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Poor Service?

The other threads about service made me think--how often do you get poor service? I eat out fairly often and I can only think of one instance, in the past year or so, where I've had bad service(it was at a chain restaurant, maybe Friday's or Ruby Tuesdays where we waited over 20 minutes and finally had to ask for our server, meal--salads took a long time, it took us close to two hours to get out and we got there at 11:15 am before the lunch crowd). I tipped 15% but should have left less. But, other than that, I'd say all the waiters/waitresses have been professional, some friendlier than others but that's a personality thing. Maybe I've been lucky but I don't remember any major gaffes and certainly not a whole glass of ice cold water spilled on my lap! Knock wood... From high end restaurants to chains, I've been impressed with the people working...well, maybe not for dimsum but that's a different ballgame.

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  1. I don't consider myself an overly-hard-to-please diner, but most recent bad service was just a couple weeks ago in Dallas at a mid-range place in the touristy old town. Mid-afternoon on a Sunday, the place was not particularly busy, yet the servers were not very attentive. It annoys me to no end if my water/beverage glass remains empty for 10+ minutes without someone noticing. Also, the surrounding tables on the patio were not bussed promptly at all, and pigeons were flocking around eating scraps that were left -- totally disgusting. Maybe they were short staffed that day, but it didn't appear that anyone was even attempting to hustle to get anything done. I also fault the manager. I would say that's what annoys me most -- when service is sluggish and totally inattentive, and servers/staff seem to be moving in slow motion.

    To be honest, I wouldn't even be as harsh about someone spilling water in my lap if I truly felt it was an accident (and they happen) that had nothing to do with the server being lax or unattentive or careless.

    1. I live in suburban Chicago, and, remarkably, think that we encounter poor service pretty regularly. I don't think that my wife and I are particularly demanding or high-maintenance, but the service at many of the high-end establishments in our area just isn't what it should be. I actually would expect mediocre of indifferent service at a place like TGI Friday's, but it seems as though more upscale restaurants (where checks frequently are $100 or more per couple, with tax and tip) often employ the same type of indifferent/disinterested server as you'd expect to find at the chain places.

      Although this is a bit of a generalization, many of these servers actually appear to be disinterested students or actors/writers/artists. These servers either really don't care about what they're doing -- perhaps because these jobs are short-term jobs and not careers -- or else never have really dined in upscale places with any frequency and are unaware of the typical level of service that people come to expect.

      While the restaurants themselves are somewhat to blame, for not offering sufficient training, etc., I suspect that part of the problem could be a shortage of qualified high-end servers in the local labor pool. Anyway, so much for my rant...I suppose that life isn't so rough if one of my bigger pet peeves is the service at local upscale restaurants.

      1. I usually experience at least adequate and often good
        to very good service.

        1 Reply
        1. re: taco_belle

          Same for me. Twice in my life have I had truly bad service - and that's saying something, since I've eaten out a lot, and I'm no spring chicken.

        2. I'm more on the opposite end of the spectrum - I always seem to attract poor service. One that notably stays in my mind is going to a local Dominican place and the waitress bringing out bottled water when we asked for water and frowning when we asked for tap water. It wasn't a fancy place - it was just a little mom and pop joint! She brought out little plastic cups and never refilled them, even when we asked. She ignored us, but doted on anyone else in the restaurant.
          I also seem to always get the server on a bad day. I've had one meal mis-hap, and the server wanted to know if I wanted to keep the fries, since she said the kitchen would just toss them anyway. I said yes and waited for my meal to come out, and then she ended up charging me for the fries. But even better - when asked about it (since she really made it seem like it was free) she cops a huge attitude, snaps the receipt out of my bf's hand and loudly says so everyone can hear "It's ONLY A DOLLAR, I don't see what the BIG DEAL is!" and then took it off... oookay. That was wierd! This was at a hip burrito place where it's busy but everyone is usually laid back. When I told some of my friends, they couldn't believe me - they said she's the nicest one and always comps them stuff when they go to eat there.

          I think I just have some sort of bad luck in me!

          At my last 2 places I've dined out I've been lucky and had amazing servers. Yay!

          1. I feel like I get the fish-eye from waiters at some places. I'm unfailingly polite, make eye-contact, and tip well...but there's this frission; as if I'm not speaking English or, just some odd disconnect, in general. Also, waiters tend to defer to my dining companions which drives me up the wall. It makes the odd good experience with general hospitality/rapport that much more enjoyable, sigh.

