Bad Service at a Restaurant: What Would You Do?

bad-serviceThis past weekend, I dined out a restaurant (one not on the OpenTable network, and, on behalf of my fellow diners, I am glad for that) and experienced really poor service. I’ve waited tables at many restaurants. Because of that, I am always apt to cut servers a lot of slack. It is a difficult job and, as a waiter, you cannot control every element of the dining experience, even though you are the face of the dining experience. That said, I usually don’t complain about service unless it is abominable. And this was.

After botching every possible aspect of our meal, I voiced my opinion to the server. The manager, with whom I’m friendly, came over and offered up various amends: different dishes, comped entrees, or free drinks and dessert. I told him I wasn’t interested in any of that as we had to leave, and the point wasn’t that I was looking for money off my bill. It occurred to me, though, that I didn’t know what I wanted. Probably an apology from the waiter. Ideally, a do-over on the whole meal, which came at the end of a very stressful day. Looking back, I think I should have asked the manager for a different server as soon as things got off course.

I’m reminded of a silly (and — WARNING! — often off-color) film starring Ryan Reynolds (aka Mr. ScarJo) called Waiting, about servers toiling away at an awful chain restaurant. In one scene, a patron wants to send her food back, and the poor server points out, “Ma’am, I don’t doubt the steak was overcooked, but did you have to eat it all before you complained about it?” Diners can behave badly, too, and negatively impact their own dining experience. However, great service has the transformative power of making a mediocre meal fantastic. Terrible service can overpower any food, no matter how carefully prepared and delicious it may be.

How important is quality service to you when you’re dining out? What do you do when the service is less than stellar? What should I have asked for from the manager after my experience? Weigh in here or over on Facebook.

And, speaking of service, stay tuned tomorrow as we roll out our Diners’ Choice Awards for Best Service provided by restaurants in America. Find out if your favorite restaurant makes the cut!


  1. Jon says

    I’ve definitely complained or walked out on occasion. Complaining after the fact can make a big difference too. For example:

    One of our favorite restaurants that we would go to ALL the time started suffering in the service area. We noticed over the course of about a year that it was definitely sliding down hill. Since we always paid via our AMEX account, it was easy to look up and see exactly how much we spent in the last 12 month. My spouse wrote a letter, outlining the bad service, how much we spent, and that we wouldn’t be dining there nearly as much as before.

    The restaurant sent us a apologetic letter back with a gift certificate to the restaurant. The next time we went we took the certificate and were giving it another shot.
    Wouldn’t you know it, the service was bad. Table next to us was seating about 20 mins after us and had their food and where half way done before we noticed it. (Now you should note it was Halloween, a busy night for the place; so we were cutting them a lot of slack). The waiter and then the manager came over and apologized, seems our order got lost in the shuffle. At that point I explained to the manager that I thought it ironic as were where there that evening to use a gift certificate that the restaurant had sent to us because of bad service.

    She immediately knew who we were as our letter had been used in their last all staff meeting.

    The service did improved after that and we still visit the restaurant, just not as often as before.

  2. Robert Brittan says

    I just left Macaroni Grill in Plano, TX where I have dined before. Tonight was the most horrible experience especially when you invite others out to dine. Service was “bottom of the barrel” and the manager (Mark Collins) tried to do the ole Texas “what can I do for you” routine,… all I wanted to do at that point was leave – but we stayed.. plze comment if you want to know how the evening ended up..

    Thanks for letting me vent… this really embarrassed me (my suggestion for the restaurant) and upset me …

    I won’t be back to MG ever and will strongly recommend alternatives to everyone who entertains Italian dining.

  3. says

    Bad Service at Buffet City located at 8617 W Brown Deer Rd Milwaukee, WI 53224

    I am a Chinese student. I have been here for a month. I miss my food a lot. I found out Buffet City on line. I thought that I could enjoy my Chinese food in a nice restaurant.

    It was horrible when I was there. Buffet is a place where customers can eat as much as they can. But, I saw customers keeping coming to remind them to bring more food. They just ignored customers and talked to each other in Chinese that they didn’t have to worry about that and that was the way for the to make good money on their business. I also found out they some trays were always empty. I couldn’t believe they could have a license while they did that.

    It was a shame for them. Although I am Chinese, I want to inform every body about this place. I don’t want you to waste money on this place as I and many other people did.

