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Service Woes?

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Browsing this site, I've seen a lot of people post the things that they consider to be "bad service." I've waited tables in casual fine dining restaurants for years now as I've worked my way through college, and have to say that some of them confuse me. I get told regularly that I am providing excellent service, so I'm curious to better understand the reasoning behind some of the complaints I've seen posted (and I'd like to explain why I do things the way I do them). I've also added a couple of related questions about patterns I've noticed in customer behavior that I just don't "get."

Here are the particular gripes that I don't understand:

1) Expecting automatic refills on bread.

We generally provide 2 pieces per person, which seems to be the amount that most people will eat. Giving people more when they don't ask for it seems like it would generate needless waste. I don't understand what the harm is in asking for something you'd like, if it cuts down on the amount of food that goes into the garbage.

2) Not wanting dirty plates removed until everyone is finished eating.

I was trained to respond to any item left on the table that someone is no longer using by clearing it out of the way, so the customers don't have to look dirty dishes sitting before them, cluttering up the table. At every restaurant job I've had, the boss thinks you're being slack if you're not on top of clearing empties. I don't understand why people seem to think this means you're being rushed, rather than knowing that we are trying to make things more comfortable for you. By all means, linger at the table, but do you really want dirty dishes there with you? I don't really understand why people would want to falsely appear to be at a different stage of their meal (not finished with their plate) than they are.

As an aside, I also don't understand that one last person who is finished eating but will not, under any circumstances, let the server remove the food they're not going to eat. It's an odd pattern I've noticed.

3) There seem to be conflicting complaints on this forum that people a) want their drink refilled without someone asking or b) don't want drinks refilled because it changes the ratio of drink to milk/sweetener/whatever. I always refill automatically, unless it seems the table is about to leave soon, and then I'll ask. Is this just a no-win situation: interrupting the conversation or diluting the beverage?

4) I think there was one thread awhile back, where someone was complaining that a server said s/he was tired. I can imagine this being a complaint if the server just randomly volunteered the information, but if a table is being friendly with me and inquires how I'm doing (not uncommon), I tell the truth. Not in explicit detail, mind you, but I'll say anything on a continuum from "great" to "tired," figuring that if they didn't want to know, they wouldn't have asked. It's a tiny moment of human-to-human communication that reminds both involved that we're people, not just embodiments of the roles of server and customer. We get a lot of regular customers in the restaurant I've worked at for the past five years, and people seem to appreciate not getting a canned response to whatever questions they ask, even if it's a mildly personal one.

5) Lastly, why do some people want new flatware with the next course? It's pretty rare where I work that they ask for it, but there does seem to be a bit of huff on the boards about it. I don't get it -- if you are the only person who used it, doesn't it seem to be the environmentally friendly thing to do not to send it through the dishwasher? Needing a new set when it hasn't been on the floor or anything boggles me. Is it an old-school etiquette thing?

And speaking of huff, I'm rather shocked at the amount of vitriol some people have for a server making a small mistake. Sure, having flawless service is great, but some of the responses people have posted that they have said or thought when their server forgot something or didn't know something seem disproportionately acerbic. Sometimes I forget to look at the specials board before I get my first table if they come in really early and there's lots of set-up. Sometimes a request will slip my mind. Sometimes an ice cube gets caught in the pitcher in a funny way and I dribble water on the table. I don't make mistakes every day, but they do happen. It seems the reasonable reaction to an honest mistake is genuinely to cut a person some slack, no strings attached. It's what I try to do in my interactions with people every day. After all, everyone slips up at work from time to time, it's just that when servers do it, there's a table of people scrutinizing them.

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  1. I do not particularly want to place used flatware on my bread plate, dirtying it, or (much) worse, on the table, which is certainly not put-it-in-your-mouth clean.

    I appreciate when servers ask if I would like a bread refill or more coffee or iced tea. I don't need another basket of bread brought automatically, as I don't want to create waste (and if I'm alone or with just one other person and we know we won't eat any, I'll ask not to have it brought to begin with), but it's nice to have a server ask rather than to have to flag someone down with it. Asking a simple "More coffee?" isn't much of a disruption to conversation, and is preferable to my having to stop my conversation just to prevent a server from pouring something I don't want.

    I prefer plates to stay on the table until everyone is done, but I don't consider plate removal onerous in casual resturants.

    1. I'd be pleased to have you be my waitperson. I think what you are, in essence, proposing is a fair trade-off--you'll make an effort to provide me with a comfortable dining experience and I won't expect you to be a mind reader re: the hundred little things where it seems like you can't win for losing (e.g., refill my drink without me asking or I'll ask you if I want more beverage, and I won't think either of us has done the other wrong). I may pester you for extra salad dressing right when you're trying to get drink orders for two other tables or linger over coffee when you'd really like to turn the table, and you might occasionally dribble water on my table or jostle my arm as you pass or forget that salad dressing. Let's call it even. You hang in there.

      p.s.--so that I fulfill the social contract of post and reply, my preferences as to the above are as follows--1) I do not expect automatic refills on bread--if you put it on my plate, I may well fill up on bread--I'll ask if I want more; 2) I'd prefer you leave my dirty plate in front of me; 3) I like it if you automatically re-fill anything that has free re-fills, otherwise I prefer if you'd ask first; 4) if I ask you how you are and you say you're tired, my response is likely to be "I'll bet you are" and a sympathetic smile--if I ask the question, I'd better be prepared for an honest answer (within reason--swear words might take me aback); and 5) I'm happy to reuse my flatware at many restaurants--at fine dining restaurants with a number of courses, I expect them to be appropriately switched out between courses--but I generally have to guess a bit as to what the practice is at the restaurant, and sometimes I guess wrong.

      Again, you could violate any of these preferences--automatically refill my bread, take away my dirty plate, fail to automatically refill my beverage, tell me you're having a fantastic day when your day has sucked and, I don't know what you'd do about #5, and we could still very well be on track for me to think the service is perfectly ok.

