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Jan 25, 2009 04:51 AM

frustrating service experience

We were shocked to have a very frustrating experience at a local restaurant last night. We went there regularly when they first opened and have been back less so recently because of time constraints but still considered it a favorite. We went with a friend last night for his 40th birthday. The food, at least, was quite good. We had two duck specials and a rack of lamb dish, plus two warm mushroom salads and two orders of blue corn encrusted oysters with barbecue sauce. (Actually, the oysters were disappointing, overwhelmed by the sauce, but otherwise the food was tasty.) Our issues were with the service/policies.

From least to most frustrating.....

1) They offer a tapas menu in the lounge which we were lauding to our friend. I completely understand that they don't offer it in the dining room because they don't want people taking up those tables and ordering a light bit of food, but we have always been able to add some of our favorites to a complete meal. We often order several cheeses to make up a cheese plate after dinner, and my husband is a particular fan of an egg w/ asparagus and truffle oil. When we mentioned to the waitress last night that we'd like to order these, she said it was impossible. I explained that this had never been an issue before and would she check, based on the fact that we were already getting entrees, salads and apps, and two bottles of wine? She came back and said no tapas are allowed in the dining room under any circumstances. Fine - we reduced our order accordingly, thus costing them $14 in additional sales and some good will. It's not as if these dishes are offered at a higher price in the dining room - we were just unable to buy them at all. OK - not a big deal on its own.

2) We started with a bottle of sparkling wine. I was surprised to get a mouthful of grit in my glass of sparkling wine. Looking down, we saw a good amount of powder (the consistency and color of salt, but flavorless) in the bottom of the glass. We mentioned this to the waitress and she took my glass away, then brought it back saying "We think it's just sediment from the wine. But we're giving you half-off your wine." Then she walked away. We weren't expecting a discount (I would have been fine with just getting a new glass, honestly, which she did not provide.) But I found her response odd - how could it possibly have been sediment? I have never heard of such a thing w/ sparkling wine and have had perhaps a thousand bottles over the years. I assumed the riddling and disgorgement would take care of that. Her tone was not very pleasant, taking away what otherwise might have been a positive experience with the discounted wine. And why on earth would she not replace my glass? There wasn't much left, so I just wound up sharing with my husband.

3) Two of us wanted a duck special, more expensive than the usual duck dish. This came with mashed potatoes and vegetables and the normal dish comes with goat cheese mashed potatoes and veg. They asked if it would be possible to get the goat cheese mashed instead of the regular, but said, "if not, we'll just take the regular." The waitress said it would surely be no problem subbing one mashed potato dish for another but said she would let us know if there was any issue. The dishes came out with goat cheese mashed potatoes and they were happy. Until we got the bill where there was an $8 charge for the mashed potatoes! I asked the waitress and she said that we had to buy the goat cheese mashed potatoes as an additional side. I asked her why she had never mentioned this to us - they would have been very unlikely to get the substitution if they'd had any idea it would cost $8 - and her response was, "I thought it would be free. But it's not." I asked again how they could charge us then and she said, "Because you have to buy it as an extra side." I was tired of going around with her, especially in front of our friend, whom we were treating. So I just shut up and paid. But that still seems inappropriate. Had they told us there would be an additional charge in advance, that would have made sense (though I still think $8 is a bit much.)

I think our frustration was exacerbated by our server's general behavior. She spilled a full glass of ice water on my husband, left our friend without a fork, and was slow all night. She seemed sweet but clueless - definitely not someone ready to work a Saturday dinner shift at a nice restaurant. Usually we are the type to let things slide and carry on, but for some reason this dinner is still annoying us. What do you guys think - reasonably frustrating or are we overreacting?

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  1. I agree that your server was pretty terrible but I should clear up one small point.

    The sediment in your wine may have been tartatic acid granules, a by-product of the aging process is some wines. She should have replaced the glass immediately. Also, I have to assume that the bottle had been slightly aggitated for the granules to have been poured out with the first glass.

    1. Yes, tartrates are the answer, I have found them in bottles of my own white wine. That no one at the restaurant knew suggests inexperience or ignorance, which was further demonstrated by your clueless waitress.

      A restaurant that is proud of its food would sell you the tapas even if you were sitting in the parking lot, and the waitress should have gotten the goat cheese mashed comped even if it SHOULD have been charged, as it was her error that you were either charged or not informed of the charge. Spilling on the guest rates both an appology and a comp somewhere and a visit by the manager, or no tip.

      You had a cluelse newbie as a server. Too late to complain to the place now, but a polite aside to the manager at the time would have gotten her tuned up or replaced.

