HOME > Chowhound > Not About Food >


Suggestions, Please

This happened last week and I'm still trying to figure-out what to do.

A friend and I had to attend an out-of-town funeral in the morning - afterwards, we went to a local, small, family-run restaurant for lunch and to talk. It was a slow lunch at the restaurant, but we had the most atrocious service.

1 - Server slid into the booth, next to me, to explain the day's specials.

2 - Server managed to knock over dining partner's glass of wine, into her salad (and the bread basket), then brought and left at the table a DIRTY kitchen towel for us to mop-up the mess.

3 - Server then returned to ask if friend wanted a new salad and new glass of wine.

4 - Server regailed us with stories of "bad customers."

5 - Server brought us the bill for another table.

6 - Server brought us the correct bill, but had charged for A) second glass of wine, B) second salad, and C) second bread basket. We asked to speak to the manager/owner who said that we had ordered all three items (apparently asking for a "new" glass of wine and salad and bread was different from asking for a replacement?) but eventually she took off the additional charges.

7 - All we had was a $100 bill to cover the (about) $35 check, so that's what we put into the check holder. We waited for the change. And waited. And waited. Our server'd disappeared. I asked another server where ours had gone to - was told that he'd already left - with our change! So I asked to speak to the manager/owner. Was told that they'd ALSO left and that we should call with our complaint.

8 - Called the restaurant that evening and spoke to owner, who told me that I'd have to "prove" that we'd given the server the $100 AND that we'd not told him to "keep the change."

So do I chalk this up to just bad luck? Make the drive to the restaurant (about two-hours from here) to speak to the owner in person? Register a complaint with the BBB? Post the restaurant's name all over with this horror story?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Horrible! Definitely should try to contact the owner, if not in person, write a letter. If the owner doesn't seem to care or take action to replace your stolen money you should definitely register a complaint with the bbb.

    1 Reply
    1. re: amopdx

      FYI to everyone who has recommended contacting the Better Business Bureau: They can and will do nothing. The BBB is a membership organization. The business MUST be a member in order for the BBB to even listen to your complaint. And when there is a complaint against a member, the worst they can do is kick the business out of their group. Chances are the BBB will weigh the complaint against the membership fees they receive from said member.

      Look to the city/state Consumer Affairs Department. Most localities have the power to launch an investigation. But even then, you would need some sort of proof.

    2. That is a very strange story. I would start by mailing an account of your experience to the restaurant, so that you have physical documentation of the situation, and the exact amount of change your are requesting. Mention that you will complain to the BBB if you have not heard back from them in 10 days. Perhaps send it registered mail?

      2 Replies
      1. re: erin07nyc

        better yet, on the letter cc: the BBB

        1. re: erin07nyc

          I agree completely. Write a very professional letter (have a friend with an English degree proofread it for you; I catch mistakes all the time in work done by very well-educated friends.) and copy the BBB on it.

          I would also copy the Chamber of Commerce, in case the restaurant is a member, and the tourism commission, if they have one.

          Do you have a friend who's an attorney? You might check to see if it would be considered threatening (or worse) if you mention in your letter that you will gladly write a follow-up letter regarding the resolution of the situation once you receive the money owed you.

          If you do not get satisfaction, a detailed letter to the editor would certainly be in order, too.

          In the future, if you for some strange reason find yourself in the same freaky situation, I would recommend not leaving the premises until contacting the police department. I'll bet you'd have your money right now, and all you'd have to do is write letters to BBB, Chamber, Tourism, and Editor rather than also attempting to get your money back. You should still be able to call the police.

          What a story!! Where was this, anyhow?

          Let us know what happens.

        2. Definitely report this to the BBB. Where did this happen? I mean the town. How large a town? Do they have a newspaper that publishes letters to the editor for "Rants, Raves & Roses" or something like that? Is it a large enough town to have a food editor for the local newspaper? I would publicize this unforgiveable experience. I would even seriously consider speaking with the local district attorney. What the waiter did was theft - pure and simple.

          1. Oh My! I would definately speak with the owner, not the manager as that has gotten you nowhere. Since you had a friend witness the money theft you would certainly have a case against them shoudl you choose to report it. Most of the time, if a restaurant owner hears "lawyer" they'll do whatever it takes to avoid litigation.

            1. Since speaking with the owner got you nowhere, I'd defintely send a registered letter, cc the BBB, contact local news outlets, and seek legal remedy. I wouldn't waste the four-hour round trip for a face to face meeting, as it will likely get your nowhere - but DEFINITELY keep persuing it. and YES - post the name!!!! that's shocking.

              1. In my book that is a theft! I would have called the PD, before I left the restaurant to file a report. I am sure you still can and let that be part of the documentaion.

