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May 25, 2009 08:00 AM

"That's What You Ordered!"

Does anyone have a graceful way of handling situations where a server mis-hears an order and (with attitude) insists you asked for it as they brought it?

It's such a crazy reaction (why would I order something I didn't want?)....and one which often reduces me to sputtering aggravation....which I'm always afraid might make me sound like an imperious "don't-you-dare-contradict-me-you-insolent-servant" sort of customer. It's not that I resent being contradicted, of's just the whole wrong craziness of the situation.

There's got to be a graceful way to handle it that clears the air. Last time it happened, I kinda discombobulated: ("Yes, come to think of it, you're right! Y'know, I have trouble controlling what comes out of my mouth! La-la-la-bla-bla-fwa-fwa-fwa......see? Anything can come out at any time! I'm out of control!! Wheeee!!! Even right now, I don't know WHAT I'M SAYING! I hear words coming out, but they're, like, all random! Steam shovel chartreuse my water glass, please!").

Help me do better. There's got to be The Perfect Way To Handle It.

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  1. "Actually, it isn't what I ordered. I'm sorry you misunderstood."

    10 Replies
    1. re: bayoucook which, of course, the reply would be "Oh, I'm so sorry. I'll bring your corrected order right away!", correct?


      In case I didn't make it clear , I'm not talking about innocent-eyed waiters saying "Oh, but I thought I heard you say...". I'm talking about servers who flash anger with their eyes, snarl their mouths and seem to dig in for a fight (I did say, "with attitude"!). 'Cuz that's how this sort of situation plays 9 times out of 10, regardless of how friendly and politely the error's pointed out, with the sort of waiter who uses this least in my eating out experience (which is pretty extensive).

      Good servers don't say "that's what you ordered!", period (no good can come of it, after all). So those who do take that approach are pretty much pre-filtered for a stark lack of grace and accommodation.

      1. re: Jim Leff

        Jim - I've been lucky - never encountered that kind of server, thank God.
        I'd probably call the manager since the server was out of hand.
        Or maybe just leave!

        1. re: bayoucook

          If this happens to you a lot, you might be speaking in a way that's hard for the server to understand. You don't want to overenunicate either; that drives servers crazy. But I think the first step is to figure out if there's a legitimate reason they misheard you, or if they are blaming you for something that was entirely their mistake. If it is indeed the latter, and it's happened to me or my party a few times, I've just said, "Nope, I didn't order this and I wouldn't have ordered this." That takes care of it. If it didn't, I would call the manager. If I thought they really heard wrong, I'd say, sorry I wasn't clear and ask for the dish to be replaced. But again, if this happened to me chronically I would make a big effort to speak more clearly AND verify the order. Avoids a big waste of time and food.

          1. re: bibi rose

            Doesn't happen a lot. It's just a question of odds. If you eat out a ton, then things that only happen .1% of the time happen to you.

            If the server's reaction indicated to even a slight degree an even-keeled consideration of the possibility of misunderstanding, I'd of course reply politely and directly, per bayoucook's suggestion. But i'm not talking about servers who are unclear....I mean ones who are SURE you said something you didn't. So that sort of rules out mumbling ambiguity on my end as a factor.

        2. re: Jim Leff

          I am with Bayoucook. When they then dig in for a fight, ask to speak with the owner or manager. Tell them about the server and ask for a new server and the correct dish. If THEY give attitude, walk. It happens. it usually involves drugs or alcohol if it is the owner acting so strangely. Or an owner who desperately wants to fail.

          1. re: Sal Vanilla

            "it usually involves drugs or alcohol if it is the owner acting so strangely. "

            WHAT? What makes you say that?

            1. re: LindaWhit

              I say that because a manager can just walk away, but for an owner it can be the loss of life's fortune if your restaurant kicks the bucket. There is a greater incentive to be solicitous to patrons - and more leeway. A person who owns would have to have serious mental defect (organic or thru some intervention like drugs or alcohol) to act in a way that would drive patrons from your place.

              I have seen it with my own eyes. You would be surprised at the amount of drug and/ or alc problems in that industry. When we would hear someone's restaurant was tanking, there were rumors well before that someone was snorting the money up their nose and acting nutso in the dining room or was sucking at the scotch bottle all night long and acting strangely with customers.

              Normal owners do not quibble who was right and who was wrong and dig in their heels in order to protect their egos.

