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Have you ever been ignored in a restaurant?

I had a horrible experience Friday night at one of my favorite restaurants and I need some insight. Here's what happened:

The restaurant in question is a bit of a foodie favorite serving local, sustainable stuff. Entrees range $20-$30. We had 6:30 reservations for 4 on Friday, and arrived a little before 6:30. We were seated promptly in a half empty dining room, given our menus. We went over the menu, changed our minds several times, discussed the wines, talked about what we were going to order, started some small talk, etc.

Not once during these deliberations did a server come to the table to say hello, nor did any buser come to bring water. I've dined here dozens of times before, and usually by now we would have been greeted by a server. Odd, but no big deal. But then 6:40 rolls around…and I see that a table that was seated after us has their water and are giving an order to a server.

So we all started trying to get eye contact with servers…conversation stopped. Our menus were flat down on the table. We all kept looking around trying to get eye contact with someone. I was starting to get "that feeling" that things are not going to go well.

Finally, at 6:45 one of my friends flagged down a buser and asked him to find our server and let them know we were waiting and ready to order. He nodded and walked off. My friend witnessed the buser say something to a server, who then looked at our table with a surprised look on her face. "Oh it's ok, we've finally been spotted!" he reported jokingly.

But then five more minutes go by and we still haven't even been acknowledged -- no water, no "hi, we're really busy and someone will be right with you". Nothing. Hmm…so they know we're sitting here, they know we've BEEN sitting here, they know we are ready to order at least 4 entrees (actually it was going to be 2 bottles of wine, 4 apps, 4 entrees, and 4 coffees, but I digress)…and they choose to continue ignoring us. The only conclusion was that they didn't want our money.

So we got up to go, and as we were leaving I walked up to a server and explained that we had been sitting at our table for twenty minutes with no acknowledgement so we were leaving. She said that they had just opened their back patio and the servers were still getting used to it, she was sorry. But the excuse didn't make sense. The restaurant was only half full, and I doubt many people were even out on the patio -- the weather was chilly and only getting chillier. Regardless, why would being swamped in one dining room prevent someone from just coming by to acknowledge a table in another dining room and tell them that someone will be right with them?

I have never had to walk out of a restaurant for being ignored, and I am surprised how much it still upsets me three days later. I've dined here regularly since the place opened nearly ten years ago -- as often as once a month during some stretches. It ain't a cheap place and I'm a darn good tipper.

Has this ever happened to you? If so, do you think it's worth calling the owner? I'm taking this personally, which is silly. But when you recommend a place so vehemently for so long and cheer in its success and choose to spend your money there and then they ignore you, it hurts.

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  1. You need to call and let them know that you are a regular, and your treatment was appalling. Also point out that you tried to get a server, and that you don't normally walk out on a restaurant. This has happened to us only once or maybe twice, and it is not a good feeling, especially after you have made reservations, and are hungry. The management needs to know about this.

    1. I've been ignored, but not with that depth of concentration. I too ended up walking out.

      1. yes it might tick me off, and yes maybe someone should have come over for a drink order or something.....but I don't think i'd walk out of a restaurant after 20 minutes, nor would i call it appalling........ myself, usually at that point i'm still settling in and chatting with friends. I'm thinking the surprised look you got was over the fact that you'd flagged someone else down other than your server, so early in the game (something tells me servers do not like this....not to justify it..)

        That being said, it probably didn't accomplish anything for you to pull aside busers or servers to complain....where was the person who seated you?

        6 Replies
        1. re: im_nomad

          I hear you on the 20 minutes issue, but have you ever timed your restaurant experiences?

          20 minutes isn't a long time for a bus ride, but it's a very long time to sit in a chair and wait to be acknowledged as a customer ready to spend your money. The four of us had a VERY leisurely discussion about what to have, as well as other topics totally unrelated to dinner. And we weren't extremely hungry, so I don't think we were impatient or had an altered idea of time. 20 minutes is a long time.

          Keep in mind, we weren't even given water. Plus, people seated after us were already giving their order, so it was enough time for them to be seated, make their choices, get water, and give an order.

          And as far as annoying a server by asking to order food from them 'so early in the game', I don't really buy that. Seems to me, if you see a table of 4 smiling people who want to order from you, you at least go over the let them know you'll be right with them if you can't take the order right then and there.

          And I have to stress, we never were curt or sharp with anyone. I firmly believe you get further by being nice than being rude in life (although now I wonder if I should rethink that philosophy).

          1. re: Absonot

            Well, no, I don't think you should rethink that policy. After all, look what the restaurant didn't get by being rude to you...