            5 Replies
            1. re: aelph

              An ex boyfriend had that same problem. Obviously I can't say that the reasons for his difficulties are the same as yours, but he too was unfailingly polite, etc etc. Or so he thought. Granted, he never raised his voice, never said anything rude, and if you read a transcript of his conversations with servers it would sound fine. However, his voice and body language dripped with condescension. Simply put, he considered himself better than servers and they quickly picked up on his arrogance. It was embarrassing.

              Even after pointing it out to him, he never got it.

              1. re: marcia

                Haha, I know a few people like this...like one of my sisters. Everyone else in the family is cool. I think waitstaffs can see these people coming or smell them.

                I rarely get bad (as in awful) service but I make it a point to make it easy to be served. You know, I'm there to enjoy myself and the last thing I want to feel is being tense. Also if I'm mellow, I know if I'm getting bad serevice it's not me.

                  1. re: marcia

                    We have some good friends who act that way every time we go out with them. They act as though the wait staff was put on earth to treat badly. We love them, and they're not like that to anyone else, but they're awful to eat out with - so we don't go out with them anymore. It's really embarrassing.

                    1. re: marcia

                      I understand your's is an anecdote to my hypothetical situation, but I know enough about and sympathize with the typical lot of some servers that I hope I'm not being misread as condescending to them. Shrug.

                  2. My husband and I usually get great service, but on rare occassions we feel very ignored by servers. On these instances, I think it's because we rarely order wine/alcohol, which drives up the price (and hence the tip), and because my husband and I look young (which again, may make them think we'll tip poorly, even though we eat out regularly and consistently tip well). The times we get bad service really stand out to me because it's just us, not general incompetence--we notice that the neighboring tables are getting better service, and we are somehow being pegged as unimportant. If it was due to incompetence, that would be one thing, but on the relatively rare instances in which we get bad service, it's generally due to a sort of diner profiling, in my opinion. Any other young-looking and/or low-alcohol consuming foodies experience this kind of poor treatment?

                    10 Replies
                    1. re: Nicole

                      Good question. I read Ruth Reichle's book this summer (is it Garlic and Sapphires) and was wondering the same thing. I also wonder if it's that certain stereotypes tend to tip less and so they get worst service and then they tip even less because they get worst service, kind of an unending cycle.

                      1. re: chowser

                        Funny story re Garlic and Sapphires--we were in London and happened to both have one of those packed-the-wrong-clothes problems that left us respectably, but certianly not stylishly, dressed. Plus, we were Americans (New Yorkers) and jet lagged. So we had already booked at Lyndsay House, a well-reputed restaurant tucked into a pretty Georgian bldg in touristy Soho. As soon as we walked in, I felt horribly judged by my perfectly appropriate (but frumpy, I admit) clothes, and the service was pretty bad. I'm sure they took one look at us and figured, RUBES! and served accordingly. In other aspects of my work w/in the media, I get the most over-the-top solicitousness from restaurants, so this was a real illustration of how we're all judged by our servers and hosts. I applaud Reichle for her Le Cirque assesment and review. The punch line here is that service is included at most English restaurants, so it wasn't even a matter of not expecting a good tip from us. They were just huge snobs!

                        1. re: nrxchef

                          My sister was in high tech at the height of the dot com era in the Bay Area where so many young people hit it big. She said people (ones in service from restaurants to car dealers to realtors to jewelers, etc.) readjusted their idea of who had money and who didn't because the person in a grungy tank top and flip flops could easily buy the entire place. It's too bad people judge you so quickly when something like what happened to you is not that unusual.

                          1. re: chowser

                            Well--that's perfectly wise, I think. In America, people tend to dress dramatically down, rich hipsters swanning around as you say in cutoffs and flip flops. I think in England and most of Europe (France and Italy, anyway), the story is a bit different, with lots of designer clothes, $600 shag haircuts and bling being the rule.

                            1. re: nrxchef

                              Yes, I also think it's a regional thing, too, in the US. Californians, in general, are more laid back in dress.

                            2. re: chowser

                              Heh! There's a swanky steakhouse in town that has a regular guest who wears a backwards baseball cap, ratty jeans, and rugby shirt while slugging Cristal from the bottle. Guy's got millions and you'd never know it to look at him. Looks like a frat guy from the early 90's.

                        2. re: Nicole

                          Yes! Although I'm 35 and my husband is 30 (still young, of course, but not teenagers,) we're often treated like high school kids on a date. We get crappy tables, arrogant/indifferent service, and are generally treated like snotty nosed brats. My husband, I'll admit, looks more like 22 than 30, and it doesn't help matters that he's really soft-spoken and without any hint of machismo or entitlement... but still! We eat out a lot, and the places we go often treat us much better after they know us -- we always tip 20%, usually order apps and dessert and booze - we're not total cheap-o's. But even though it's fun to still get carded, when do we get to be treated like adults?