                2 Replies
                1. re: Quine

                  Oh, definitely. File a police report ASAP. Forget contacting the owner again.

                  1. re: Quine

                    I should have read farther before I posted. I would also mention this in the letter.

                    Hopefully you got the server's name?

                  2. I think you should call the police, too - ASAP.

                    1. First you have to decide what you want. Do you :
                      Want your change?
                      Want your money back for the whole lunch?
                      Want a little respect?
                      Want to get even?
                      None of these are going to happen by legal means. So you just get over it and walk on, or you resort to threats, violence, and bricks through windows.

                      Maybe venting on Chowhound and some appropriate responses will help you get over it.

                      1. definitely look to some local media outlets! this is atrocious! theft on the servers part, and the restaurant as a whole.

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: bethd127

                          A "local media outlet" is going to stick its finger in the eye of a local business to favor an out of town-er?

                            1. re: River Rat

                              Maybe I'm just in a particularly nasty mood. Sorry. I think that nothing can be gained from pursuing this issue. NOTHING. Best to just disengage. See my earlier post.

                              1. re: yayadave

                                What can be gained is hopefully, they'll think twice about doing it again and preventing it from happening to others. If everyone just rolled over and went away, this could continue forever. It's like filing a sexual harassment complaint. There's a good chance it'll hurt you but you're looking to prevent it from happening to others.

                        2. You'll need ... : Mark Richards, a bag of quick-dry cement, and easy access to the eatery's toilet bowl. Remember to lock the door on your way out. ... ; )

                          Giddy up: http://seinfeld.tvcenter.nl/img/scree...

                          1. This experience/incident is about principle, ethics, and getting back what is rightly yours. One thing to remember, is that restaurants (and most every business) relies on their reputation, and often times, word of mouth recommendations. Therefore, public discussion is a powerful tool, particularly if the media becomes involved (ask any politician). Check with the local newspaper, radio and television stations (particularly TV). Many have a weekly feature that addresses consumer issues. They also have restaurant reviews. If you contact their consumer desk and have your story well documented (including all your efforts to resolver the matter) you might find your story on the news, and the desired response from the restaurant.

                            1. That is one of the worst restaurant stories I've ever heard. I cannot imagine walking away without trying to do something. It's not in my nature to disengage in this type of situation. I agree with all of the suggestions -- write a letter to the owner, cc: the BBB. They left you with a dirty towel to clean up the mess? Call the health department, too! If there is no response, or one that is unsatisfactory, then I would contact local media.

                              Attica! Attica!

                              (Please keep us posted on your progress. All the best!)

                              1. The "quick-dry cement" is a novel idea - kudos to the poster of that one.

                                Things like that just make your blood boil. Yes, contact owner, contact press, spread the negative word as much as possible.

                                Seriously though, contact the BBB, and file a small-claims court complaint for "theft of services" or some such (you can probably file the complaint yourself) no need to hire a lawyer, which will cost more than the @ 70-dollar loss... perhaps just the thought of the court involvement will make the owner wise up.

                                I do not endorse the following, however......
                                ... if they do takeout.... order a large takeout meal, and CUSTOMIZE it.... so they have to prepare something that they won't normally be able to sell - for example, order a steak WELL-DONE, or substitute sauce A for menu-described sauce B on the item. Then of course, don't pick up the order. Say, that order comes to around... 70 dollars, hmm.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Sethboy

                                  What I said in the first place. No LEGAL remedy. You can get even, but you wouldn't feel good about it, and you wouldn't be even. If you start making charges that you can't prove, you'll be paying a lawyer - to defend you in the lawsuits against you.

                                2. The other posters have offered a lot of solutions, which would work for different types of people. Decide what YOU could do and still feel good about yourself, and do that.

                                  Personally, I'd take it as a favor if you were to post the name and location of this place, just to warn other possible victims.

                                  1. When a similar situation happened to a friend of mine, he called the local talk radio station and his grievance wound up on air.

                                    Whether you are visiting or live in the neighborhood you're entitled to legal service. You have every right to file a police report.

                                    1. Forget the BBB. I have tried filing complaints with them and they really do nothing. I am an attorney and I can tell you no attorney is going to take this case and even if they did you will pay much more than you lost. Policer report for theft is not a bad idea. Best idea is screaming it all over the place. Also, don't know where you are but in my area (boston) there are consumer reporters on tv who will take up your problem with the managment and possibly air it on tv if it is interesting enough and I would say this is definitely interesting and outrageous enough! I have had bad experiences at restaurants but this really is amazing.

