Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Not About Food >
Oct 25, 2007 06:27 PM

What's with the lousy service in Calgary?

I was flying home last week from Los Angeles on Westjet, and I had a 7 hour layover in Calgary. Not knowing the city very well, I chose to stay at the airport, and have dinner. I went to Montana's.

There I received the worst service I've ever had. I ordered a steak and a carafe of wine. My waiter returned a few minutes layer with the wine, plunked the glass and carafe down on the table, and then left rather quickly. Now, I know there have been other threads where people have talked about the waiter refilling their glasses, and I don't really feel strongly about it one way or the other, but I DO expect him to pour the first glass for me.

Some time after that, a completely different waiter showed up with my steak. He confirmed my order, put the plate on the table, and left quickly. I don't need to be fawned over, but I would have expected him to ask if I needed anything else (steak sauce, bread, etc.). And, I really do expect people to come by, and ask if everything is satisfactory after I've had a few bites. No such luck.

I didn't see my original waiter again for quite some time. I was left sitting with my empty plate in front of me (the food was OK; not spectacular, but definitely edible, which I would expect from a chain like Montana's). Finally, I flagged down a waitress, and asked to see the manager. She came over after a few minutes, and I pointed out the errors I've noted above, and then also noted that no one came by to offer me coffee or dessert. (I didn't really want either, but again, I expect to be asked.)

We discussed the "tip out" amount, which she said was 3%, and I told her that was all my waiter would get. She said she would definitely discuss it with him, which she did, but I still had to wait another 10-15 minutes before he brought over my bill. He apologized but I still left him only the 3%.

This all happened on a Thursday night, and the restaurant did not appear overly crowded. So I don't get it. Later, I did feel like coffee, and I went into Kelsey's. Same thing - ignored at my table for 20 minutes, never got a refill, and I had to beg another waitress to find the guy so I could get my bill.

I know this is only a sample of two, but is this typical of service in Calgary? I'm not expecting superb service, especially at chains, but these are the basics that any good server should provide. I really wasn't impressed.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Sorry for your experience in Calgary. I wish I could say that I was surprised. If you had gone to a high end place downtown, you would probably not had this experience. Anything lower than that, though, and it's hit or miss. Calgary is in the midst of a huge oil and gas boom. There are not enough people to fill the jobs available. So pretty much the people that work fast food/chain restaurants are not what you would call "stellar". They also realize that they won't get fired b/c their managers couldn't replace them.

    1. WOW, the waiter not filling your glass was the worst service you've ever had? You got your food and you still felt entitled to leave a lousy 3%? Shame on you.

      Why are you even asking if two experiences at an AIRPORT are indicative of anything? I just had terrible service at Frankfurt's airport but would never, ever presume that it indicated anything about the city. It indicated that I was eating in a bloody AIRPORT.

      3 Replies
      1. re: John Manzo

        These sorts of places had bad service even when there was enough staff. You certainly cannot title this thread " What's with the lousy service in Calgary?" ; you ate at one lower end "chain" . Calgary has many restaurants that provide WORLD CLASS service, do some research next time...

        1. re: criticalcritic

          Sorry, I have eaten at Montana's in Toronto many times, and I never get this experience. And Mr. Manzo, if you'd read my post, you might have noted that he never came back to check that my dinner was satisfactory, which I think, having been a waiter for a number of years while I went through university, is a critical thing. What if my steak hadn't been prepared properly? Is it incumbent on me to grab any passing waiter and complain? If he had done those things, he would have received a proper tip, but he did nothing but take my order and practically fling the wine on the table. He didn't bring the dinner out to me, or clear my empty plate; the manager did that when she came over. So please enlighten me: what exactly did he do to earn a decent tip?

          And I disagree that all airport food options are terrible. I've had fine meals in Toronto, Vancouver, Hong Kong, and Seoul. To say that airport food service has to be bad is a gross and incorrect generalization.