      1. My opinions:
        1. Auto-refills do add to waste. Always best to ask, imo. That said, I shouldn't have to the the one doing the asking - a server should see that the bread's been eaten and ask if we'd like more.
        2. This is old-school etiquette. The idea, I believe, is that removing people's plates while others in the dining party are still eating draws attention to the person still eating, making them feel like they should rush. Old rules were that you begin eating when the host/hostess begins, follow his/her lead on speed, and end when he/she does. That way the entire party is on the same page and no one looks like they are hoovering their food, or lagging behind. This evolved to people trying to generally keep pace with eachother, but the ones who are finished early keep their plates until the slower ones are done, so all plates are cleared simultaneously, new silver (if required) is placed, and the next course is served to everyone at the same time.
        There are differences of opinion on this one now. My SO is a S-L-O-W eater. If it's a "fancy" place, I expect that my plate will not be taken before his, because I don't want him to even notice that I am done, if possible. He should be left to enjoy the meal at his own pace. If, on the other hand, it's a casual place, I'd rather they take my plate do I don't keep picking at it. At minimum, a server should ask whether they may take my plate before doing so.
        3. Water should be refilled automatically. Other drinks - the server should ask first. A big no-no is to refill wine glasses, unless requested, imo. Servers have no idea whether the wine should be poured equally between all diners, or if the faster drinker should get more of it, etc.
        4. I, personally, think it violates the social contract when a stranger answers in any way other than positively when asked how he or she is doing. Call me horrible, but I don't actually want to know that you're tired/bored/etc. I am out to have a good time, so just smile and say "Great, thank you, and you?"
        5. I ask for new silverware for a couple of reasons: (a) if I don't want to mix tastes (I asked for a new fork after eating a fish dish before digging into a banana's foster), (b) when the old stuff is dirty (e.g. fell on the floor, has food on it, was set down on the table, or when a server touches it - I've had a server pick a fork up by the tines and set it down on the table for use on the next course. No thank you.), (c) it is not suitable for the next course (I don't want to use my coffee spoon for chowder, or a butter knife to cut a steak, etc.)...

        Generally people should cut servers slack, but some slipups are less easily excused, like forgetting to read the specials board. It's annoying to have to send a server away to find out about the specials, and even more annoying to not be told about a really nice looking special that the table next to you ends up ordering... :)

        7 Replies
        1. re: akq

          I have an issue with this : I, personally, think it violates the social contract when a stranger answers in any way other than positively when asked how he or she is doing. Call me horrible, but I don't actually want to know that you're tired/bored/etc. I am out to have a good time, so just smile and say "Great, thank you, and you?""

          So you ask a person, "How are you?" or "How's your day?" or something similar and expect them to lie to you, if their answer is not respoundingly positive? Why ask in the first place then? That is almost like entrapment. Geesh, poor server. *bzzzzzz!* wrong answer.

          A friendly "hello, We are looking forward to our dinner here, it's a nice night, Does the chef have any specials?' sounds like a much more positive start, gives your server a chance to know you are definately in a good mood. And doesn't leave them walking the fine line of what sort of answer you are expecting.

          1. re: Quine

            "How are you" has become a standard greating between strangers and acquaintances and in those cases should be interpreted akin to "Nice to meet you" more than an acqual inquiry into someone's true emotional/physical state. It's not a "lie", or at the very least, a white lie - just like when meeting someone you don't particularly care to meet you still say "nice to meet you". More often than not if I ask a server "how are you?" it's in response to him or her posing the question to me first - it's polite, generally, to respond in kind and generally impolite when asked how you are not to ask in return.

            1. re: akq

              See i disagree, especially when you KNOW you don't wish to know the answer. If a server asked me "how are you this evening?" I can politely reply, "I am good, I am looking forward to tonight's dinner", or "Good TY, Are there chef's specials tonight? " etc. You are acknowledging the social contact with a response that moves the conversation forward in a meaningful way for both, without placing the other in a position where they must lie.

              1. re: Quine

                What if you're not "good"? How much do you have to disclose in order for it not to be a "lie"? I think the point of contention here is the degree of disclosure necessary for "good" or "fine" not to be a lie. Most, if not all people dining in a resto or working in one should at least be able to recognize that they are at least "fine" and that it's not a lie...you can leave off the part about the medical issues, just being dumped, being tired, hating your job and that doesn't make it a lie.

                Your two responses above don't actually acknowledge the server as a person in the same way that the server acknowledged you. It seems more like the old class system where the upper class would never deign to inquire of a lower class person how he or she is doing. More modern etiquette, imo, dictates that if someone (e.g. a server) asks how you are, you answer politely (fine thank you) and return the inquiry to which he/she should also reply politely - fine, thank you (or some variation).

                1. re: akq

                  That is so funny, you think by making a person say a lie "I am fine" and nothing else, is acknowledging them as a person? OK.

                  "I'm fine" with your answer.

                  1. re: Quine

                    I think that my extending a curteous greeting that was first extended to me (as opposed to having the curteous greeting extended to me and then *not* returning the curtesy as you suggest) I am acknowleging them as a person. I still don't get why you're so adamant that people have to "lie" in order to say "I'm fine", but maybe we just have different outlooks on life.

          2. re: akq

            I do not understand this. If you do not want an honest answer to a question, even if you are just trying to make small talk, then why ask? There is nothing wrong with not wanting to know the realities (good and bad) of people you encounter in everyday life, especially your servers. However if you cross that line by asking a personal question, to expect what is essentially a lie as a response, is demeaning to them as a human being.

          3. Any time you read boards like this, you will see contradictory complaints. I was looking at an online discussion of how to be a good retail worker; the people chiming in gave totally contradictory advice. Some people just want opposite things.

