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.

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