              1. re: Sal Vanilla

                Sorry - I just cannot believe it's "usually" attributed to drugs or alcohol." And yes, "normal" owners can dig in their heels if they think they're being taken advantage of.

                With the number of restaurants that open and close in any given year, your "usually" attribution would mean that 90% of those restaurants are being managed by drug addicts or alcoholics.

                1. re: LindaWhit

                  Restaurants close for a number of reasons. Mostly, they do not manage their food costs well. That is not so much an abuse problem.

                  And yes, there are just strange raging loons that are self defeating freaks bent on self destruction. Just giving my personal experience... not necessarily universal.

                  But I adore you, so I bow out gracefully and back out to the exit.

        3. re: bayoucook

          I've only happen once and it was just a chain restaurant so I didn't care. I didn't have time to redo.

          The other time it was something I don't enjoy eating much so I complained, he politely re did the order. But he sneared too, I did make a point of bringing it to the managers attention, but didn't say anything else.

          However, depending on the situation with a group where everyone else is eating ... if it was something I didn't mind I may just eat what he brought. But I would of pulled him aside or gone to manager and explained the situation so they were aware of the mix up.

        4. Jim, this has never happened to me in an English-speaking country.
          Sure I've gotten the wrong thing, but never have I gotten any kind of attitude or argument.
          Funny thing, since I've heard you interviewed and didn't find you difficult to understand...

          1 Reply
          1. re: Leonardo

            Yeah, I have a long background in radio and even (as a kid) acting. I'm not Orson Welles, but neither am I Charlie Mumbles.

            And, anyway, I'm not talking about situations of ambiguity (which would be easy for me to handle gracefully). I'm talking about situations where the server is POSITIVE you ordered something you insist you didn't. Which, just in itself, is just such a crazy tack to take on the server's part that my head kind of explodes. I mean...if I order something I don't want, that means 1. I'm stark raving nuts (in which case you should probably humor me) or 2. I'm needlessly torturing you (which may, in fact happen sometimes...working "'retail", as I did here on Chowhound for years, shows you that any behavior you could imagine - and lots you couldn't - indeed will be seen if you deal with the public long enough).

            But I don't know how to disprove either. So this is like having a ball in my court I don't know how to pass back!

          2. Yes, it happens occasionally, and it is likely to be someone with language difficulties of some kind. Yes, they really do believe that is what you ordered, and they are tired of people always telling them that they got the order wrong (hey, there's a clue). And no, you are not going to get anywhere by arguing with them. All you can do is tell them you are sorry that you weren't more specific about your order (oh, im sorry, when I said I want a number 36, i should have specified that I wanted the Fho with rare beef, tendon, and tripe, just like it says on the menu.") Ok, ok, that was a little bit snarky, but the sarcasm will probably be lost on them. Or you could try to foist it off on the kithcen, siding with the waitstaff (Oh, I'm sorry, I know you put the order in right, don't you hate it when the kitchen can't take the time to read what you actually wrote, but you and I both know I didn't order anchovies on my mashed potatoes.)

            11 Replies
            1. re: KaimukiMan

              "Yes, they really do believe that is what you ordered, and they are tired of people always telling them that they got the order wrong (hey, there's a clue). "

              Indeed. Great point. Strangers reacting bizarrely to normal interaction is, it's true, an indication that some button has been pushed which has nothing to do with you and everything to do with some chronic issue on the part of the button-holder.

              That's a good bit of wisdom. But I'm not totally satisfied with your suggestions. On the other hand, that may indeed be the best I can do. But I'm hoping to use the Hive Mind here to see if anyone's crafted the perfect response....

              1. re: Jim Leff

                If your waiter is looking at you with fire in their eyes, don't fuel the fire by bantering back and forth.

                Be direct, but polite. Say you are sorry about the misunderstanding once.
                Tell them that you ordered what you chose and that you would like to be
                served that particular order. And if the waiter wants to argue about who got it correct, then ask to see the manager. Unreasonable behavior is not tolerated long in customer service and the manager will not argue with you. He/she will correct your
                order quickly.

                1. re: mcel215

                  In my experience, any pushing back (i.e. saying I ordered what I chose and would like to be served it), no matter how politely, will be pushed back harder.

                  i dispute the notion that the manager won't argue. There are nasty, stubborn managers just as there are nasty, stubborn servers. I think the manager's inclination to take the server's side depends mostly on the manager's relationship with that server. Unless, that is, we're talking about, like, a high end place devoted to good customer service where some lone clueless server is screwing up. In which case I agree with all you've said. But in such places, I'd have trouble imagining my encountering this particular situation in the first place.