            That said, it sounds like you are a fine server, but you mention things you "don't understand" that you actually seem to be critical of in a customer. Not wanting plates removed is a really common preference; maybe it's old-fashioned or something. And it may well be that removing stuff makes it easier on the service and the kitchen, but that doesn't necessarily mean customers have to like it. New flatware for a new course? Why is that hard to understand, if you are switching from fish to meat or something? Bottom line, you don't really need to understand it. You need to decide whether it's worth humoring people with those preferences or not.

            1. What a good post.

              To start with, some people are impossibly fussy.
              1. Auto bread refills - I agre with many that it is best to ask if they would like some more. It is not up to you to be the waste police or to decide whether or not the patron needs more. Some like bread, are crazy hungry or want it with their meal. No need to explain to you right?
              2. Dirty plates - If your boss wants them gone - off they go. Fine dining - best to leave them. Traditional etiquette demands no removal before the last person has finished. Most people these days prefer the plates be removed and certainly expect them to be removed in more casual eating places. About the last person eating not wanting the plate removed. Chuckled when I read that. There are a few reasons I can see for this: They want to control or they have merely taken a break and are not done or they are unsure if they are done.
              3. Drink refilling. Again with the waste - I would give that up. It is a tip killer because it is annoying and not your place. If a coffee or tea is 3/4 gone it is safe to assume a refill is in order unless, as you said, the meal is at end. Then ask. Customers should not be worried about rationing their liquids, have to wait for liquid or have to battle the proportions of sweetener./creamer to beverage. It is a fine balance. BUT the main thing it is not about YOUR convenience, but theirs. If you are worried that you will not be there to attend to the cup, get with your fellow servers and agree to watch one another's tables for bevie levels.
              4. Personal info. The more casual the place, the more personal chat acceptable. BUT no long stories unless asked and no unburdening yourself no matter how tempting. Do you want to hear how tired and annoyed your server is to be there? Most don't. Keep it light. Unburden yourself on a friend or another server.
              5. Why fresh flatware? How much time do you have? Generally speaking, some want fresh ware because they do not want the lingering food or spit that has sat there between courses on their fork to start the next course. Should the patron have to lick it clean? Maybe they could lap at their plates as well. Kidding. Again, it is at their pleasure that we serve. Scoop up the silver with the plates. It is good and proper form. It will then be up to you (and the habit will form) to replace the flatware before the next course arrives. Use that time to replace napkins, refresh drinks, attend to any upcoming condiment needs... You know, all the stuff they make you run for later or get you impossibly in the weeds and then deliver less than perfect service later.

              About your end note. Most people will be unfailingly forgiving of say - inadvertant ice cube slips or a forgotten something or other, if you are honest and kind and get it fixed quickly. Apologies smooth even those most grumpy among us. Just one apology, no excuse making.

              Background: Server, restaurant owner, restaurant patron.

              1. perhaps opening a can of worms here but as per original post..here are a couple of things that I find mind boggling when people eat out
                1) Why is it, that instead of using one's big girl/boy voice to ask for something..they either point, wave their glass around, open their teapot...or something along the lines..,is your conversation REALLY that important that you can't voice your opinion?
                2) Why do some people get offended, if I ask them if they would like a BEVERAGE...a veryvery generic term? I've even had someone snidely reply with..."on a sunday? you should be ashamed!" as if it should be obvious to me, a complete stranger, that you find drinking offensive...even better...why reply with "nothing just water".,,,do you care for a fork with that water??
                3) finally, but certainly not lastly, why do some people think that when they are inconvenianced in a restaurant, they expect something for free?? I understand, for example, if something comes out cooked incorrectly, or your meal takes a ridiculously long time, or whatever...that you should be compensated somehow definatly, but something as mundane as a restaurant running out of something?? would you ask for an item for free if they ran out at the grocery store??

                hm..stopping myself before it becomes a full on rant

                5 Replies
                1. re: yuyu

                  In answer:

                  1) I will do that pointing thing (e.g. point to my empty beverage glass or do the check "air squiggle") if the waitperson is far enough away that I would need to raise my voice for him or her to hear my request--I do this out of consideration for both the people around me who don't need to hear me bellowing above their conversations and out of consideration for the waitperson to save him or her a trip over to the table and then back to the bar or the SQRL and then back to the table again.

                  2) I have never heard of such a thing. This must be regional. Sundays are long and work-free--what better day to drink whatever you'd like? I guess it wouldn't go over too well if you replied "Better that you drink today than tomorrow...", huh?

                  3) Purely from a customer's perspective, I am generally not in favor of the proliferation of comping as a method of problem solving. I think it's a manager's lazy way out, except in the circumstances you describe (e.g., where the problem is faulty food), and has created a situation where managers discount often valid complaints from diners on the assumption that they're just trying to get something for free instead of trying to point out real issues (and I'm not a person who complains to a lot of managers, but I had this very experience in a hotel recently).

                  Go ahead, blow off some steam--better you do it here than in your restaurant at a customer. On a Sunday. :)

                  1. re: planetjess

                    A very good post.

                    YuYu - People do mind boggling things. I found it best to let such oddities fall off my shoulders until my shift was over and then laugh about it with fellow waitstaff and kitchen folk. If you hold on to it, it will make only you miserable and may effect your tips.

                    I was always grateful when folks caught my roving eye and pointed to a need. If someone used their big boy voice - that usually rankled my nerves - and the nerves of the other patrons.

                    You probably live in the bible belt no? If saying beverage pisses off the majority, by God, find another word... for your OWN sake.

                    Sometimes I would get a whole evening of complete turds. You know those nights... we used to keep little scream pillows in the back of the restaurant outside near the icemaker. Some smoke, some scream holy heck into a pillow. I swear it works to diffuse the frustration. Plus - it is incredibly funny for others to watch - which also lightens things. Luckily it all falls away at closing time. Other professions do not enjoy that luxury. 6 hours (or whatever) of unbridled, often scary, on the edge mahem followed by complete and utterly trouble free off hours.