          To you Mr. CC: I had about five hours in between flights. For someone who really knows the city, that may well have been enough to get someplace nicer, but since my flight left at midnight, and going out would have meant having to line up and go through the ridiculous security rigamorale, I thought I would have a simple meal at the airport rather than chance missing my flight, and having to sleep on a bench overnight. And you might note I said the food itself was fine; it was the way my waiter *totally* ignored me after dropping off the wine that pissed me off.

          1. re: KevinB


            Personally, i think you're entitled to tip whatever you wish. Tip's are optional, not mandatory in my mind, but that's a totally different discussion in my mind.

            It's important to remember that everyone has different levels of expectations for service. I have to admit, that doesnt sound like great service, but it's certainly not the worst experience i've had - in many cities around the world, not just in Alberta, or Canada.

            However, i think the strong reaction may have something to do with the implication that poor service exists across Calgary. In my experience, generalizations typically polarize people - people will either strongly agree or disagree with you. But it was a pretty strong statement to make from one food experience, in an airport, at a chain. Yes, everyone has had great experiences in airports, and at chains, but typically, i would say the service levels at these places is lower than your typical city restaurant. If i characterized "All Toronto food is lousy" because i had a bad experience at an airport restaurant, i would be crucified as well.

            Next time, i'd recommend coming into town and experiencing an establishment that better represents what our city has to offer.

      2. I was at Montana's on the 19th, around 11am, I thought it was fine. We ordered a couple of draft beer so don't know about wine service, but we ordered a steak sandwich and a burger and the server did come by to ask how we were enjoying our meal. They dropped off a basket of condiments before the food came, I don't remember if it had steak sauce since I don't use it, and I never expect free bread (or other fine dining service) at an inexpensive restaurant. I'm not sure if we waited an excessive time to be cleared and billed, our flight wasn't for another 1.5 hours so we weren't too worried. Since you had time to have coffee somewhere else it seems you weren't too pressed for time either.

        I'd expect to be asked how things are, but it was busy maybe they just noticed that you were eating and focussed on other people. I always flag down a server if there is a problem. The food wasn't great but it was fine, we were just looking for a quick bite since we had cheap seats where you had to pay for a boxed lunch which would likely have been even less great.

        If those were the only issues I think you were spectacularly cheap to leave 3% and just looking for an excuse to justify your action. You didn't say where you were from, I've been to lots of places and other than some developing countries where labour is dirt cheap I've never been waited on hand and foot, nor do I ever expect to be. Yes there are labour issues in Calgary, I've experienced some, but I'd never complain about what you're using as examples.

        7 Replies
        1. re: hsk

          I'm pretty sure he's from Toronto- where I spent a month a couple of summers ago and could fill a book with my horrible, and I mean endlessly horrible, customer service experience. And this was on Queen W and in the financial district, not the airport!

          Yen, in my book tipping is indeed mandatory. I can see 10% for really poor service, and not being asked about your meal is not even marginally poor service, it's just a tad unfortunate. Poor service is getting insulted like what happened to me at a, surprise, Toronto Thai place:

          Me: Could I have a spoon please?
          Waiter: Why you want a spoon? You have fork and chopsticks already.
          Me: Yeah, but I like to use a spoon- and isn't that how Thai food is supposed to be eaten?
          Waiter: Eat with your hands off a banana leaf if you're such an expert.

          And he gave me one of those little take-out plastic spoons.

          THAT my friend is poor service. But I still left a tip.

          1. re: John Manzo

            Did a waiter really say that? Wow.

            1. re: John Manzo

              Why would you leave a tip when you were insulted like that. Haven't you heard of the 'customer is always right'. I realize that waiters etc, get poorly paid, but IMHO if they want to earn more, they need to civil, courteous and helpful to you as the customer. You should never be guilted into or feel obligated into tipping.

              1. re: WelcomeBack

                because the TIP is not just for the bloody waiter! Don't you people understand this about tips?