                                      1. Probably you don't have much recourse except to let it go. And honestly, the aggravation of pursuing it isn't worth the money. But please do let us know the name and location of the restaurant so that we can all avoid it in the future. Let the negative publicity begin!

                                        1. Perhaps a letter to the editor of the local paper.

                                          1. You have no recourse because you have absolutely no proof. A recounting of a story is not proof. You're screwed out of the cash.

                                            But, my question is why you endured this person. I think a large part of this you brought on yourself when the person slid into the booth (where is this acceptable?) and proceeded to make a mess which you were then supposed to clean up. You became a co-conspirator in this fiasco when you didn't ask to speak to the manager immediately, and then let this person get away with all the other stuff.

                                            Then, to pay for the meal, like everything was all right and normal - well, that just made you go deeper in the hole. Frankly, it was yours to fix, and you blew it. Without getting the manager or whoever was in charge immediately, and then getting another server or getting out of there, you just compounded the situation and now it's over.

                                            I'm sorry to sound so harsh, but I have no patience with people who put up with bad behavior in any circumstance. Sounds like the guy was just trying to get fired, and what he ended up with was a pocketful of your money. I'm sorry this happened, but I hope you can make sure it never happens - at least to you - again.

                                            6 Replies
                                            1. re: Atlantis

                                              So now you're blaming the victim? I agree that she could have spoken to the manager (and he eventually did), but not all people are alike. Some people are more willing to endure a bit of bad behavior rather than have the evening ruined by confronting the manager. I do confront when need be (and I would have done so in this case) but just about every time I have, it has put a damper on the evening. So when in a bad situation like this, the question is always "can you live with it so you can just enjoy your time with your friend?" Even more so, she had just attended a funeral. Probably the last thing she wanted to do was have to confront them. Either way, she was the victim here and it's rude of you to blame her. I agree that we have to speak up when service is deplorable or nothing gets done, but she is not to blame that it happened to her.

                                              I also agree with the others that you have to do what's right for you. Myself, I would pursue it in some manner. Probably like the others have said by filing a police report, report to the BBB or call a "Help Me, Howard" or other news show which airs in that area. For me, it's about the principle - what that server did was theft, plain and simple. He should not get away with that. However, I can also understand the "chalk it up to experience" folks. My husband would have called it a $75 lesson and never done that again.

                                              1. re: amyvc

                                                Well, some are more willing than others to endure, as you put it, "a bit of bad behavior," which is hardly what this was. But, if you do let it all go on, and then you want to complain and be made whole, you're facing an uphill course. In fact, accusing someone of something that you cannot prove can bring you a whole lot more trouble in the form of a civil action or the idea of trying to make a false report than the original wrongdoing.

                                                I'm blaming no one, just stating what I see. It's too bad it happened, but it could have been stopped.

                                                1. re: Atlantis

                                                  With all due respect, Atlantis, the OP did not behave completely the way you said (see paragraphs 6, 7 and 8), and in her post is not simply "complaining & wanting to be made whole." She was trying to figure out what to do and looking for suggestions.

                                                  I agree with your point that it could have been stopped, but that might have required someone with a different kind of personality, or maybe just the same person without the funeral-related circumstances.

                                                  What one person (in this case you) would have done in this situation is not what another person would have wanted to do, or even been able to do.

                                                  1. re: misterbrucie

                                                    That's correct, and all we're doing is swapping opinions, right? Mine's different from yours.

                                                    Any server who slid into a booth next to me would have been bounced so far and and so fast, measurements would have been defied. Funeral or not - and we've all been upset at one time or another in our lives - there are behaviors that are unacceptable, and when the customer allows them to continue and even to escalate, the customer must then take the proper proportion of responsibility if he or she refuses to speak up to stop those behaviors.

                                                    Complaining afterwards is crying over split milk with the barn door wide open, as I wildly mix metaphors or whatever those things are involving farm items.

                                                    So we differ. No one is right, no one is wrong. We differ on how to handle it, but I do know that if the OP starts making public noise and claims that cannot be substantiated, that's getting into some serious and dangerous territory, as in defamation of character, and I would hope that wouldn't happen.

                                                    The police will laugh at this one, believe me.

                                              2. re: Atlantis

                                                I should have been more detailed in my original post - for brevity's sake I chose to list what went wrong, not what we did in response, and I can see now that I should have been a bit more detailed.

                                                For clarification:

                                                - When the server slid into the booth, I turned to him and asked him to leave, immediately. He did.

                                                - When the server brought us the dirty kitchen towel and then left, another server saw what'd happened and came over with a clean towel and helped us clean-up the mess. The second server also took the empty wine glass, the soaked salad, and the bread basket, then the original server returned to ask if we wanted new items.