                          1. re: sll

                            "we're often treated like high school kids on a date. We get crappy tables, arrogant/indifferent service, and are generally treated like snotty nosed brats. My husband, I'll admit, looks more like 22 than 30, and it doesn't help matters that he's really soft-spoken and without any hint of machismo or entitlement... "

                            If your husband isn't going to speak up, maybe if *you* spoke up when you get crappy tables or arrogant/indifferent service, it might change. If the manager doesn't know about the crappy service, they can't do anything to correct it.

                            1. re: LindaWhit

                              Oh yes, you're right and sometimes I do. But... I'd rather stick it out at a crummy table and have fun with the mister than make a fuss (which is what he considers even a simple table-change request) and make him more uncomfortable. So, instead of complaining to him, I mention it here! No big deal, we still have a great time. But since the question was posed... I answered!

                          2. re: Nicole

                            Yes, I think I do. My boyfriend doesn't drink, and I rarely do, and we're in our very late 20s but look much younger. I don't receive bad service, per se, or anything that is less than adequate, but I definitely feel that once we order iced tea to drink that, coupled with our perceived age, switches on a "lost cause" light in the server. We're always waited on fine, but like you said, sometimes we'll notice other tables getting refills or their orders taken much more quickly or whatever. Interestingly enough, two years ago I dated a man in his mid/late 30s who was more likely to have wine with dinner. I got more attentive and warmer service when dining with him than I do alone or with my current boyfriend, I think.

                            I think there is definitely diner profiling. But as long as I'm waited on adequately I don't really care, or even notice. I mostly am too involved in enjoying the food and company to care. So unless it's noticeable I'm probably not all that cognizant of the small stuff.

                          3. Being in DC I tend to get what I consider less than stellar service about 50% of the time, poor service about 20% of the time, and terrible service about 5-10% of the time. The fact is that for some reason DC settles for worse service than other major cities.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: jpschust

                              I'm astonished at that. I've made four trips from Portland to DC this year to visit my GF. I've found the service in DC to be FAR better than Portland. I'm proud of my home as a great food town, but the service sucks eggs compared to DC. You don't know how good you have it!

                            2. If I carve out the places I am a regular in town, I would guess the percentage is greater than 50% and probably close to 70%. These include hot soup on my shoulder, red wine on my shirt, raw meat when ordered med-rare, raw shrimp, incorrect bills, fraudulent bills, outright rudeness, wrong dishes, neglect, broken glass in DW leg, obnoxious hostesses, upselling, etc.

                              Granted some of these items were not the waiter's fault, but good service from top to bottom is becoming rarer and rarer these days.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: jfood

                                "Raw meat when ordered med-rare...." Oh, if only: usually medium well/well/burnt!

                                1. re: jakeyd

                                  oh yeah i forgot,

                                  raw meat when ordered med-rare; send back and get well done burnt

                              2. Luckily poor service is a rarity for all of us, but when it happens you remember it.

                                I've worked in a restaurant where we had professional servers and what I call transient servers(college students, aspiring actors/actresses...). There is a big difference in the service you get from them, but they won't admit to it. Professional servers are attentive to your needs and don't bring their problems from home. The transient servers think they're doing a good job and most of the time they do an adequate job and no gaffs to your dining experience.

                                Next time you're at a restaurant watch your server and see what they're doing when they aren't serving your table. Are they on the floor serving other customers or are they doing stuff like hanging around talking to other servers? Watch their demeanor, do they seem like they're pleasant and attentive to the other tables they are serving.

                                You have a problem ask to speak with the manager.

                                1. I don't get poor service as much as servers that just lack personality, which isn't a complete need for being one but.. helps.

                                  1. I'm not sure why, but we get seated and then ignored for ten or fifteen minutes regularly. I hate playing the subsequent how-can-we-get-the-waiter/waitress'-attention-without-being-totally-obnoxious game. But I also hate being hungry, going into a place, getting ignored, and having to walk out and start the process of deciding where to go all over again.

                                    The issues folks are bringing up in this thread are reminding me of this week's "Bite Me" column in Denver's weekly newsmag, Westword, in which the ever-brilliant Jason Sheehan talks about being judged by his appearance (and finds another way to heap praise on Frasca). And I love this part, too: "I don't expect the best table every night; I don't want special little snackies from the kitchen. If I wanted that kind of sh*t, I'd kill Anthony Bourdain and dress in his skin." "http://www.westword.com/Issues/2006-1...

