polenta sound really good. I'm really tired of making that decision and ordering it, only to be back with the menu a few minutes later, and not quite able to get over my original order. I know kitchens are busy and stuff moves out fast and it can't really be helped, but it's sometimes kind of annoying.
ATG117 May 21, 2013
I'm surprised that no one thinks a waiter deserves to be held more accountable. Sure, everyone has bad days, but ruining a party's experience, to me, seems unfair. It wouldn't be tolerated in other professions--I'm not sure why the pass here. That said, we tipped 20% and I have yet to make the short, courteous, and to the point call I've been tempted to make to the manager.
pierino May 21, 2013
ATG if I were really unhappy with the specific waiter I would NOT have tipped 20%. I would have left maybe 10% to get the point across. He now has no reason to change his behavior.
pierino May 21, 2013
Here are some of things I expect from servers. First don't touch me. I once had a rather tall waiter kneel down next to my chair and put his hand on my shoulder.
Next, sell me the menu. I had really good experience with a server who did just that. She knew the menu from top to bottom. I told her, "If I were opening a restaurant in town I would hire you first". I told her boss the same thing. This same restaurant had some service issues when they first opened. They were sharing kitchen staff with one of their other locations a block away. The problem was clearly communication between the back of the house and the front of the house. The server had to come out three times to tell me that they were out of what asked for. The server should be told how many portions they have left. They have since fixed that problem.
If your request get's messed up it might not be the fault of the server. It could be the fault of whoever is expediting behind the pass. Still, the server should look at the plate and say, "No, this isn't right" before taking it to the table. Professional servers do that stuff.
MTMitchell May 21, 2013
My friends and I recently went to a new, very popular place with rave reviews for food and service....and the waiter wasn't great. His pervasive attitude was "you all are like so super lucky to have the privilege of eating here and spending time with such a hip and fabulous crowd." That would have been fine (it was really funny, to be fair, so we kind of enjoyed it) if he had come close to getting our order right (and it's a small plates place -- lots of room for error). At one point the busboy realized how messed up our table looked and went back to the kitchen himself, and there were two glasses of wine on our bill that we ordered but never saw. Our approach was as outlined above -- laugh about it, wise up and order twice as much as we really needed (more chances we would actually get food), and remember that the waiter probably deals with a ton of attitude from diners, and was maybe just having a bad night. Having said that the food came nowhere near the hype, so between that and the service I won't go back. I'd probably feel the same had the waiter been great. So while he certainly impacted our experience the mediocre food was the deal breaker.
Bevi May 21, 2013
The hospitality industry is grueling. I think both responses above are good guideposts to ponder when a situation arises where the service appears to be under par. Clearly if a server is being dead on rude and confrontational, you should mention the incident to the manager or establishment with a phone call, but don't ruin the real time dining experience of your fiends/partner/family.
SKK May 21, 2013
Give the waiter/waitress the benefit of the doubt. We all have bad moments. Don't know what restaurant you went to, and many of them pay the lowest wages with no benefits.
Greenstuff May 21, 2013
My first rule is to at least try to make sure that my unhappiness does not contribute to the meal being a bad time for the people I'm eating with, some of whom may not even care about the bad service and others of whom may need some help to make sure they don't totally lose it. Humor can help, even when it's false humor. Denial can also work, as in "Another mistake??!! Oh, no, no, no ... happy birthday, honey! Glad we're out celebrating on this beautiful evening."
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