The Side Dish: Five Tips for Handling Bad Waiters

There’s nothing I have less forgiveness for than watching a restaurant customer berate a server. First of all, it’s always obvious to me when customers haven’t worked within a restaurant environment, because they’re quick to antagonize the hostess, the bus boy, the server. Secondly, the bad customer almost always harasses the server for items that are beyond his or her control, such as a wait for food or wrong substitutions.

But what happens when it really is a server issue? Whether it’s a lack of knowledge of the menu or the inability to provide service with a smile, how do you deal with bad service? This week, Andrew Knowlton over at Bon Appetit’s The BA Foodist offers five tips for handling a waiter who falls short of your expectations, including eating at the bar and telling everyone you know about the bad experience (ha!).

In addition, my two suggestions are this:

1) Folks have forgotten that tips are just that – complimentary cash for great service. I’m still amazed at how often I eat out with friends or family members, the check comes, and the person paying the tab still leaves a tip, even if the service was mediocre, or worse, dismal. My best tip experience was down in Australia, where servers are paid a top wage and tips are rarely provided by customers. If the service doesn’t warrant a tip, don’t leave one.

2) If you really experience bad service, really, truly, don’t be afraid to notify the restaurant manager. During one awful birthday dining event, we had a waiter who was a little too cocky, rudely bantering with my husband when he inquired as to the preparation of a dish. When I asked that my steak be very well done, instead of medium or medium rare, the waiter snidely commented that I should order fish instead, painfully unaware that my fully-cooked meat request was a requirement as a heavily-pregnant woman. When he stepped away from our table, I was quick to flag down the restaurant’s manager, relating our unhappy experience and requesting another server. The manager was more than happy to accommodate.

~ Jennifer Heigl

3 replies on “The Side Dish: Five Tips for Handling Bad Waiters”
  1. says: Jen Myers

    I could really relate to this because, being a former server, I’ve been on both sides of the issue. Now I’m a frequent lunch-er with my coworkers and can get annoyed at them when lack of respect for a server’s time or feelings come into play. But I can also get frustrated at a server who doesn’t give good service because I think I did the job well (I’m sitting there thinking “why doesn’t he do it like this or that?”).

    But, on the same note, it would take a pretty rotten act for me to leave a non-tip. I might get frustrated, but it’s rare for me to leave anything less than 15% (and more normal to leave 20%+) only because I can remember that awful feeling I got when I’d go to a table and realized I was left a junky tip. But I agree with the sentiment that it is a TIP and not a requirement and it should be based on a good effort on the servers part.

    In the case of the arrogant, ‘why do you want your steak really well done, you should order fish’ waiter – a bad attitude is a different story, I wouldn’t have a problem leaving him a verbal “tip” that says, “Get an attitude adjustment”.


  2. says: Kar

    If I get bad service, I tend to pay with a credit card. On it I’ll write specifically why they didn’t get 15%.

    Usually it’s comments like “Please check if we need drink refills” or “You never brought the condiment that we requested.”

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