            1. re: Absonot

              i'm not saying that i wouldn't be sitting there getting miffed, and looking at my watch or drumming my fingers on the table, and yes it would likely affect the tip...i'm just not sure i'd actually get up and walk out of the restaurant after 20 mins, only to have to go home, or find another restaurant, probably adding another hour to a dinner wait. I'm also not condoning weird looks from waitstaff or what not, just offering another view, based on the vibes i've gotten a couple of times in the past when i've stopped another server for a forgotten item or what not.

              Something does sound fishy about the situation though, maybe something strange was going on. It sounds from your post that you were seated by someone other than a server, and that no server had been actually assigned to the table.

              i agree with jfood on a lot of points. I too am surprised that after ten years, the staff did not seem to know you. I also agree that the step before walking out would have been for one to get up and find someone in charge.

              1. re: Absonot

                >>20 minutes is a long time.

                Isn't it though? I'm curious that this is somehow acceptable to some. It is not to me.

                On the hopes that it was an off night, I probably would have gotten up and made a point of finding a server after a reasonable wait (20 minutes is not reasonable), and then give them another try.

                If you get the same service next go-around, ditch them.

                1. re: dolores

                  Speaking as a server/bartender, 20 minutes is an absolutely APPALLING amount of time to wait for acknowledgement, and of all the managers I have ever had, I can't think of a single one who wouldn't fire the server assigned to that section ON THE SPOT. One restaurant I worked at told us that we had 30 seconds in which to greet each table after they sat down, while another (which had bussers taking care of things like bread and water) gave us about 3 minutes.

                  Management should definitely be made aware of what happened (be sure to mention that you have been loyal guests of their restaurant for a long time). Building a solid foundation of regular guests is the only way a restaurant can be successful, so I guarantee that these people value your business. My bet is that they will go out of their way to make it up to you, and since it sounds like this was the first incident of its kind in ten years, I would suggest giving them one more chance.

              2. re: im_nomad

                Being ignored is my biggest pet peeve, and the only reason I've ever walked out of a restaurant. I understand if a server is rushed, but all he/she has to say is "I'll be with you soon" or some such thing. At least I know that they know I'm here. To be completely unacknowledged to the point where no water is served is not only insulting, but disrupts the flow. As the OP said, "all conversation stopped" as they were wondering what the heck was going on and how to rectify it.

                I'm one of those that usually sides with the server, although I've never been one. I have, however, worked with the public long enough to know that people can be unreasonably demanding, annoying, etc, but I don't think 20 minutes is "early in the game" when the server hasn't even said hello.

                I agree with Jfood, once again, in that informing the MOD is the way to go, whether or not one chooses to leave. I've done both--told the MOD who did his best to convince us to stay, but it was too late. I had an experience where we were told there was no MOD by the hostess and when we told her why we were leaving she merely shrugged her shoulders. I've also stayed, although that time it was because my date found another waiter, obiously from a different station, but he more than made up for the initial problem by giving us excellent service.

              3. Waiting 20 minutes for the initial check-in by the server is never acceptable, and leaving was what you decided to do without discussing the situation with the MOD, and now it bothers you. Here are a couple of things jfood sees from your post and how you might avoid in the future.

                - As a regular for 10 years, jfood is surprised the staff did not know you. jfood is a regular in many restaurants and it has never taken 10 years for a nice relationship to develop. Sometimes after a third visit the MOD knows jfood, several of the servers and possibly the chef. Has this resto had enormous turnover or how can they not know someone who has been there monthly during some stretches. Try to be a regular in your eyes as well as the eyes of the restuarant. You know you are a regular, but it is also important for the restaurant to know this real time.
                - Are you sure the server you spoke with on your way out was the server assigned to your table?
                - Could it be that since the patio was newly opened that the servers had new assignments and possibly a server was not assigned to your table? Or the server assigned to your table did not realize it since it was a different section?
                - Jfood would always ask the MOD instead of a busser. Most busser are not totally fluent in English from jfood's experience. With four people at the table possibly one could have excused themselves to go to the MOD to see if someone could come over.
                - Maybe the restaurant was short-staffed that night. Approaching the MOD would have given you the answer.
                - One bad experience should not stop you from going back
                - Other

                All of these are just ideas that may explain the situation, but in the end what happened was a bad call on the part of the restaurant. A call to the restaurant is definitely in order. At this point the only people who know why you left are the busser and the server who did not take the ball and run. Probably neither has brought this to the manager's attention. Even if asked they would probably respond, "I have no idea why they left."

                You obviously like the place. It would be a shame if you did not return because of a scheduling or staffing misunderstanding.

                7 Replies
                1. re: jfood

                  Thanks for your post.