  4. Jennifer says

    I had a similar experience recently. I was having bad customer from my server she seemed overwhelmed but I initially did not say anything because although I have never been a waiter, I can only imagine that it is not an easy task. My daughter’s food came out by another server, which I have no problem with but when my waitress came and asked did we need anything, I responded that I had not received my soup. She then looked at me with an attitude and said that she was waiting for my daughter’s food to come out and if I wanted it sooner I should have asked. She then came went and came to the table with my soup and drink and placed them on the table hard! She went and said something to another customer and when she was passing I asked to speak with her. I informed her that she has had an attitude ever since I asked for my food. I explained to her that I have not been nasty or disrespectful to her and I get that she is very busy but I didn’t deserve her attitude. I also told her that I was not trying to get her into any trouble because if I were, I would have asked for the manager but I wasn’t. The waitress apologized and informed me that she was upset about something that had happened on the other side of the restaurant. Nice ending, over right. No, out of no where this woman who was a customer with two out of control kids poked her head over into our conversation and stated that I should not talk to the waitress like that because she was waitingi on me. I was shocked, what was this woman talking about. I was not loud or upset , I was just letting my waitress know how I felt she was during my dining experience. I told the lady to stay out of it. She proceeds to say, or what and that I was rude and ignorant, I then ignored her because unlike her I had my teenage daughter with me and did not want to be ignorant in front of her. Apparently this was did not hear the whole conversation and thought my conversation with this young lady was wrong. Apparently, she did not hear my waitress admit that she was wrong and my bad service was attributed to another situation she had going on. I never write on bligs but this situation had really bothered me. I think I am a nice person and I try to treat people like I would like to be treated. This woman was not thinking. What if I was some hot head or mentally ill person, the whole situation could have turned out different. She had two small kids with her that she had a hard tiime controlling. Is this the example that she wants to show her children, I definitely didn’t.

  5. John Hammond says

    The following comments are about the service I’ve received based on my personal experiences as a regular dine-in customer at different full service restaurants in different price ranges for over thirty years. … I over tip and offer a complement to a server that offers truly exceptional service. I also compliment the manager or owner. I also tip well for consistently receiving good service from the same person or the same establishment. Do servers work hard but sometimes make unintentional honest mistakes? Yes. Are there customers that unfairly treat the server poorly during or after receiving good service? Yes. Are some servers or management incompetent? Yes. Occasionally I encounter a situation when a server behaves as though entitled to a specific dollar amount or specific percentage regardless of job performance. Based on my experiences the servers that repeatedly perform their jobs poorly often make excuses, blame the customer, or blame others instead of taking responsibility for their own actions. Sometimes management is complicit. In that situation it’s best to go to a different restaurant, speaking with a manager about a problem may result in more problems for the customer or revenge against the customer. In my opinion customers aren’t responsible for and shouldn’t reward bad management or bad service from an incompetent server.

  6. Piotr says

    I’ve had my share of bad restaurant experiences, but tonight I did something I’d never done before: I walked out.

    My wife and I went to have a Chinese Valentine’s dinner date at a restaurant. Although we assumed it would be busy, we never expected what we encountered. After handing us the menus, service disappeared. The first waitress whose attention we requested asked to wait, then immediately proceeded to take the couple next to us’ order, despite their having arrived later than us. Then, she left without taking our order. After putting in our order with another server, we had to keep requesting servers’ attention; we asked for water twice; we canceled our wine order after the wine never showed; about forty minutes later, not one of our orders, a paella for two, a chicken tapa, a shrimp appetizer, and a side of mushrooms was anywhere to be seen. Meanwhile, the couple sitting next to us had received two of their orders. We requested a server to please see what was happening with our food, and that if it hadn’t been started yet to please cancel the order, and she said she would. After about ten minutes, she did not come back, so we asked another server, who looked like a manager, for assistance. Despite her apologies (most of the servers apologized), we waited about seven more minutes, and she also never came back. Finally, when the waitress whose assistance we requested about the food later passed right by us with the couple next to us’ next order, we decided we’d had enough, and just left. All told, we’d spent about an hour of our time there with nothing to show for it.

    If anyone has any ideas about how they would’ve handled that, please, be my guest in sharing them, because I believe walking out is about one of the rudest things one can do at a restaurant, and I want to know better ways to handle it.

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