                    1. re: Sal Vanilla

                      "Luckily it all falls away at closing time. Other professions do not enjoy that luxury. 6 hours (or whatever) of unbridled, often scary, on the edge mahem followed by complete and utterly trouble free off hours."

                      Except when you start having work dreams where you're insanely in the weeds, everything is mayhem, and you realize you have a party that was seated an hour ago, and you still haven't been to the table but are afraid to go now because of how pissed off they will be. Or some other version of a servers worst nightmare. And you wake up and it's like you never stopped working.

                        1. re: hilltowner

                          Ha ha! When I read that first paragraph I thought you didn't have a clue! Then I cracked up at the rest about THE DREAMS/nightmares. I was a server for 21 years and a manager for the past 12 but my bad dreams are almost always as a server. My classic was that I had slips for several tables in my apron and it was near closing time but all the cooks had already left! And my dream where I had tables in two different buildings left me exhausted the next morning.

                  2. As I noted in another thread: "servers are damned if they do and damned if they don't.

                    Having said that, I tend to get a bit anal about service in a restaurant, scaled to the level of cuisine. But I also try to take into consideration such things as how busy the place is and the experience of the server. (You can usually tell if they are fairly new.)

                    There are, however, hard fast rules no matter where I dine.

                    1. Sorry, atira, I will not "keep my salad fork" for the main course or my dinner fork for my dessert.. I don't do it at home and I won't do it when eating out. It really annoys me when restaurants only put out one fork, and the waitress will take it off your empty salad plate and put it on the table for the main course. If s/he refuses a request for a new fork (and this has happened) I will "accidentally" drop it on the floor. It is not a huge burden on the establishment to provide an extra fork. This just plain cheap!

                    2.No "Who gets the..." Many restaurants have a system of order taking to avoid this. When there are just two of, as is often the case, and the server who took the order also delivers it, there is absolutely no excuse for "Who gets the..."

                    3. Empty dishes. Please clear empty salad or appetizer plates. If they are basically empty and we are on the entree, it's ok to remove them. If you're not sure, ask!

                    I realize how hard the server's job is. But at the same time, there are some basics that should be observed all the time.

                    OTOH Some of the other things I have seen here are a bit picky, even for me. You don't want your coffee refilled, just say, "No thank you." when you see the pot approaching. And God forbid, you have to pour your own wine!

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: al b. darned


                      On your #1, I completely agree. I had to give a seminar to the servers at our country club on this issue. It might play at Captain John's Seafood Shack, but beyond that, not so well

                      #2.) Yes, I like the servers to all gather around the table and unveil the dishes in unison, but it's easy to get orders a bit confused, even with a good system. No problem with "excuse me, but the halibut goes there." Never thought twice about it.

                      #3.) As the slowest diner in most situations, I have no problem with dishes being cleared from others. OTOH, I do not like a server grabbing MY plate, as I am lifting a forkful to my mouth.

                      If I need a refill of anything, I can easily ask for it. If it's something like bread, I'll usually mention what I think will be an adequate "refill." Should I be charged for this - no problem. Now, at small tables, I can pour our wines. At a large table, especailly where there is a sommelier, or wine steward, I do like some attention in that area, and will call upon our server, or other staff member, should they miss some of my guests with empty wine glasses. Even as the host, I should not have to get up, gather up the decanter, or wine bottle, and proceed around the table. If it's my wife and me dining, I can do this just fine. It's the table for twelve, where I do have a problem. For me, that is part of wine-service. If it's not done, a whisper will usually take care of it, and no one else knows.


                    2. Jfood writes this at 38,000 feet so he apologizes for the length

                      1) Jfood never understood the bottomless breadbasket. Over the years the customer has grown accustomed to some complimentary items while they awake the first wave of food. Whether it is peanuts at the bar, some chips or the bread. Certain restaurants strived to make this a great introduction to the meal (i.e great homemade breads and wonderful butter or olive oil), while others viewed it as filler. Some people think the 11th Amendment to the Constitution states they should receive free bread ad nauseum for the entire table occupancy. Jfood loves good bread and butter, but does not want to fill himself when he his primary purpose of choosing a restaurant is the food. That’s the background as Jfood sees it. Now to your question. He agrees wholeheartedly that clairvoyance is not a requirement for a good server. If a particular table would like another basket of bread, just ask.

                      2) On another thread Jfood gave his opinion on the plate clearing issue. And for Jfood this is a huge issue. He just cannot stand half the table with and half the table without dishes. BUT…he is totally in agreement that if a customer has this issue all he needs to do is speak up. When the server or busser attempts to clean one of the dishes, a simple “please wait until everyone is finished before clearing” is all that is usually required. Only once has Jfood excused himself from the table to whisper in the server’s ear to instruct the busser of this requirement. And for Jfood it is a requirement, not a nice to have.

                      3) A couple of thoughts from Jfood. First if you just charged him $10 for a bottle of Pelligrino and the glass is half full, please do not pour tap water into the glass (server – leave the bottle in eyeshot of the water pourer if this is an issue in communication). Jfood will ask for another bottle, gratis, or have the first bottle removed from the bill. And Jfood should not have to tell the water pourer, and usually it is too late anyway. Second, if the water is tap water please keep it full and cold. How is this accomplished? Jfood tells the server when he pours the first glass, “I drink a lot of water during the meal if you do not mind.” Third, ice tea or coffee. This is just a dance with no set rules. If there is a 4-top there are probably 5 answers. Some will add sugar to tea, some will and milk and sugar to coffee, other go au naturale. This seems like a server has to ask. Hot coffee. Jfood likes his coffee at dessert medium in temperature. Just when it gets to that certain point in pops the coffee pot and the temperature rises. But this cannot fall into the nog good deed goes unpunished category. Server of coffee-person just doing their job.

