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Servers---how should this be handled?

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Recently my husband & I were at a very nice restaurant to celebrate our 25th anniversary. Our server was friendly, but, well.... Here's what happened: We shared an appetizer that required the use of my knife. When the appetizer plates were cleared, my knife went with them. My soup, DH's salad, and a basket of warm bread with a small dish of butter soon came. When I took a slice of bread, I realized then that I didn't have a knife to butter it. OK, so we'll mention it to the server as soon as she comes by. SEVERAL minutes pass, then we finally see her taking a beverage order at a table a few away from ours. As she passes our table on her way to the kitchen, we stop her and ask for a knife. Then we waited. And waited. DH graciously butters a slice of bread for me. Delicious! Great garlic butter which really complimented my soup. Just as I'm spooning up the last spoonful of my soup, the server swings by----with the other table's completed beverage order---and drops off a napkin-wrapped full silverware setting. Sigh.
OK. I know I shouldn't have stood up in the middle of the restaurant and shouted, "HEY YOU! NEED SOME SILVERWARE OVER HERE!" But, clearly there is a better way to get an essential item without waiting 15-20 minutes. Should I have just swiped one off a neighboring table? Am I wrong to think the server should have gotten me a knife BEFORE she filled the other tables' drink order? DH & I felt this was a poor choice on her part---and let our tip reflect it. Because we chose to get on with our special occasion, we didn't mention this gaffe to either the server or the manager (who wasn't visible, anyway). Damage done, IMO. So, what's the best way to get a replacement knife/fork/spoon in a REASONABLE amount of time should I find myself in this situation again?

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  1. I would've swiped a knife from a neighboring table.

    Assuming nobody was already seated there, of course.

    1 Reply
    1. re: JacksonH

      Me too. Swipe, but at some point let server know so the next person at that table doesn't have the same problem!

    2. Ask a busser. If you need stuff like an extra glass, plate, silverware, water refill etc bussers are the best people to ask.

      1 Reply
      1. re: hrhboo

        Ask the busser. Still waiting? Swipe away.

      2. I would have taken a knife from an empty set table, or asked ther busperson. But it wsa romantic to have your DH butter a piece for you, no? That's a good memory to keep.

        1. Upscale restaurant I would ask the busser for a clean knife.

          Medium to lower end, swipe one off another table.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Scott M

            In an upscale restaurant, the server would *know* the knife was removed with the plate (heck in low scale chinese buffets, the servers know this) and replaced it right away.

          2. First things first- Happy 25th! And a H that butters your bread is certainly a keeper!

            But I'd do a little from column A, a little from column B. If it's apparent that your waiter is ignoring your request, I'd swipe one from an empty table, or grab a convenient busboy. Or... all else I'd get up and ask anyone that appears to be willing to assist.

            In good service, you waiter should have recognized that your knife had been removed (as it should be, if dirty), and immediately replaced. And for that reason, I'd send a note to the "very nice" restaurant about how to train their staff.

            1. Wait, this very nice restaurant only provided you with one knife? No butter knife? You used the same knife to butter your bread and cut your meat?

              We usually just swipe it off another empty table.

              1 Reply
              1. re: PeterL

                Excellent point, PeterL- a "very nice" restaurant should have provided you 2 knives in your place setting, one of them being for the butter exclusively.

              2. I quite agree with you - and whatever the reason, it reflects badly on the service. If this sort of thing happens, and the server shows up in my sight again to do something else, I catch their eye and ask one more time. After that I go fetch my own, and the problem is reflected in the tip.

                1 Reply
                1. re: wayne keyser

                  wayne, I agree on swiping, if the busser doesn't come through, but I don't agree on reflecting it in the tip. Perhaps the server isn't top notch, or is busy, or has been put upon by many of the restaurant owners I've seen written about here -- so unless it is deliberate malice aforthought, I would simply swipe and give my usual 20%.

                2. I disagree a little. If you were sitting at the other table and the server came by without your drinks and gave someone a knife instead, we might have heard that complaint on this board. People can be very pissy if they don't get their drinks fast. And you and your husband had a knife to share. While it may not be the epitome of etiquette, you were not without an essential item.

                  Don't let this minor gaffe upset an otherwise nice special occasion. It's just not that important.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: mojoeater

                    I agree w/ you, mojo. Seems like such a minor mistake on the part of the server and not much of an inconvenience. Maybe we're missing something? I just can't imagine getting worked up over this scenario and tainting an otherwise lovely evening. Seems like much ado about nothing.