                  A few years ago, after having the same server for the third time in three trips, I wondered why no one at this restaurant ever seemed to recognize me. Turnover is not that high. Finally, I just figured that they treat everyone fairly and in an equally polite manner, so I stopped caring about it. It's not a schmoozy place, and I'm fine with that. Plus, I don't like to get too chatty with servers and kitchen staff anyway -- I worry I'm keeping them.

                  I bet it was simply a table that hadn't been assigned a server. That makes the most sense given the fact we never even got water, and I'm sure it was a problem they didn't know they had until we were seated there (it was on the early side). The server I talked to was not ours, and there is no MOD in the place. So I really had no one else to talk to (or I felt I didn't, which I think is the same difference).

                  I expected to get a lot of "oh puleeze, get a life" responses from this post, so I thank all of you who responded so thoughtfully. I'm still debating calling, because I don't really know what I'd be asking for or expecting. And I do plan on going back, because it's a place we've talked up to my SO's parents who are visiting next month...

                  1. re: Absonot

                    I would definitely call before going back. And, to be honest, I'd be a little bothered if I had the same server for three times and wasn't recognized, whether the place is schmoozy or not.

                    I have been ignored in a restaurant for about 20 minutes after seating. Moreover, it was a TINY restaurant (Fig Cafe in Glen Ellen) which made it a bit more bothersome since we were seated right in the middle and there was no way they didn't know we were there...but, just as I was about to get up and go get someone (which is what I would have done before walking out) our server came over, apologizing profusely: two servers, and they each thought our table was assigned to the other one...

                    and we had a lovely, delicious brunch, with outstanding service once past the initial issue. I imagine they wanted to make it up to us by doing the best job possible...which is why I would probably try and address the issue first if it ever happens again...

                    1. re: Absonot

                      I'm not sure why its relevant whether or not the OP is a regular. Even if I've never been to a restaruant before I expect to be aknowledged sooner than 20 minutes. That has nothing to do with getting a better table or a comped whatever that might go with being a regular. Water and an order within 20 minutes should apply for everyone!

                      1. re: jes

                        J

                        jfood's first statement was in total agreement with you. Everyone should have an intitial check-in well before 20 minutes.

                        But jfood's comment was that the OP was a regular and he should have had a certain relationship with one, or more, of the staff. It is strange with the timeline presented and a long standing 10-year relationship that someone just ups and leaves without a simple discussion with an MOD (there is always someone in charge).

                        And in the follow-up OP seems to agree it was a fall between the cracks sorta event.

                        In any event, if jfood has been eating at a place for 10 years and was presented with this data he sure as shootin' would have approached whoever was in charge at the 10-minute mark to make sure they knew a table was being ignored.

                        1. re: jfood

                          For someone who states that they get to know not only the staff of a restaurant, but the critters in the dumpster as well, I find it amusing that you don't know yourself well enough to not have to talk about yourself in the third person.
                          Now, that being said, I think the OP should have seeked out a manager, or at the very least, the host/hostess. I have been ignored at restaurants before, and when it happened, I let the manager be aware of it. Sometimes, I stayed and ate after my talk with the manager, other times, after speaking with the manager, I have still left.
                          One time at a chain steakhouse which I frequented often but didn't care if they shouted my name as I entered like they did to Norm on Cheers, I told the manager of being ignored and let her know that I didn't feel comfortable staying for my meal. She gave me a comp for my party to be used at a later date (there were 3 of us), which we did. The funny thing is that we left that restaurant and went to the same chain 20 minutes away. Some may say that was crazy, but I had had enough of being ignored and didn't want to eat inside that restaurant at that point. It's my German stubborness.

                    2. re: jfood

                      "Sometimes after a third visit the MOD knows jfood, several of the servers and possibly the chef."

                      Some of us are the opposite. I don't want to interact with people beyond the minimum amount required to get my food in a timely, efficient mannger, and I do not care if I am memorable. I don't think this should affect the time it takes to serve me, though.

                      Different people have different needs.

                      1. re: Snackish

                        And jfood stated the exact same thing that it should not matter. A better explanation is in his post immediately above yours time stamped Mar 25, 2008 10:09AM.

                    3. I think this happens occasionally. It's usually a miscommunication between mgmt/hostess and wait staff. Either the server didn't know you were there, or there was no server assigned to that section (seems unlikely).

                      It's happened to me, and I usually have gone to find someone in charge. Yeah, I'm usually a little frustrated by the time I get up to find someone, but I also know it's not personal. It's not like they say "oh, there's that egit guy... let's pretend we don't see him..."

                      That wouldn't make any sense.