                      4) Sorry, but even if Jfood is feeling like warm vomit, he NEVER tells a customer or colleague on a call he is feeling anything but great. They customer couldn’t care less and as soon as you move one nano-meter from an upbeat, positive attitude, the customer’s antennae go up and they become picky. Set the mood and the relationship to perfect from the start.

                      5) Why are the tongs on a salad fork short than an entrée fork? As George Mallory stated about climbing Mount Everest, “Because it’s there.” Jfood does not want to re-use utensils, even if he was the only to use it in round 1. That is also the case at Casa Jfood as can be confirmed by looking in the dishwasher. Where would it stop? Should the customer use the same spoon to stir his coffee as eat his crème brulee? Hold that soup spoon for dessert please. Hey would you mind the chef just bringing the pan with your entrée and flop it on the cleaned salad plate? It is just the correct way to serve. Different courses receive new plates and utensils.

                      6) Your examples would get Jfood to various degrees of displeased to upset. (a) Not looking at the specials board is totally unacceptable…that’s your job, like showing up for work as a professional baseball player without your glove. Jfood called out a server once for not telling him the specials while 10 minutes later told the table seated next to him. Guess what, Jfood changed his order after the MOD had to intervene. (b) If you have the tendency to “forget something” please start using a paper and pen. Everyone forgets, but in a fast paced environment, telling a customer yes and then not delivering is not great service, understandable but it should not happen. (c) Ice cubes. Here’s Jfood's take. The water pitcher has a crappy design. If you pour through the lips, no ice comes out and it is a slow and tedious process. So the pourers use the 90-degree pour, flopping ice and water in the glass and most of the times onto the table. So neither works well. But if the pourer goes the 90-degree route for speed and something happens, you have to expect a little displeasure from the customer. Simple fix is remove the glass from the table, pour the glass of water behind the customer’s back and return it to the table. Now Jfood introduces the Commander’s Palace approach. They actually remove glass #1 and place a different already filled glass #2 on the table, fresh and with ice and no muss. Is Jfood advocating that to all restaurants, absolutely not, but it is food for thought.

                      1. Haven't read through the replies, but in my book 2 and 5 are givens - i.e., no plates are removed until every diner at the table is finished eating (made, I understand, more complicated by diners who do not place their utensils in the "I'm finished" position on the plate) and, yes, in all but the most casual restaurants, I expect to be provided w/ clean utensils for each course. Just got back from dinner at a nearby restaurant, where three of us shared 5-6 "small plates". Our check was just over a hundred dollars, but our utensils were replaced three times, and then once again for dessert.

                        Edit: That said, I am completely tolerant of servers/busboys etc. who seem to be new to the job, unsure of what they are doing, etc. It would never occur to me to treat a server, etc., in a demeaning way, no how frustrated I might be w/ the service.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: MMRuth

                          I prefer your's and Jfood's manner more, but can live with the alternative.

                          As to your Edit, I will often call the person(s) aside and explain quietly what I expect. I usually do not grade off for this. Each of us must learn at some point. Again, it's quiet and polite, and given with respect.


                        2. Re: the refill on coffee, iced tea, etc. I am truly lazy at heart, and it was just too much effort to sweeten my tea to my liking at each refill, so I stopped putting sugar in my tea. So you can refill me all day long now. I truly do appreciate the offering of extra lemon slices if you are refilling - I hate having to ask.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: jeanmarieok

                            While on "refills," one thing that does irk me is the overfilling of wine glasses. This is often done out of lack of knowledge of good wine service. Sometimes it's done to sell more wine. If it happens more than once, it's time for a little talk about how large a pour, one should use. Few have taken umbridge to these little talks.

                            Usually, regarding wine service, I will already have been in communication with the servers regarding additional bottles, pours, etc. Two things that I do not want are guests with empty wine glasses, or guests having their glasses filled to the rim. Trust me, we'll buy enough wine during the course of the night. We do not need full glasses (full to the extent that there is no space in the glass, once the wine is poured).. To the servers: you will likely sell even more wine to me with the "oversell" tactics, and it's very likely that the next wine will be from your "reserve list."

                            [Rant mode off]


                          2. There are also certain rulers that customers should follow in order to have a good dining experience. For example
                            1. Don't "run" the server. If you want cream for your coffee, ask for it when you order coffee. Don't ask for more butter for the bread, and then upon its delivery ask for more salad dressing.
                            2. Don't say your ready to order, and then start reading the menu.

                            I could go on. Waitstaff and customer are all human, we all make mistakes, everyone should try to be reasonable.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: corneygirl

                              >>There are also certain rulers that customers should follow in order to have a good dining experience. For example
                              1. Don't "run" the server. If you want cream for your coffee, ask for it when you order coffee. Don't ask for more butter for the bread, and then upon its delivery ask for more salad dressing.
                              2. Don't say your ready to order, and then start reading the menu.

                              I could go on. Waitstaff and customer are all human, we all make mistakes, everyone should try to be reasonable.>>

                              Absolutely. Running servers around and forcing them to wait while you read the menu is appalling and it's something some customers really seem to enjoy. I had a boss who liked to do that. He would actually give the rest of the table a "check this out" look while faked the waitress out for the second or third time, pretending he was ready to order. He acted like a little kid who needed to get as much attention as possible.

                              I tend not to read lists of pet peeves about service in restaurants because there's always stuff that makes my head explode. Not because of what the server is doing, but because of how ridiculously picky and entitled some people sound-- as well as how they confuse their arbitrary preferences with universal rules. Some consideration is needed on both sides.

                            2. "1) Expecting automatic refills on bread."

                              We generally provide 2 pieces per person, which seems to be the amount that most people will eat. Giving people more when they don't ask for it seems like it would generate needless waste. I don't understand what the harm is in asking for something you'd like, if it cuts down on the amount of food that goes into the garbage."