      1 Reply
      1. re: therealdoctorlew

        Thank you Dr. L. As a career-long restaurant manager a significant frustration has been how seldom guests try to resolve their dissatisfaction with a manager. We can't fix the things we don't know about. That's why I like to seek feedback from my customers at every table during their meal.
        Meg, a comment to a manager should have prompted retraining or career planning with the server and provided you with a proper apology and correct meal charges. Don't let a server punish you for attempting to have a great meal. Even now, please call the manager or owner and share your experience so they can make things better. Their reaction will let you know whether you ever want to return there.

      2. Since thisa only just happened, I think it'snot at all too late to discuss with the manager or owner. In fact, you've described it so well I would cut and paste your post into an email and send it in. They need to do some serious attitudinal training with this server. And it will give them a chanceto make amends to you.

        1 Reply
        1. re: SeaSide Tomato

          Agree with Seaside Tomato. You've been a regular at this restaurant in the past; unless they've completely changed ownership, they should remember you. Perhaps their service has changed a bit in that you can no longer get tapas in the main dining room even if you're a regular; fair enough. However, that does not make up for the poor service from this waitress and the additional charge for the change in mashed potatoes. She definitely should have let you know of the additional charge prior to your ordering it. Your post was very well worded, and copying/pasting it into a Email to the manager/owner would at least let him/her know of your disappointment in what has been, in the past, a favorite place to dine.

        2. Meg,

          Probably everyone on these boards have experienced the server you unfortunately experienced. And there are many reasons for the events, some within and some not within her control. This one sounds like a very inexperienced, newbie, who does not want to be there at all. But that is not the customer's risk.

          There are also times when you do not wish to ruin the evening at the table. And jfood has done the following a couple of times. Excuse yourself from the table using the old restroom excuse. And then seek out the manager for a quiet conversation, they will more than likely try to handle on the fly from anything to comping, to changing the server.

          If you are dissatisfied with the server's performance, and in this case lots of evidence, you can reflect it in the tip you leave her. If it is 10% or less, it is usually a good idea to mention something to the MOD on the way out so he understands when the waitress complains about the lousy tip on Table 23.

          And if that is not possible, please contact the restaurant the next day. Only once has an MOD been totally unsympathetic about the feedback. They want happy and more important returning customers. They may offer a bottle of wine, or a dessert or an entree or a gift certificate for a return engagement. Ifthey do not then you know they are probably not interested in customer service and that is a good data point.

          But do not let one lousy server place a restaurant on the DNR list. Who knows, her boyfriend may have broken up with her, her son is ill, or any number of reasons.

          Gain data and then decide next steps.Give someone like the manager or owner a chance to work a solution versus the server's actions dictating a bad outcome.


          1. On the whole, I try VERY hard to be a bit empathetic to a bad server, and think, like jfood has said "maybe they just broke up with a SO or something"...but it's hard sometimes!!!

            Sounds very frustrating indeed. And I know that I myself would probably (justified or not) have a little higher expectations for a lovelier evening on a special occasion such as this, which tends to add more to the frustrations.

            I agree with therealdoctor in that the restaurant should serve you the tapas no matter where you happen to be seated, particularly as you were also ordering full meals. Weird policy IMO. What if a table is ordering the equivalent $$ of the dinner you described above? Also stingy if you happen to be a light eater, or if perhaps there are no non-meat entrees, or just happen to love a meal of several app's. Policies are policies though....I guess.

            Yes, she should have brought you a clean glass, and someone should have been knowledgable about the wines there to not have this happen. Who poured?

            As for the potatoes.... I may have been tempted to pipe up and advise the server that as my potatoes were an "extra side", i'll please take my original potatoes to go :)

            Not too late to talk to the manager !

            16 Replies
            1. re: im_nomad

              > "and [I] think, like jfood has said 'maybe they just broke up with
              > a SO or something'..."


              If someone shows up for work, especially when dealing with John Q Public, they are to leave that hat at the door before punching in. No one (fellow employees, manager, or owner) cares as long as they pull their shift in a professional manner with a smile. To do any less costs the restaurant sales (present and future), the server that tip, and any goodwill the restaurant might have worked up with any customers that are seated at that server's tables.

              1. re: The Ranger

                I'm not saying it doesn't annoy me....and I do think that people should check their stuff at the door when they go to work, and not have to have their co-workers picking up their slack as a result, many jobs such as surgeons and pilots etc etc, don't have the luxury of showing up at work and doing a bad job because they're "having a bad day" I try to adopt this approach myself.

                But sometimes, sh*t happens, I can't say i've never shed a tear in a washroom stall because I'd gotten bad news, or because the boss just tore me a new I attempt to try to be a bit compassionate, particularly if the server is apologetic about their mess ups (this one wasn't however-and that makes a HUGE difference).

