You Make the Call


category: restaurant service, waiters, tipping




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Restaurant Service: You Make the Call

Here's the first of what I'd like to see as a recurring if not regular feature. I'll describe an actual restaurant experience, then toss out some questions for discussion. Unfortunately I don't have a built-in comments section but I welcome all comments via email at GARYatPIGTRIPdotNET. Later in the week I'll post my own answers to the questions as well as any comments I've received. Just one thing: I've decided not to name the restaurant, so don't ask.


The Scenario: My wife and I are at a restaurant. We've already received our drinks and it's time to order. My wife leads off.

"I'll have the tuna appetizer, but can I get it without the glaze?"


"The glaze is the best part of it, are you sure?" the server asks.


"Yes, I'm sure."


"Why wouldn't you want it?"


"I'm diabetic and I really can't have it. It's too sweet for me. For my entree I'd like the chicken, but can I get it without the barbecue sauce?"




Now it's my turn. I want to try the smoked wings, which according to the menu are available in Buffalo, hoisin and barbecue.


"I'll start with the wings..."


"Do you want those with sweet, hot or teriaki sauce?" she asks.


"Oh, the sauces are different from what's in the menu?" I ask.


The server responds with a "No, they didn't change," but her abrubt tone tacks on the unspoken "you stupid moron."


"Oh, so the sweet is the barbecue, the hot is the Buffalo and the teriaki is the hoisin?"




"Why don't you just use the same descriptions as in the menu?"


"That's just my own little spin."


"Oh, " I say, tempted but not quite willing to take the time to explain that there's actually a difference between teriaki and hoisin. "We'll go with the Buffalo."


"Are you sure you want something that hot? That's pretty adventurous."


"I'm an adventurous guy," I say. "And I'd also like the pulled pork sandwich."


The wings arrive and they are excellent. The sauce? Very nice, though not hot enough to stun an infant.


Before I finished the wings, I finished my glass of beer. I watched the glass sit for ten full minutes before our server noticed, even though she made stops to our neighbors' table to clear plates and present the check. It wasn't until her third trip to the vicinity that she asked if I wanted another beer. A few minutes later, my beer is sitting on the bar, ready to be picked up. Several minutes later, it's still sitting on the bar, ready to be picked up. Eventually the beer arrives. Later, my wife's wine glass goes through an identical ordeal.


A runner brings my pulled pork sandwich (no complaints) and my wife's chicken, loaded with the unwanted sauce. My wife asks to have another one without sauce, the way she ordered it.


With nothing to do but watch me eat my pulled pork sandwich, not wanting it to get cold, my wife goes through her second glass of wine in no time. The owner arrives, apologizes for the mix up and says that another plate of chicken would take a long time. "Would you like to order something else?"


After re-thinking the rest of the menu, my wife goes with the burger.


"Can I get you another glass of wine?"


"Yes, thanks."


A short time later, our server returns, the first we've seen her since well before the entrees arrived.


"I'm sorry for the mix up. I deleted the glaze from the tuna but not the sauce from the chicken."


"That's okay," my wife says. "These things happen." And she means it, and I share her sentiment. Sometimes mistakes happen.


"Can I get you another glass of wine?"


"Yes, but the owner was just here, I think she's getting it."


A runner brings the burger, well after I'm done with my sandwich. A short time later, our server returns to ask how my wife was enjoying her burger.


"It was very good," she says. "But it would be a lot better if I had the wine I ordered to go along with it."


The owner returns again. "You never got your wine, did you?"


"No." (We're not sure if that ball got dropped before or after reaching the bartender.)


"I'll get it now."


"Actually, at this point, let's skip it."


"Are you sure? can I get you a dessert?"


"No, thanks."


"I feel so bad about what happened."


"It's okay," my wife says.


"Don't worry about it," I say. "But when we come back next time, can you make sure we don't get that same server again?"


Questions For Discussion: (boy, did they make for great conversation the entire ride home)

1. Should there have been anything taken off the check?
2. What should the tip have been?
3. How much of the blame goes to:
  - the server? (for one mistake, a little attitude and a lot of neglect)
  - the owner? (for not overseeing and possibly losing a wine refill)
  - me? (for being hypersensitive, judgmental and not proactive)



Reader Responses:


Ling, 05/19/09:


1) I know in these hard times it's tough for restaurants, it would have been nice if the manager gave you 20% off coupon or something to easy your pain, but also get you back in.

2) 10% for bad service, I forget if it was a movie or TV show where the man puts money on the table and the waiter asks what that is for, and he says that is your tip, and I will deduct from it when I don't like the service.


3) the most blame goes to the server, if the server has a bad history the manager takes some of the blame, but it's tough for a manager to catch occasional problems. I know you are tolerant of serving staff gaffes so do you want me to put the blame on your wife :)))



Steve, 05/19/09:


1. Should there have been anything taken off the check?

Absolutely, any drinks that did actually arrive should of been comped especially  after the owner was in involved with the debacle

2. What should the tip have been?

Zilch, nada, zero, nothing. I have done this in hopes of teaching them a lesson but I doubt it works.