                    1. re: lynnlato

                      I agree with you. There must have been more significant gaffes to the evening to cause this minor -and easily self-corrected - error to so upset thediner. To get up the next day and write a pointed comment on this site over someone forgetting a bread knife? I find it very 'small' on the part of the diner that the tip reflected this very human oversight on the part of the waitress. Let it go....

                      1. re: lynnlato

                        Oh, I disagree. This is not a minor problem. Servers are supposed to make sure that their guests have everything they need to eat and enjoy their food BEFORE they leave the table to tend to other guests. A disappearing server is a big problem when this happens. Ignoring the request or casually forgetting it while taking another order is just as bad. They should also check about one or two minutes later, once again, just to ask if the customer has everything they need. There is nothing worse, in my opinion, than sitting with a hot entree in front of you without flatware to eat it with, or salt or pepper or whatever, for ten minutes. It makes your dining companions wait to eat their food too. It is rude and it is poor service, regardless of what level of restaurant you are in. I was a waitress once, and no guest of mine sat there wondering whether they should consider eating their food with their hands or whether they should steal a fork from a nearby table because they had to wait a long time to get it. Frankly, I would have considered making a complaint to the manager if it went on longer than this. I think some of you are too easy to please:)

                        1. re: RGC1982

                          ""Servers are supposed to make sure that their guests have everything they need to eat and enjoy their food BEFORE they leave the table to tend to other guests.""

                          So true, so true!

                    2. You know what? chances are they just forgot. People forget things, or things like car keys, credit cards, wallets would never be "misplaced". Just ask them again and I'm sure they'll sheepishly apologize and get you a set.

                      1. What's a "very nice" restaurant? A fine dining restaurant would have replaced the knife once cleared. A casual restaurant would not have cleared the knife when clearing the appetizer plates. If this happened in a casual restaurant I'd have swiped the cutlery off the next table.

                        1. The server should've noticed the fork being taken away and replaced it ASAP. Where I work, what she did was the right thing. You're supposed to consolidate your time. Don't make two trips when you can make one. A table's first round of drinks is usually a top priority since it's so uncomfortable to sit when you're thirsty. Maybe the tables drink order took longer to fill than usual.
                          Honestly, I don't see this as a huge deal since it was just a butter knife you needed. If you were missing your fork and couldn't eat, another story. Many restaurants give you a spreading utensil and everyone at the table manages to share that just fine. I imagine she thought the same thing.
                          I guess we all have different definitions of what a "very" nice restaurant is. In my experience, very nice restaurants don't have pre-rolled silverware. So, I am wondering if your expectations were too high. This is such a minor thing, I think it's too bad that you're still thinking about it. As for how to replace it... well, i wouldn't. I just would've shared the knife. If it were something that hindered me from eating my entree, I'd just snag it from another table or ask anyone going by.

                          1. Slightly inconvenient, sure, but it's not like you were served soup without a spoon. And it wasn't like there was NO knife. What I really don't understand was that you let this mild annoyance reflect in the tip. Was the rest of the service satisfactory? If so, I think you overreacted.

                            Furthermore, not mentioning the gaffe to the manager likely gave the impression that you were cheap. My guess is the waitress had no idea why you were upset.

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: marcia

                              I agree with the others who said it's a little too much ado about a relatively small oversight. The server probably forgot. I agree with the person who said it's not like being served soup without a spoon. Or a steak without a steak knife. I would have just asked a busser, or, in their absence, the hostess. The next time the server appeared I might have said, "Oh, I got a knife from X" just to remind them that they had forgotten, prompting them to apologize.

                              If I had been sharing my table with people I didn't know very well, I could see you being uncomfortable about having someone else butter a couple of pieces of bread for you with their knife (or just share the knife in/near the butter dish, which is what a lot of couples do anyway) but if it was your husband, what's the big deal?

                              1. re: rockandroller1

                                It amazes me how some Chowhound posters expect absolute perfection from waitstaff and restaurants in general. We are human, we make mistakes, we forget, we screw up. For me it goes back to intent and perspective. A little grace goes a long way in life.