                              You should NEVER do anything without asking first. Is it YOUR SERVICE and are YOU EATING IT? Then, if the customers don't like questions, maybe they should consider eating at home(getting take-out or cooking or get fast food). There shouldn't be a MIND-READER ASSUMPTION THING GOING! I WANT my server to ask me what I want, because it shows they CARE and they don't want to waste my time if I don't want something.

                              "2) Not wanting dirty plates removed until everyone is finished eating."

                              I think that's absurd. If customers want to look at their dirty plate and smell it that are finished, that's ridiculous. I would think it would be nice to have more room to move on the table by my server picking up my dishes if I was the only person finished personally.

                              "3) There seem to be conflicting complaints on this forum that people a) want their drink refilled without someone asking or b) don't want drinks refilled because it changes the ratio of drink to milk/sweetener/whatever. I always refill automatically, unless it seems the table is about to leave soon, and then I'll ask. Is this just a no-win situation: interrupting the conversation or diluting the beverage?"

                              WHY do you feel you have a "RIGHT" to ORDER for someone else? You should be ASKING at the time of greeting of the customers would like refills without being asked throughout their service. I HATE, HATE when severs bring me refills without asking or letting me ask them, because I sometimes change drinks. If I order tea, it's less disruptive if you just get a new glas with fresh ice and fresh lemon(ask if lemon is wanted, because I personally don't want lemon).

                              Water refills should NEVER be filled without asking first either nor should the server give water without asking first. If it's required to greet with water such as the fine dining restaurants, they can still ASK before they put it on the customer's table. it's called being CARING about what the *CUSTOMER* WANTS, NOT WHAT THE SERVER WANTS OR WHAT THE SERVER ASSUMES THE CUSTOMER WANTS. We are the customer, NOT YOU, so you don't get to say if I want another refill or not.

                              My drink does get watered down and I want a fresh one with fresh ice. If it's tea, I think it's more disruptive if you pour at the table than if you were to have just sat down a new glass of tea on the table. Less my sever is at my table in the middle of conversation.

                              NO drink should EVER be brought without either it being ordered or asking permission first.

                              You have never gotten someone that changed drinks or didn't want a refill before? Why risk wasting valuable time that you wouldn't have to get the drinks if they aren't wanted? Why try to ASSUME what the customer wants when you can find out for sure by asking at the greeting time, which that way you will know that's the type of service they want throughout their service. Some people want to be asked, such as myself. I have seen opinions on the internet about this subject that one person said she didn't order that, well she didn't, she ordered ONE glass of whatever drink she ordered, NOT refills of it. If she wants a refill she should be asked by the server or the customer could ask, but preferrably the server should be caring enough to ask first.

                              I have also read about people that do NOT get refills at all, not even one. I have at times when I have had a large glass, didn't get refills myself.

                              I have also made a server go back and get what I did want while they wasted my time as well as his other customer's time fixing and bringing what I didn't want, all because he ASSUMED I wanted another dr. pepper, which I decided on a coke for my next drink. I have a right to switch drinks if I choose, because I am the customer and all the fountain drinks are free refillable drinks, so it doesn't matter which one I choose. My husband once switched from a cup of coffee to diet coke. He also once switched from a diet coke, then a refill of diet coke, and then a water. See, not EVERYONE WANTS REFILLS WITHOUT BEING ASKED! I have switched from tea to coke before as well. It's not YOUR PLACE to decide what *I* WANT TO DRINK! WHY do you think you have rights to "ORDER" for your customers? Everyone is a different person on this earth and likes different things, which we all should be treated as INDIVIDUAL PEOPLE with INDIVIDUAL likes and dislikes. Some customers for instance love to chit-chat with their server while most want their server to leave them alone for the most part. Everyone likes different things and you should ask if they want lemon with water or tea. Not everyone wants lemon. I don't personally. I usually take the slice of lemon off, but when they put it in the tea, that's what pisses me off. I ordered tea, not tea with lemon or water with lemon, so give me what I ordered by ASKING if I would like lemon instead of ASSUMING EVERYONE WANTS LEMON when they order tea or water.

                              "didn't know something"

                              I find sometimes servers don't know things about the menu and I don't mean memorize, I mean that for instance I have ordered a flavored martini that was called a strawberry shortcake martini that stated it had a crusted rim. I had it before once a few months eariler, then ordered it again. The waitress actually brought me a glass with chocolate syrup in the glass(which was stupid) and the rim of the glass did NOT have the crust on it. I don't expect my server to memorize the menu, but I DO EXPECT the server to have COMPARED the description on the drink menu with the drink *BEFORE* they bring it to me. I am not tipping the bartender, that's the server that tips out the bartender, so for things like that, that the server could have noticed with their eyes, which she only brought out that one drink to me and my husband's table, one would think that she would have taken some *EFFORT* into making sure this was not only the correct drink, but that if there was something on the rim of the glass(such as salt on a margarita glass) that, that is noticed by comparing the menu with the item.

                              So you say everyone slips up from time to time, well we ALL do, the thing is, I find more and more, servers not even **TRYING*** their very best. When you are bringing one glass to the table, you could notice if it's the wrong drink when there was chocolat syrup lining the glass even without the drink and also notice the rim of the glass didn't have anything on it. I am tired of the servers that don't TRY THEIR VERY BEST. If you don't take any effort, why should I tip you well? I didn't even get a sorry and I was nice about the mistake, not mean. I know why, because the waitress probably thought the bartender was at fault, but honestly, no, she was. If you see something wrong, why would you be stupid enough to BRING it to me like that? Not only was it not the right drink, but that if you think about a real strawberry shortcake, since when does an average strawberry shortcake have chocolate in it? The thing was, a description of the drink was on the menu, so since there wasn't any chocolate syrup listed and no crusted rim, obviously she just trusted the bartender 100% with her tip instead of putting some EFFORT into her job. It's HER JOB to bring it out obviously correct. If you can tell just by l

                              "It seems the reasonable reaction to an honest mistake is genuinely to cut a person some slack, no strings attached."