3. How much of the blame goes to:
  - the server? 75%
  - the owner? 25%
  - me? 0%




Jared, 05/19/09:


1. Should there have been anything taken off the check?
If the food was ok, which it sounds like it was once you both finally got it, I would have given you a gift certificate if I was the manager. At least $20. And definitely a big apology and encouragement to come back so I could "make it right" the next time.


2. What should the tip have been?
I'm a real stickler for this, so I'd say nothing. My wife would be totally pissed if I didn't leave *anything* though, so I probabably would have left 10% at most. If the error was from the kitchen and bartender, I probably wouldn't penalize the waitstaff as much. But she basically admitted it was her fault with the chicken and there is no excuse for a drink to sit on the bar getting warm. And she basically made up stuff that wasn't on the menu. The bartender did their job, at least for the first round of drinks.


3. How much of the blame goes to:
- the server? (for one mistake, a little attitude and a lot of neglect)
I'd say 49%. She should probably look for a new career.

- the owner? (for not overseeing and possibly losing a wine refill)
I'd say 50%. If he *knows* something isn't going well, he should bend over backwards to either get better staff on your table or take care of it himself. And he should take a serious look at his waitstaff to see if they are up to par. If not, there are plenty of good workers out there looking for jobs. And last but not least, most of the blame goes to him because he didn't comp you anything.

- me? (for being hypersensitive, judgmental and not proactive)
Maybe 1%. I would have had more of a "chat" with the manager at the end of the night, but that's a personal preference. I usually wait until the end of the meal and then have a firm (not yelling) talk with the waitstaff and/or manager. I've seen too much spitting (and worse) in food to complain that much *during* the meal while waiting for food/drinks.




Robert, 05/19/09:


1. Yes, your wife's burger should have been comped since she didn't accept dessert. She made an accommodation to the owner by accepting an entree she didn't want.

2. If I feel I'm being ignored, and the place isn't packed and the waitress clearly overworked, then I say 5% would be more than enough. Sometimes I do 1% just so they know I didn't forget. From what you describe, the server wasn't doing his/her job. Since you were at the point of asking not to be served by that server again, I would have given 1%.


3. Blame? Seems like the server was reflecting the level of service as dictated or inspired by the owner. I think they share almost equally. But I think the most blame goes to the server. Mistakes happen, neglect is unforgivable.


As a customer - is it your job to be proactive?




Sean, 05/20/09:


Thanks for sharing... I’m sure the story is a lot funnier if you’re not sitting there waiting on your messed up dinner. ;-)


The blame goes mostly to the server, unless this is the server’s standard modus operandi, in which case... management / ownership should have weeded that particular server out of the mix by now.


Absolutely something should have come off the bill... or they should have thrown you a little love in some way.


As for the tip? Tough question... some people are reluctant to ever tip less than 20% for fear of spittle in the dish. I’d likely fall in the 12 to 15 percent range for the wide variety of bad service coupled with the fact you were charged full price.



Chuck, 5/20/09:


1) In regards to the really poor & rude service from the waitress with mistakes made in conveying your order to the kitchen & no followup of the orders: without a question, no more than a 25 cent tip to show your disatisfaction with the service, invasive questioning, & poor followup from the waitress... and so that she didn't think you forgot to leave a tip.

2) In regards to the handling of the situation from management: the owner / manager had attempted to make restitution for the kitchen mixup (by offering a complimentary glass of wine). You accepted the glass of wine as settlement, but it never came. The owner then tried to fix the second mistake by offering you the same glass or a desert. not good enough. This is now the second mistake from the kitchen &/or server. The manager should've either taken something off the cost of your bill (i.e., both your drinks or your wife's hamburger which she really didn't want to begin with) or given you a credit toward your next meal at the restaurant (i.e., $10 off your next bill or 20% off the next bill). What the owner did was not good enough.

3) I would write a letter to the owner / manager describing the events and your feelings about the situation. If you get no response... and/or no decent attempts are made to rectify the situation I would never return to that restaurant... no matter how good the food is.




Larry 05/20/09:


1. Should there have been anything taken off the check? Yes they should of taken your wife's meal totally off the bill and just gave her the burger as a gesture of goodwill for all the screw-ups that occurred They should of also in my opinion taken off one drink for both of you since they gaffed your whole meal start to finish. I personally might have left and not eaten at all as I have a low tolerance for to many mistakes. Also should have given you a coupon for a future visit.

2. What should the tip have been? Well if you chosen to stay and eat I would only because I have worked for tips years ago would have given her maybe 5%,but also would of let her and the manager know that the tip is not good cause they were not good. You would of enjoyed that part of my interaction with them as I do not sugar coat what my experience was and what I expected them to do.

3. How much of the blame goes to:
- the server? (for one mistake, a little attitude and a lot of neglect) 100% for her screw-ups

- the owner? (for not overseeing and possibly losing a wine refill) 100% for their screw-ups

- me? (for being hypersensitive, judgmental and not proactive) 100% for not getting up and leaving, would not rush back if that is how I was treated. Unless this is a place where you know the people very well and it was a really off night?




Doug, 05/20/09:


Good account of terrible service.