                                    And I agree with him about Frasca; one night some friends and I met for dinner and intended to go to a very casual place and I talked them into going to Frasca instead. Despite our jeans-and-fleece casual attire, and not ordering a bottle of expensive wine, we were treated as well as we would have been had we had a reservation and been finely dressed. I love that in a restaurant. I have been back many times and both of my friends have since taken people there; they wouldn't have gone back if we'd been looked down upon.

                                    1. "poor service" comes in many colors. is the server indifferent? overwhelmed? incompetent? lacking knowledge or polish? down-right arrogant? overly friendly? being a restaurant professional, i'm pretty forgiving when i dine out, and also perceptive enough to know if something isn't the server's fault. that being said, this is a college town and we have a lot of "transient" waiters, which doesn't always make for a smooth meal. empty water glasses, empty wine glasses (or over-pouring -- i HATE that), neglecting to mark with silverware, or getting the wrong dish. the waiter disappearing and never checking back. it's attention to details that makes good service and younger kids seem not to notice these things. so, more commonly, i'd say it's inexperienced service, rather than poor.

                                      unless it's formal, i always eat at the bar. bartenders are right in front of you, and tend to be older and more experienced than many servers in boston.

                                      my nightmare bad service story:

                                      one night out at a new hot spot, my b/f and i had not yet ordered and were sipping our drinks. a passing busser dropped a tray of glasses on the slate floor and broken glass flew everywhere. shards were all over our table, in our water, even in my hair. a terrible racket, but nobody made a special trip over to check on us, and when the waiter eventually returned we had to ask to have our drinks and water replaced.

                                      we were eating our appetizers when it happened AGAIN ! glass everywhere. finally i flagged down a suit and explained the situation. he offered to buy dessert, and never once made a move to clear anything away. i was furious and asked for the check. both rounds of drinks (we only were able to drink one) and the apps (which we couldn't eat) were still on the bill. i walked over to him and said i wasn't paying for all the stuff that had been filled with GLASS. i gave him $20 for drinks and stormed out. i still get steamed remembering it!

                                      12 Replies
                                      1. re: hotoynoodle

                                        Sorry to be a nitwit, but, what does "neglecting to mark with silverware" mean, please?

                                        1. re: abowes

                                          It's putting down new silverware to accomodate the meal that's coming your way.

                                        2. re: hotoynoodle

                                          I cannot understand that at all. Why would a manager or a waiter not care that their customers can't eat their food? I've never had a manager be indifferent to the service we're getting (yet, knock on wood). I remember going to a Chili's once and our service was slow, but we hadn't even said anything and had honestly not even noticed and the manager came over and apologized profusely and said for us to please order an appetizer on the house. We declined and said it was no problem and about then our order arrived anyway. He turned around to talk to another table, I reached for the ketchup bottle, which had been sitting in a sunny window for several hours (you see where this is going). I opened it and BLAM! half a bottle of ketchup exploded all over my food, my head and my shirt. It was everywhere - in my hair, all over my face -I looked like I'd been shot. I tapped the manager to ask him for a towel and he took one look at me and was utterly horrified. I felt so bad for that poor man. We were laughing - I looked ridiculous. He just said, "That's it. your entire meal is on the house. Order whatever you want - it's completely free." and he spent the next several minutes helping clean me up and apologizing.

                                          But I have often found that the managers in chains tend to be pretty proactive and offer good customer service. Maybe it's to help make up for the fact that their wait staff are a bunch of college kids, some of which don't care much about their jobs?

                                          1. re: Andiereid


                                            I can see this happening to me... I am still laughing!

                                            1. re: Andiereid

                                              It's because chains have a huger budget for comps and stuff like that. Plus, one bad comment card, and everything goes to hell in a chain restaurant.

                                              1. re: therealbigtasty

                                                My brother-in-law used to manage one. I've never asked him about that, actually. But he was quick to comp for problems. Very stressful job, that was.

                                                1. re: Andiereid

                                                  Corporate restaurants often have good benefits for management, but damn they work those poor guys. It's pretty heartbreaking to watch guys at those restaurants work so hard and deal with so much from above and below.

                                              2. re: Andiereid

                                                the place was new and all the rage, and i honestly couldn't decide if management was that oblivious or that arrogant. i agree chains tend to be more pro-active with comps -- it's considered part of the expense of doing business and nurturing repeat guests.

                                              3. re: hotoynoodle

                                                That'a a good point about the type of "poor" service. I'm forgiving if someone is trying hard. I understand if I ask for something and they're busy and forget, or they're running around and don't have time to get to me quickly. But, if the're not busy and are just standing around chatting, I would consider it "poor service."

