Bad Service at a Restaurant: Does It Leave a Bad Taste in Your Mouth?

So am I.

As you may have guessed, I am a big fan of restaurants. So, it pains me to talk about any of them in a negative light, but I just had to share a recent dining out experience. A group of us, each one a bigger foodie than the next, were hitting up a high-end, very well-reviewed restaurant I’d been to when it first opened and had very much enjoyed. I also know a few of the folks who work there. Unfortunately, they were off that evening. I say unfortunately because the service was so, well, unfortunate.

Four people in our party had never eaten at this restaurant before. And, clearly, neither had our server. She knew next to nothing about the menu. And I wish I could say this was an exaggeration. It was not. She had to go into the kitchen no fewer than eight times. EIGHT times. No one at the table had any allergies, so it wasn’t because we were asking if anything had nuts/shellfish/gluten/dairy, etc. Rather, we were asking questions such as, “What kind of oysters do you have?” (Her response: “Raw.”) and “How are the lamb chops prepared?” (Her first answer: “Rare, medium rare, medium, or well done.” This was actually better than her second answer, which was, “On a bed of vegetables.”).

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How to Be a Good Diner (or How Not to Wind Up on ‘Waiter Rant’)

Stock recently ran a story about restaurant service with advice from our friend Steve Dublanica, the former professional wait staffer behind the snarky Waiter Rant blog and author of the book Waiter Rant: Thanks for the Tip — Confessions of a Cynical Waiter (HarperCollins). In it, he provides some tips for being a good patron, including not treating a restaurant as if it’s a day care center (Clean up after your kids.), not requesting an off-menu dish unless you accept the consequences (It might not taste great.), and refraining from showing up sans a reservation yet expecting the best table in the house (Use OpenTable.).

A few diner don’ts that come to my mind are things I’ve seen very recently. First, don’t ask a waiter to go through the entire menu with you. Use your reading comprehension skills and then ask specific questions. I saw a couple make a very patient server walk them through a five-page menu. It took 15 minutes on a busy Saturday night. This was not Daniel, mind you — just a lovely, unpretentious Mexican restaurant with entrees under $20 apiece. Next, if you have a food allergy, ask if certain ingredients are in a particular dish instead of giving your server a graphic explanation of your allergy. S/he probably doesn’t care, and it’s an overshare. Also, if you’re a picky eater, don’t make a face when the server explains the specials and they sound unappetizing to you. It’s not polite. Finally, if you don’t like your meal, speak up immediately (and kindly). Don’t wait until it’s too late to fix it and then simply rant about it later online. Give wait staff and managers an opportunity to serve you something you’ll enjoy.

What are your don’ts for diners when they’re out at restaurants? What have some of your past companions done to drive your server (and you!) crazy during a meal? Share your suggestions and stories here or on our Facebook.