1. Should there have been anything taken off the check?

Usually a diner has to make a scene for this to happen - or call out the server directly - so no, I wouldn't expect it automatically. And its rarely worth the embarrassment (for me at least).

2. What should the tip have been?


3. How much of the blame goes to:
  - the server? 80%
  - the owner? 20% - for hiring said server
  - me? 0%



My Thoughts


Thanks to all of those who contributed comments. Here are my own answers to the questions I posed, along with some scattered facts and thoughts:

  • Should anything have been taken off the check? I'm assuming that the offer of dessert was intended to be on the house, but regardless of whether we accepted or declined, I thought my wife's burger (a replacement for the botched chicken) should have been comped. It wasn't. It should have been comped for two reasons: 1) it wasn't even what she ordered, and 2) subjecting my wife and me to the awkwardness of having to take turns eating alone while the other watched disqualifies them from charging full price. But I don't happen to be one of those people who demands having something taken off the bill, so I didn't say anything. I found it quite amusing that our server announced with great flourish when delivering the check that the untouched chicken was deducted. Gee, thanks.

  • Some history, purposely withheld: although it was our first (and last) experience with this sparticular server, it was not our first visit to this restaurant. Ordinarily, a service experience like this one might be the kiss of death, but I like the food there and have had a good track record with the owner (including a few freebies both before and since the described visit). So, yes, I think that warrants a little slack and, yes, I have returned a few times since and had good meals each time. As far as I can tell, that awful server no longer works there.

  • I also unintentionally failed to mention that the restaurant was not busy, which actually makes our server even worse than initially described. When you're juggling three, four, five or more tables, you might not get a chance to make sure napkins are sufficient, people are happy and empty glasses are getting refilled. But that night our server only had one other table (one that finished up shortly after we arrived, and another that showed up later on). Allowing our glasses to repeatedly become empty, stay empty and go unreplaced while fresh glasses of beer and wine sat on the bar getting warm can only be attributed to one of two things: lack of experience or lack of desire. I like to think of myself as a pretty good judge of character, and I'm choosing the latter on this one. I also consider the repeated neglect a far greater offense than my wife's botched chicken dish. Mistakes happen, but our server's problems-the drinks, the menu interrogations, the long disappearing act-go way beyond a simple honest mistake.

  • What should the tip have been? Were it not for the restaurant's past goodwill and my own intention to return, I'd have left 10% or less. As it turned out, I left about 13%, much of it due to the convenience of rounding and not wanting to wait around for change. While stiffing the server might have given me some level of satisfaction through justice, that's not how I roll. Plus, it wasn't worth the cost of not being able to return. To the best of my knowledge I have not been served anything that's been lathered in spit on my return visits.

  • How much of the blame goes to...? I was both grateful and a little surprised by the lack of percentage points of blame allocated to me, the diner. The server had legitimate motivational issues, but it's possible that she interpreted my reluctance to speak up during her visits to the adjacent table as a sign that everything was okay. I was so fascinated by her complete obliviousness while our glasses sat empty and our refills sat unclaimed at the bar that I had to see just how long it would last each time. For that I might assign a few percent to myself. I see the rest of the blame falling about 80% on the server (a cornucopia of rudeness, mistakes and neglect) and 20% with management (bad hiring, bad training, bad awareness).

  • The owner, manager and even other servers could have and should have been able to notice that glasses were sitting empty for long periods of time, and that one of us was eating dinner while the other was not.

  • Sometimes you just want to get the hell out of Dodge and not have to explain what all the problems were and what should have been done differently. Rather than having that conversation right after dinner, I emailed the owner the next day and offered some thoughts.

  • One trick I've used in the past is to take matters into my own hands when sitting with an empty glass for a while. If the restaurant has a bar, that means walking up to the bar and ordering the drinks there. Seeing the tips on those drinks go to the bartender usually elicits the "cattleprod effect" on the server.

  • Though I'd stop short of the word "sympathy," I can see the difficult situation a restaurant is in when a mistake has been made and they want to make it right. If you comp one of the meals, you're potentially losing money on a customer who still may be unsatisfied and never come back. If you offer a discount on a future meal, you risk looking like you're ignoring the current problem while hoodwinking the victims into another fleecing (even with the discount the restaurant will make money). If you throw a free dessert on the problem, you risk that this will be perceived as just a low-cost, high-markup item that doesn't come close to righting the original wrong. If an entree needs to be cooked over, do you offer to re-fire both entrees (including the one that was cooked right) so that the couple can dine together? Do you offer the victim the option of keeping the sides to nibble on while waiting for the corrected main dish with another batch of those sides? These are some tough decisions.

  • I also sympathize with the customer. A friend told me of a situation where an order of chicken arrived undercooked-a conclusion reached after extensive cutting and examining, along with what I'm sure were some less-than-satisfying bites. Long story short, the restaurant cooked the chicken a little more and re-served the same plate, rather than starting over and serving something that actually looked appetizing. Again, it's a tough call for the restaurant: if you start over you're making the customer wait longer; if you cook the existing item longer you're serving something not even close to stellar. If it were my restaurant, I'd ask which option the customer preferred and then still comp the dish. But it's a lot easier for me to say that not owning a restaurant.




















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