                                                My husband and I had a tasting menu at a restaurant where the waitress tried really hard. I think she was new. We couldn't understand what she was saying half the time because she couldn't pronounce the dishes--I'm surprised someone didn't sit her down and have her repeat it. After she left, my husband and I would try to figure out what we'd be eating, like "je nay chee" was (ganache). I don't consider that poor service, though. She was friendly, quick, and did her best.

                                                1. re: chowser

                                                  OMG! You mean it's NOT pronounced "je-nay-chee"?


                                                  1. re: mclaugh

                                                    Hey, you don't happen to waitress at an organic restaurant in Virginia, do you?;-) I'll say it was great je-nay-chee.

                                                    1. re: chowser

                                                      No, but maybe after the sex-change operation ... :-)

                                              4. We ordinarily get excellent service, but as I stated in another post elsewhere, the worst I've gotten was at DB Bistro Moderne on our trip to NYC two weekends ago. We were all dressed nicely and (I thought) well-behaved. We arrived for our reservation on time and were courteous to the waiter, but he ignored us most of the evening. The other support staff were great, but he just disappeared and left us high and dry most of the night. He seemed to like my husband, but did NOT care for me or my husband's parents. He took our drink order, and another server returned with my husband's bourbon, but not our wine that we had ordered. It took me six tries to get his attention (and the place isn't that big - he just avoided making eye contact with our table). I finally managed to get him to bring our initial wine order (grudgingly) after our salads had been served. Then he disappeared again for the rest of dinner. No more wine, no more anything - didn't ask if we wanted dessert. We never saw him at our table again. We only saw our support servers who brought our food and when we asked them for refills, they disappeared looking for our waiter, who never came. We saw him being extraordinarily attentive to a table in the corner he was serving, so I hope they tipped him well. I tipped 15%, only because I didn't want to stiff the rest of the servers who brought us our food and refilled our water glasses promptly. I didn't complain at the time because the food was outstanding and I didn't want to cause a scene or make the manager think we were just trying to get a meal comp or something, but I did write a letter when we got home.

                                                3 Replies
                                                1. re: Andiereid

                                                  You tipped "only" 15% for such crappy service? I'd have stiffed the waiter and given it all directly to everyone else who actually cared enough to serve you!

                                                  1. re: Leonardo

                                                    Ah, but she didn't say she "only tipped 15%", but rather that she "tipped 15%, only because...". As in, the only reason she tipped 15% was... Finally, all that harping I've heard about the position of the "only" pays off! ;-)

                                                    1. re: abowes

                                                      My grandmother, who was an english professor, would have been proud!

                                                      Yes, the only reason I tipped 15% was because I didn't want to stiff the other servers. I'm not really sure how I would have been able to tip them directly, since there were probably seven different people who brought food, filled water glasses, etc. and I'm not positive I could have identified them all. It seemed like there were as many support staff in the restaurant as there were customers.

                                                2. we've noticed that there used to be a lot of great service in the city (10 years ago, in all places- big little, in between), but as the economy has slumped, all PROFESSIONAL servers, barstaff & service industry types have either worked their way to the tippy top of the service pyramid or gotten out of the business. You will still get great, professional service in top restaraunts but the majority of servers have far less experience than they did even 5 years ago. You just can't make a living at service the way DH & i used to, and a lot of serving people's attitudes totally suck as a result.

                                                  1. I think it really depends on location. I don't eat out much in DC because it seems that half of the places I go to have lousy service, not all of them this bad:


                                                    When I travel, I've had much better luck with service.

                                                    3 Replies
                                                    1. re: monkeyrotica

                                                      agreed. ps- your posts on dcist are always great :)

                                                      1. re: monkeyrotica

                                                        Do you stick mostly in DC? I haven't had a lot of problems in NoVa. I don't notice service is worst here than other places we've lived (and we move around pretty often). I've only been to Outback once, can't remember much about the service which is a good sign because I'd remember if it was really bad but we've never been back--I don't understand the long wait to eat there.

                                                        1. re: chowser

                                                          In general, I've had slightly better luck in NoVA restaurants, but not by much. I tend to get the best service at the cheapest, diviest places (older diners, lunchcounters, ethnic joints in sketchier neighborhoods). It's the higher-pricetag places that seem to give the worst service.

                                                          I've had really bad luck in MD though, particularly Bethesda, Rockville, and Wheaton.

                                                      2. I think that servers are an easy target. But truth be told, if a dining room isn't run well, blame blame the Manager. Period.