                                                We did ask the second server to send over the manager and was told that she'd come over as soon as she was available.

                                                - I did ask to and did speak with the manager (who, as it turned out, was also the owner) when the bill fiasco occurred. And I did specifiy our issues with the server at that point. However, the manager/owner was confrontational and we had to argue with her to get the "new" wine/salad/bread basket removed from the bill.

                                                - When I called back that evening and asked to speak to the owner/manager, I got the same woman that'd been working the lunch shift (and that's when she said that she was the owner).

                                                Should we have gotten up and left as soon as the idiot sat in the booth? In retrospect, yes, we should have.

                                                But my original reason for posting was to get feedback from others about how they would have handled things - and I thank you for your feedback.

                                              3. If it were me, I would try a couple of time to call the owner and then I would just drop it, life's too short.

                                                But if you want to persevere, you should first try to contact owner, giving him the benefit of the doubt. I bet this receives zero help but you need to set the groundwork.

                                                Then file a police report and a letter to the BBB with a CC to the restaurant. You can now place in the letter that you attempted to contact to owner but to no avail. Likewise you might copy the local newspaper with the letter. Do not ask for anything other than your change. If it looks like you are looking for a free meal or something other than is due you you will be heading down a slippery slope and it will be you, soon, who is doing the defending.

                                                Keep to the facts, do not get emotional and in no event cross over to the slander part of the argument. You do not want this to escalate to a civil slander suit in which you are the defendant.

                                                Good luck and keep us posted.

                                                1. Does this town have a local community bulletin board on-line? It seems to me like this restaurant could use some bad local press and you might be the one to provide that. Hit them where it hurts.

                                                  1. ElsieDee, I hope you find satisfaction - however you define that for yourself. And I hope the suggestions posted here are ones you can proceed with to a successful resolution. It was a lousy thing to have happen following a funeral for crying out loud. It certainly sounds like you acted reasonably. Hindsight is so very easy. Please do keep us posted.

                                                    The OP deserves feedback without the abuse.

                                                    1. "Don't let the bastards get away with it" is a personal principle of mine. If somebody does something dastardly to me and there's no way I can reverse it or get restitution, I will find some way to see to it that he doesn't get off scott-free even if it involves some cost or inconvenience to me. At the very least I'll spread the story as a warning lesson for others with the side effect of messing up his reputation.

                                                      1. I wouldn't be at all surprised to see that the restaurant has done things like this before and that others have reported it. Perhaps your complaint to the police, BBB, etc will be the one that finally causes one of those agencies to take action.

                                                        1. What is the name of the restaurant and where is it located? With all the postings of where to go, with this type of experience, would it also not benefit CH's to know where to avoid?

                                                          1. Not sure what state you're in but there might be a "higher" power, like Department of Consumer Affairs which oversees professional licenses (medical, automotive, etc.). I know in California some of the comsumer stuff is taken serious (the biggies, insurance, medical, auto)..enough to keep records and levy fines. I don't know how if restaurants are covered but might be worth a look. If nothing else, I'd look at the county government, a letter to a county supervisor or dept (CC'd to local media) will definately get some attention. Best of luck.

                                                            1. UPDATE: First, thanks for all of the responses to my initial question - I appreciate all of them.

                                                              I've revived this thread to let y'all know what happened: I did end-up writing a letter and sending it to the owner of the restaurant, but never received a reply (no surprise considering how she'd been in person and over the phone).

                                                              However, I was back in the area this past week and I decided to go by the restaurant ... not sure if it was morbid curiosity or what, and don't think I would have gone in had they been open, but ... the restaurant was no longer there! It's now a florist. So I went in and asked the owner (I assume she was the owner) if there used to be a restaurant in the same location. Long story short (there was lots of gossip included in her reply): the restaurant owner had been doing some shoddy book-keeping and there were allegations of embezzlement and the family skipped town one week (after "closing for remodeling"). And that is that.

                                                              Looking back at what happened, I'm still not sure that I would have done anything differently - my DC was the ex-wife of the deceased and I don't think that she was up for any sort of a scene (especially not over $65). Had my DC or the situation been different, I would have called the police before leaving the restaurant and made a report of the theft but not expected anything to come of that report.

                                                              Anyway, I just wanted to let y'all know - and thanks, again, for your responses, suggestions, and insight.

                                                              1. You were robbed. I mean really robbed. Make a police report.

                                                                1 Reply
                                                                1. re: PeterL

                                                                  wow a shocking story and makes me wonder if it is worth saying at the time of payment at any restaurant, sorry I don;'t have smaller than a hundred so that they cannot then turn around and say it was a $50.

                                                                  However, I think I would have called the police at the time.