                              When I receive an apology and it wasn't something that was totally obvious, then I cut the server some slack or if they profusely apologize over a small mistake such as once I had a waitress that said "I'm so sorry" instead of just a "sorry" over a missing side of ranch, which I still left 20%. It was because she was so NICE about the mistake that made all the difference. Normally, below 20% for a mistake like that, that was so obvious considering she brought out my food.

                              The thing that pisses me off is that most of the mistakes I get are so obvious that I don't have to touch the food or drink to notice the mistake. It shows lack of EFFORT. I tired of servers that don't compare their written order to what they are bringing me. You don't just write down my order to put it into the computer. The final result is what matters. If the expo didn't plate my ranch, considering I am only tipping my server, my server should care about if I have my ranch or not.

                              So basiclaly what I am saying is sometimes it's not an "honest" mistake, but more that there was no EFFORT being taken before the food was brought out to the table. I know we all go through our "DUH" type of moments, but I have gotten servers that blamed the kitchen staff for things that were obvious that I didn't have to touch a thing on my plate to notice something was wrong. When you blame the kitchen staff for YOU bringing me my food without my side dish I ordered, it's only YOU that's bringing me my food, so YOU decide to check over the food for missing or wrong items, so blaming the kitchen staff will get you nowhere considering people aren't stupid. Most people have common sense to know who is at fault and who isn't. Lying will hurt your tip more than being honest that if you did mess up, be nice and people will be more forgiving than lying to them.

                              "Is this just a no-win situation: interrupting the conversation or diluting the beverage?"

                              It's a win-win situation if you just simply ask at the time you greet your customers if they would like refills without being asked. "Would you all like your drinks automatically refilled without being asked?" Then, the customers would answer a simple yes or no. It's that simple!!!

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: Springs131

                                I think this post is placed in the wrong spot. The OP was about customer SERVICE not Customer SERVANTS!

                                1. re: Springs131

                                  I am not going to reply to any specific points you made. It has been 20 years since I worked throughout high-school as a waitress. We didn't have the internet then and therefore, the quick proliferation of new words to our American lexicon (itself a word I was never aware of before the net).

                                  One of the modern term's is one that I won't post in it's entireity but the first word is "entitlement". Based on all the CAPS in your post, which seem to be shouting and not for emphasis, I feel you may be contributing to the perception.

                                  We are all in this together (as Red Green used to say :) There are those of us that make so-so or really good livings sitting in a chair all day (not moi, homemaker these days) and somehow expect perfection from those whose job is to literally be on their feet the whole time, multi-tasking all the way, however many hours the shift may be.

                                  I hope as a new member (but long time reader) that I haven't crossed any lines because I "really" put the brakes on what I had to say.


                                  1. re: Springs131

                                    I am having a difficult time understanding why some people on this board are getting so angry over this. If you have a server who seems to be putting in little effort, let them know or let the management know.
                                    Personally I detest lemon in my glass of water, but I never take it out on the server- its obviously management's decision. If I'm feeling really agitated over it, I just ask for water with no lemon. It's that simple.

                                  2. What an intelligent, cogent, analytical, well and lightly written post. You'll get the last laugh when you publish your first book or get on with doing whatever it is that you're going to do with the rest of your life.

                                    You've accuraterly provided a synopsis of many of the service issues discussed on these boards. As to the five specific issues above, I never get bothered one way or the other. As to making small mistakes, you've reminded all of us to have a bit of patience and understanding.

                                    1. With the exception of your #5, I really do not have any problems (that I can recall). As for #5, used flatware *should* be replaced. I have no problem with unused flatware being left in place. Maybe I am alone in this.

                                      Yes, mistakes do happen. It is up to the establishment and how they handle these, that I *might* find fault with. A restaurant in Hawai`i served us two crabcakes, which we shared. My wife's was rancid, while mine was absolutely the best that I'd ever eaten. I called our server over and quielty explained the situation. He grabbed hers, and headed for the kitchen, only to return with two great crabcakes and both an apology and an explaination for what happened and how. None of the crabcakes was on the final bill. Mistake? Yes. Handled perfectly, when it happened? Yes. My review included the mis-step, but was otherwise glowing. "Stuff" happens. It's the next step that makes it an issue, or something to be overlooked.


                                      PS I tipped as though we'd paid for the crabcakes.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: Bill Hunt

                                        Yes, in those situations I also always tip as if the item(s) removed from the bill had been included. I went out for lunch last week with my father, and couldn't eat the carbonara because it had cream in it (for some reason the aroma of warm cream completely revolts me). The waitress took it off the bill even though I told her that it wasn't necessary. My father tipped on the actual bill, so I put in a little cash to make up for the tip on my dish.

                                      2. 1) Expecting automatic refills on bread.

                                        They should not expect it but you should ask without prompting once the basket is empty (and, if there is a charge for more bread, be sure to disclose what it is).

                                        2) Not wanting dirty plates removed until everyone is finished eating.

                                        I understand your training - and would account for that - but in fine dining and etiquette until recent years it was considered the depth of rudeness to clear anything before a course had been finished by everyone. So, when you see the depth of the reactions to this practice, understand it has roots that are far older than you are. I don't penalize a server for offering to remove plates ahead of this, but I will penalize a server who ignores my request that she or he wait - if the manager insists, have the manager come and talk to me. The customers are not there to make the restaurant's work flow more efficient. The restaurant is selling hospitality, and customers are paying for it.

                                        3) There seem to be conflicting complaints on this forum that people a) want their drink refilled without someone asking or b) don't want drinks refilled because it changes the ratio of drink to milk/sweetener/whatever.

                                        Excuse and ask.

                                        4) I think there was one thread awhile back, where someone was complaining that a server said s/he was tired. I can imagine this being a complaint if the server just randomly volunteered the information, but if a table is being friendly with me and inquires how I'm doing (not uncommon), I tell the truth.