                I have the luxury of taking a day off with pay with my job if i'm sick, or having problems at home, or a family emergency.....many people do not have that luxury, and I know, because i've worked jobs such as this, and went to work sick, upset etc, because otherwise, I did not get paid. I would imagine many servers would be in this situation.

                1. re: The Ranger

                  Yes that is quite the obvious.

                  In a perfect world with no emotion, no feelings, robotic employee acting above their feelings that would be the case. But gotta take the theoretical into reality. Not everyone can check everything at the front door.

                  1. re: jfood

                    The professional checks everything at the front door. Unfortunately, a lot of businesses are allowing themselves to be run into the ground by amateurs with that pervasive don't-give-a-darn angst.

                    Why, as a paying customer (or manager) should I worry about taking "the theoretical" (whatever that means) into account? The server is being paid to perform a specific set of tasks. If s/he does that, there is an additional reward given at the end of the meal. It's a very simple trick requiring no angst.

                    1. re: The Ranger

                      Jfood agrees with your don;t give a damn comment, and if that were the case, and he was not there, then the tippo would approach zippo and a nice chat with the MOD on the way out. But who the heck knows what was going on since neither you nor jfood were there.

                      On para 2:

                      "Why, as a paying customer (or manager) should I worry about taking "the theoretical" (whatever that means) into account?"

                      Hmmmm, let jfood think real hard about this one. Let's see, jfood now scratching his head, walking around the room staring at the ceiling, now looking out the window, now taking a big sip of water..Oh the confusion. OK, now he got it.

                      How about...because he's a caring human being?

                      BTW -

                      1. re: jfood

                        It's even simpler than that: You're the paying human being. Since you feel strongly about "caring" needing to be added to the tab, consider it part of his/her tip.

                        1. re: The Ranger

                          Jfood and you will just have to disagree on this one. He does believe that the role of a server is a servant. Yes he does not expect the service described above when paying good money at a restaurant but he also likes to cut someone a break if there might be a problem that person was not robotic enoughto check at the door.

                          C'est la vie

                          1. re: jfood


                            Should read "He does NOT believe that the role of a server is a servant" - wrote pre-coffee

                            1. re: jfood

                              Thanks Jfood! As a server myself I found it extremely helpful that people did not have Rangers attitude the day my mom died. But then Ranger might appreciate that I also left to be by her side.

                              1. re: Missmoo

                                >[..] I also left to be by her side.

                                I do appreciate those times in Real Life® where nothing but curves are thrown and someone still manages to smack the ball right back at the pitcher. /bows to Missmoo

                                1. re: The Ranger

                                  see you do have a heart. jfood knew it was there. :-))

                        2. re: jfood

                          I should add that we didn’t find the waitress surly – she just seemed young and overwhelmed. I actually felt somewhat bad for her – we kept saying that she never should have been allowed to work a Saturday night.

                    2. re: The Ranger

                      And later we can live in the real world populated by people. It's entirely reasonable to be irked by less than stellar service and also understand what may have caused it and be empathetic about it. Recognizing that the person doing the serving is still a person dealing with life doesn't need to mean one excuses anything and everything but it can help in recognizing what sounds like an off night for what it is and moving on.

                      1. re: ccbweb

                        Apoligist dining isn't something I accept... A professional server (there are many that qualify as such) doesn't bring their emotional baggage to the front of the house because they know it will bring down their nightly haul.

                        1. re: ccbweb

                          Exactly. And I agree with the OP that this server gave bad service. In fact I would have definitely talked to the manager about it.

                        2. re: The Ranger

                          I have never worked in the restaurant industry, but in 1994 I was a mortgage loan processor. I was new at the company (3 months) and my Mom was dying of cancer. I was 29 years old and losing my last parent. On Thursday May 19, hospice called me at work and said my Mom would not last another day as her lungs were filling with fluid. None of my coworkers were aware of the situations, nor were our customers (my boss knew). After the call, I went to the ladies room to collect myself and in the meantime one of the loan officers transfered a call to me in regard to a file. I spoke to the customer as best as I could and then transfered them back to the loan officer who came to me and said the customer said I seemed distracted. I told him I was, I had just been told my Mom had less than a day to live.

                          Policy was three days off for death in the immediate family. Mom died in the middle of the night on Friday, her funeral was on Tuesday and I had to be back at work on Wednesday. I did my best but was not on my A game.

                          So when I get someone in a service industry who seems "off" I remember that time in my life.....we truly don't know what they are going through and a little grace goes a long way.