Crappy service, great food...what to do?

By Paul Michael on 23 April 2007 (Updated 9 June 2007) 8 comments

Fawlty

Yesterday I witnessed something quite special. My lovely wife, who is usually not one for complaining, decided that the service we had received at a local restaurant (or hadn't in this case) was not on. She put her foot down, followed my advice, and I witnessed it with a glowing smile.

Here's the story.

After being seated by the host, we waited 15 minutes for a server to appear at our table. We did the usual 'please, can't somebody take our order' stares into space. We made eye contact with other servers. We did everything right. Alas, we were ignored.

My wife walked all the way back to the front of the restaurant and asked our hostess for some help. She ended up being the one to take our orders, and the restaurant wasn't even that busy. Not a glowing start to the meal, which I thought was now going to suck. We made our drink and food orders, and I ordered a Seven Taster special to drink (Seven 5oz samples of the beers they serve) and they arrived very quickly. I was knocked out. They tasted great, they looked great, the barman clearly had his act together.

And then the wait began for the food. Another 20 minutes (which seemed longer, we had a 6 month old and a precocious toddler at the table), but when it did arrive it was outrageously good. I mean heavenly. Our little girl Olivia was making MMMMMM sounds through the whole meal. We sat there full and satisfied, but the service had really let us down. We were going to order dessert, but we had not been checked on once by a server. We felt invisible. No-one was even making an appearance to give us the check.

My wife had had enough. She went to our hostess and asked for the manager. I was shocked, but happy to see she was realizing that as customers we have a right to good service. When the manager arrived, she followed my advice to the letter. She was polite, explained that we loved the food but were let down by the poor service. The manager listened carefully, and showed genuine concern.

He came back to the table with 50% taken off our bill, and a $20 gift voucher for our next visit. He apologized for the poor service, assured us it would never happen again and wanted us to come back and see for ourselves soon. He was very nice. And we will. The food was great, and the manager turned something that could have been bad word of mouth into a great story. The restauramt in question is BJs Restaurant & Brewhouse, in Aurora, by the way.

So, the moral is this. Everyone is entitled to good service. If you don't believe you received it, be honest. But in turn, be completely honest about the whole event. If the food was great, say so. If the food sucked but the waiter was a star, say that too. But always remain calm, collected and polite. More often than not, you'll get a much more favorable outcome if you show the restaurant you're a good customer worth keeping, rather than a complainer out for a free lunch.

And to my wife Nikki, you're a star. Even Basil Fawlty would be putty in your hands.

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Andrea Karim's picture

But unfortunately, it doesn't always work out. 

I went out for Indian food this weekend. We went to a place that has higher prices but tends to be less greasy than others. Nicer and cleaner than some of the hole-in-the-wall places we frequent. For some reason. the head waiter, who is usually quite nice, was really unattentive.

Now, this is a buffet, so I certainly don't expect anyone to bend over backwards to bring us stuff, but we literally had to do the same thing that you did - go to the front and ask the hostess to take our drink orders. When we finished our drinks (didn't take long - tons of ice), no one came to offer a refill. We did the eye contact thing. We tried flagging down people as they walked past. In a restuarant of about 20 tables, there were maybe five parties present.

Finally, when we were the only ones left, we managed to get our bill, and the Diet Cokes were more than $3 each! Maybe it's a sign of my newfound frugality, but yeesh! So we paid, I left a cash tip, and a little note that says "For $3 a drink, it'd be nice to have refills. Thanks!".

The head waiter chased me out to the car and let me know that it was MY responsibility to let him know that I need a refill. No discount, no apology. It was kind of weird, actually, seeing as how I tipped well enough. I explained that I had, in fact, attempted to fulfill my customer duties by waving maniacally at him from across the room, but he wasn't having it.

I've worked as a waitress for years, so I know whose responsiblity the refills are. And it isn't the customer's. But alas. I guess everyone has different ideas about what consitutes customer service.

Guest's picture
Guest

...a server had not come over after 15 minutes I would have just left. I have done it before and will probably do it again. IMO, I'm not willing to risk what the wait staff can do to your food. I've heard way too many 2nd hand stories of tainted food.

Guest's picture
Guest

...you learned NOTHING from this article. The whole point was to remain calm and polite. Not stomp out of the restaurant with your nose in the air. The wait staff will only sabotage your food when you act like a jerk. Again, you learned NOTHING from the article.

Guest's picture
Wil

Sounds like your wife handled things perfectly! Glad to hear that it all worked out for you, and I hope the service at your next meal there is exemplary.

You're absolutely right -- Everyone is entitled to good service.

Guest's picture
Carla

Sounds like next time your plan should be to sit in the bar!

Fitch Hurst's picture

Hop on Yelp or Judy'sbook or wherever you go for restaurant reviews and let everyone know how they're doing by really spreading the word. Andrea, what was your Indian restaurant called?

Guest's picture
Kate

I've never minded bad service, mainly because its a rare occurance (once.. twice a month?) that I go to a sit down restaurant. When I do, it's usually with someone interesting or I bring along a book to read.

Guest's picture
Beth

Wow we had almost the exact experience at BJs (here in San Jose) the other night! Our waitress came by our table and assured us she was "all about you tonight" and would be back after turning in an order from one other table, but then disappeared for a very long time. I think I might have been a little grumpy at being seated next to the exit-way (everyone walking past our table on the way out). But the food was really good! It was our first visit to BJs so I was wondering if the service issue is normal or not.