                                1. re: Janet from Richmond

                                  The thing is, you see this sort of demanding expectation from any slice of the population... reminds me of the dinner tonight... several gaffes were made and there were miscommunications, but I don't seriously think they were (as people) any less competent than myself or my friends... nor were they suffering from any major brain malady, they were simply inexperienced and flustered.

                                2. re: rockandroller1

                                  Agreed it is much ado about nothing. At a restaurant 2 weeks ago, we were waiting for more silverware after our apps were served, since not everyone at our table had there'e. We waited and waited trying to get our servers attention as she sat eating her lunch. Now THAT was bad service but even that wasn't worthy of posting a whole thread on IMO.

                              2. I think it was a poor choice on your part to let your tip reflect such a minor gaffe, unless there were other service issues that you did not mention. As someone noted, people forget things.

                                1. jfood thinks that the server just forgot without getting into the high end low end upscale discussion.

                                  This has happened to jfood countless times and he asks the server, the busser and then uses his intuitive reasoning ability to look at the empty table within reach and remove a knife to use. Not a biggie in the pathof life.

                                  Should this be reflected in a lower tip? It's happened often enough that jfood can state that he barely remembers the event when the bill arrives and jfood leaves his standard 15%.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: jfood

                                    This has happened to me and husband-more often than it should-either napkin taken when I left for restroom,knife gone, a few times sugar/creamer not brought with coffee. My husband usually gets the attention of server or busser and asks them."If they would like to bring item or would they mind if he gets chummy with the neighboring table and asks them to share?" It never seems to fail in item being brought to our table quickly-sometimes the server catches the joke even and laughs. That one gets full tip.

                                    1. re: foodseek

                                      Along these lines - in an upscale restaurant my (only) knife and fork were removed from the table when my salad plate was cleared. The server had a helper holding another tray, and before they even landed on that tray, they were handed back across the table to my place. I wasn't paying attention and when I realized this was pretty surprised when a friend explained how it all happened and that I wasn't given clean utensils once mine had been removed. My husband, seated next to me (outside seat in a booth and near the server/helper) was told to keep his.

                                      Am I wrong to think that mine should have been replaced, once they were removed from the table? It wasn't a big enough deal at the time to call the server back...but it's been bothering me!

                                  2. As someone who has waited on tables, I think it's unforgivable to make people wait for essential items such as silverware. In a situation where you're there to eat, you require a few essentials: napkins, flatwear, dishes and glasses. Any one of those being missing means the dining experience becomes uncomfortable -- and, no, you shouldn't have to share. It isn't the customer's job to go to another table and swipe, although I will if I have to. When I waited tables getting silverware to people who were missing it was a priority. It just takes a second to run to the bussing station and grab the utensil in question, even if you're busy. You should never tuck it into the next round of serving drinks, gathering orders, delivering meals, etc. The same applies to people who want sides delivered with their food. Get them right away. Don't tuck them into the cycle. The food is getting cold. Grab the mustard, ketchup, steak sauce, silverware, etc., and get it right to the table so people can eat. Few things make customers crankier than having food before them they can't enjoy because they're missing what they consider an essential ingredient. Good servers know to prioritize better than others and these things generally aren't taught.
                                    All that said, as a server I would occasionally just forget. Servers are required to have huge short-term memories and things get lost between the mental cracks. If the server appears really busy, ask a bus person -- they are the best people to get eating utensils, and you can always get it yourself. It's annoying, but it's rarely the end of the world.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: Fuser

                                      I think you're very right about prioritizing.....and also right about getting it yourself if necessary. But to say the server just forgot: ok, fine...but what about the situation where the server is asked MORE than once and STILL forgets? That gets annoying, to say the least. There have been times when I got downright pissy with a server...but AFTER they've virtually ignored various requests.

                                      I drink a lot of water with my meals. A LOT of water. And when I sit down to eat, I want water right away. I don't know if its because I usually want tap water or what, but it amazes me how hard that simple request for water is to get filled. I HATE it when the restaurant brings the drinks and/or wine before the water.....yet it happens all too often, even in nice places. and I hate it even more when I have to ask again and again. I have been known to take a full pitcher of water from the serving station...but only after at least three requests. I figure if I don't get it by that point, I have every right to take that pitcher.....

                                      PS: asking the bus person for water does sometimes work...but usually only if I ask them for "agua, por favor." This isn't meant to be a "diss" of anyone, but simply a statement of fact.......