                                        Don't. Your customers are your customers, not your friends. They may forget this, but you shouldn't for your own sanity.

                                        5) Lastly, why do some people want new flatware with the next course?

                                        See #2.

                                        9 Replies
                                        1. re: Karl S

                                          Ditto with everything Karl said in his fine post. Some of your questions, OP, have to do with the difference between training at a casual restaurant vs. a fine dining restaurant. (For the record, even before I discovered plates weren't supposed to be removed until everyone was done I preferred it that way. When I'm the only one with my plate left I feel rushed and feel like I'm holding everyone else up.) In the other cases, it's a simple thing to just give the patron a choice. Then you never have to guess wrong.

                                          1. re: Karl S

                                            Very well-put. I think that I am starting to yield to popular convention on #2. Maybe it's just too many event meals, or that everyone is doing it. I was always of the same mindset, that you outline. Still, finding service that takes it into consideration is becoming more difficult to find. If hosting (remember that I am a slow eater, and am also usually entertaining many of the guests, or at least indulging them in conversation), I am often approaced by a server, inquiring about the plates. If I am the last to finish, I'll usually go with the flow and suggest that they do clear the plates.

                                            In several other threads, many mentioned that they were horribly repulsed by having their finished plate in front of them for any time. That has never bothered me, even if I did not like what was on that plate. I'd also assume that many of these are also folk who dive in, before all of the ladies at the table have been served - but do not know that to be fact.

                                            On #4, I once answered our server's question of "how are you doing today?" with a "fine, how are you?" She proceeded to pull out a chair, breakdown and tell us that her marriage was on the rocks, her boss was about to fire her... it went on and on. It was probably over a year, before I had the courage to inquire again. One bad time, but one, that I will never forget.


                                            1. re: Bill Hunt

                                              The repulsion other posters have about having a finished plate set before them for how many minutes makes me wonder what the hell they've done to produce such an atrocity. (Seriously, we're not talking a long time for each course, even with the slowest eaters.)

                                              I do not understand the resistance to clearing the table all at one time. It is a courtesy, and one imagines it could possibly make things easier for the server (limits intrusions into conversation as well).

                                              Actually, I'll confess that I'm not happy in general to see a trend of jettisoning conventions designed to bring comfort. If everyone at the table starts shrieking and flapping their arms at the sight of a dirty plate, by all means, be my guest and sweep the shame away. But on the whole, clearing a table with one or two left to finish produces pressure on those eating, i.e. 'We're waiting on you!'. This may, in fact, be true, but I'll reckon the awareness is there, and that pressure is unnecessary.

                                              I'll leave my dismay about other attitudes out of the post, but seriously, I do not understand why so many people are resistant to doing things that give others comfort simply because they want to assert their own exceptionalism and aggressively demonstrate that the others are 'wrong'. Over all, these etiquette threads make me wonder if respecting and caring about those around you has fallen out of fashion.

                                              1. re: Lizard

                                                One of the problems is that diners are supposed to more or less finish within a reasonable time of each other. This means, among others things (debility excepted, of course) that fast eaters are supposed to slow down and no one is supposed to talk so much that their eating is unduly slowed down in the process. People were supposed to discretely modulate the pace of their individual dining to harmonize with the group pace - in fact, that was the only legitimate thing for one person to notice about another person's dining (otherwise, everyone is expected to maintain custody of the eyes in that regard, as it were). Fast food-type eating has corroded this vital social skill.

                                                1. re: Karl S

                                                  Yes - while I'm not an incredibly fast eater, I do find that others often have more on their plate than I do at a given point. I then leave a couple of bites on mine and pace myself.

                                                  1. re: Karl S

                                                    I think another issue is that portion sizes have increased so much that many people have resorted to ordering appetizers or other smaller-sized items that are more manageable, while still eating with people who or ordering the entree-sized meals. In the past, portion sizes were more manageable and you didn't see as many people picking a side salad or soup as a main course.

                                                    1. re: queencru

                                                      This may be in certain restaurants, or even certain parts of the globe, but I find myself in restaurants with smaller portions, the vast majority of the time.

                                                      None of the instances, that come to my mind, involve even moderately large portions.

                                                      Now, that in no way invalidates your assertions. Those observations, on your part, may well be contributory. I just do not see them in my dining.

                                                      Matter of fact, I’ve done a few reviews, where I complained about the overly large portion sizes on two restaurants.

                                                      Thanks for throwing that out, as I had not even considered it as a possibility.


                                                2. re: Bill Hunt


                                                  There is an easy solution - one I came up with years ago when dining with my parents: my mother is a very deliberate eater (and more so with debility) and my father (a fast eater, but one who would never countenance anyone clearing until all had finished a course) would get evil with servers who rushed her. The solution would be to advise the server before or at the time of ordering about our preference for table clearance. When my father was hosting (paying), I would do this away from the table. Eventually, I showed my father how to do this and no more is there a problem except when the staff or management is stupid. Like the time in Page AZ when a server tried thrice to remove an incomplete plate from my sister as she was still eating, the last time with a tug of war with said plate and my sister (who is a WMD when crossed) having to wield a fork in an unpleasant way to make her preferences clear (we were not dawdling, but the server apparently wanted to get on a mid-shift break for a cigarette....).

                                                  1. re: Karl S

                                                    I do agree, and when hosting, will make my wishes known, just like with the wine service.

                                                    In the above instances, one of the reasons for being a bit behind the table's pace is that conversations about the wines and wine service do take time. While I attempt to cover certain ground, before we're seated, some things can change - more of the table loves the Montrachet (than I had anticipated), or we find out later that someone has a strong aversion to older Bdx. While I attempt to give my guests my undivided attention, sometimes it just does not work that way.

                                                    Now, "WMD?" Is that Woman of Mass Destruction? [Grin]

                                                    I always fear for pushy servers, especially knowing that the other party is "armed."