                1. re: John Manzo

                  And why would the waiter (in your example) improve his attitude unless his tip was zero?

                  How will the waiter know his attitude is abysmal and his serving skills are non-existent?

                  How will the bussers et al know that the server is from hunger unless they get stiffed? Perhaps 'they' can change his human skills.

                  I would tip zero.

                  1. re: John Manzo

                    Unfortunately for the waiter they are the last segment in a chain starting with the food prep people, to the cooks, to the bus boys, to the waiters etc. We don't tip each of them individually. I admire you to be able to block out indifferent and down right rude service from the waiter and accentuate good food itself. The rest of us are unlikely to reward the restaurant by tipping them. If they keep on getting tips due to good food, the waiters attitude and service is highly unlikely to improve.

                2. re: John Manzo

                  I find this a tough issue, because i have been on both sides. I used to believe tipping was mandatory as well. I once tipped after a server spilled my pint of beer on me, didnt apologize, and then proceeded to charge me for said beer. But after extensive discussion with servers, chefs, owners, and other patrons, i've flipped. The rude service you had at the Thai restaurant is unacceptable in my mind. I totally agree with WelcomeBack. Not only will poor servers never learn if they keep getting tips, but it;s an insult to servers who do their job well. Isnt a gratuity a mark of distinction for good service?

                  I have become especially galvanized in my stance since coming back from Asia. Some of the best service i have ever had, from fine dining down to McDonalds in countries with no tipping. Why? They take pride in their work. It was refreshing to see.

                  I agree that the OP didnt have terrible service - but it wouldnt classify as good service to me either. He obviously didnt want to screw the server because he tipped the exact tip out amount, but to make a point that he considered the service to be unacceptable seems reasonable enough for me. Especially after how he handled it with the manager. I've seen too many people freak out at a server or manager to appreciate someone politely but firmly asking for a rectification of the situation.

                  Anyway, while i can understand your stance, and your support of an underpaid industry to begin with, i still dont see tipping as mandatory unless you've actually had an acceptable level of service. They should learn to do their jobs at a mediocre level if they should expect to partake in your generosity. I can't believe he asked why you wanted a spoon!?

              2. I'm sorry to hear you had a bad experience KevinB but I wouldn't tar all of Calgary with the same brush. As others have said, Calgary is certainly experiencing a labour shortage which is no excuse for bad service but it does somewhat explain why the server could perform so poorly and still have a job - particularly up at the airport which due to location alone probably doesn't attract the best of the best in serving staff.

                Keep in mind that your coffee and your dinner were both provided by the Big Brother of chain restos: Cara Operations Limited is a Canadian company that provides catering services to airlines and operates several restaurant and coffee shop chains including: Harvey's, Swiss Chalet, Kelsey's , Milestones and Montana's. <<>>

                1. I hate to say it, but after having spent a week in Calgary and Kananskis (sp?) & eating at a wide range of establishments, most 'upscale,' the service was laughably bad, no matter where we ate. At one 'fine dining' establishment, after asking for water 4 times, I finally got up & walked to the waiter's station & got it myself.

                  5 Replies
                    1. re: John Manzo

                      That specific incident (and memories are coming back of silverware taken away & not replaced with next course and again, waiter never returning - had to go get my silverwear too) was at the Seasons Dining Room at Kananaskis. It has been a few years and, although we found service uniformly pretty bad, everyone was so nice, it was hard to get upset.

                      1. re: torta basilica

                        Seasons Dining Room is in the Delta Kananaskis Hotel. My experience at Seasons this past Spring was underwhelming but I wouldn't go so far as to say it was bad. It is after all a hotel dining room. Would I expect more from the Rundle Room at the Fairmont Banff Springs for instance? Certainly.

                        "It has been a few years"... leads me to think that perhaps the information you've provided is outdated at best.

                        1. re: maplesugar

                          I admitted that. Hopefully, it's better now.