                  This sort of thing is found more in little places....the sorts of places that have decided the customer's always an idiot (I don't blame I said, earlier in the thread, dealing with the public can easily wear you down into such a jaundiced have to really work against it). It's easy to say that such places ought to be avoided, but sometimes that's where the best food is. It takes a certain brash stubbornness to create and maintain quality.

                  1. re: Jim Leff

                    A lot of times the servers are nasty BECAUSE the management is! Both of my daughters worked as servers in the past, but if the manager was truly foul, they (although they are by nature very nice) found it hard to be nice to the customers. Of course that is when you pack up and find another place to work!

                    1. re: Jim Leff

                      "This sort of thing is found more in little places"

                      Boy do I ever disagree with that. The little guy in my experience is far more likely to bend over back wards in an effort to make sure every thing you order is served to the best of their ability. If not they usually don't survive very long.
                      IMO this is far more likely to occur at the latest greatest yuppified trough featured on some food network show or the uber snooty's with their mediocre over priced crud that they are intent on believing is THE best that can be had.
                      I can think of a few situations over the years where I had an indignant server and he/she received a just tip and a follow up letter/email to the manager/owner.
                      If I had a server as obtuse as you suggest and a manager of the same disposition I would remedy that by leaving. Case closed.
                      You suggest the places with 'tude" often have "the best" food. Why would I care if it's the "best" if it's not what I ordered? If it is the best and it's that good then close yer pie hole and CHOW! LOL

                      1. re: Jim Leff

                        I have to disagree with you about rudeness being the dominion of the small eatery. They are the ones that will bend over backwards to keep you happy and loyal. if they are not, they won't last long and then it will not matter.

                        1. re: Sal Vanilla

                          I agree SalV, I think the smaller places are much more willing to accommodate. They rely on the locals and the tourists. They do anything they can do work with the customer

                          1. re: Sal Vanilla

                            I never said - and never would - that rudeness is the dominion of the small eatery. I think you didn't read me very carefully.

                            1. re: Jim Leff

                              I should have ref'ed it: "This sort of thing is found more in little places".

                              1. re: Sal Vanilla

                                Yes, I understood the ref. But reread my entire posting to see what I mean by "this sort of thing".

                      2. re: Jim Leff

                        OK, if the server is being that irrational, the perfect response is the one that limits your exposure the most. You repeat your order once and if that doesn't work, you ask for the manager.

                        Dealing with strangers who get irrationally angry like that is weird and it leaves one feeling, "Surely I could have done something better to prevent it/handle it/whatever." Doesn't matter if you do the perfect thing, you will feel like that anyway. IMO, best thing to do is refuse to engage. Once you see they are acting that way, ask to talk to someone else and if that doesn't work, leave.

                    2. Two suggestions here:

                      1) You reply "You brought this to the wrong table, because I didn't order that."
                      2) Then the snarky attitude from the waiter comes in, so you ask to see the paper where he wrote your order on it. If he doesn't have one - get the manager. As far as the "That's what you ordered" . . . well prove it jerk!

                      I prefer that they read my order back to me before they leave the table, especially those that don't bother writing things down. I haven't actually ever gotten the wrong order, but there have been times that I have been very specific about how I want it (like dressing on the side, bring extra gravy, etc.) Then someone else delivers my food, not the one who took my order, and there's the dressing on the salad and no extra gravy! They always look baffled when I send it back, but too bad. I want what I want.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: danhole

                        Exactly! I just cannot imagine such horrible servers - they'd last about 3 seconds down here.

                        1. re: danhole

                          although I believe it's kinda bad etiquette to write things down in fine dining, especially for a small table...

                          1. re: hungryungry

                            Even in fine dining some servers write things down. regardless of that fact, in fine dining they always repeat you order back to you , or at the very least make sure they have gotten your order correct, by clarifying what you have asked for. We were in a very nice place tonight and our server was very sure to ask more (than the usual "not in a so fine dining place". ) questions to make sure we were satisfied.. And another point is that in fine dining they would not let a server EVER be surly, argumentative, or seem threatening to the customer. Do that once and you are GONE! Snarling is not an option.

                            Side note - we live in Houston, Tx, so maybe our manners are diffrent from up north. Just saying, and I have never been to NYC, so . . .

                        2. uh. . . is the server grinding her/his jaw at all while flashing the anger, snarling the mouth, digging for the fight? pupils dilated unnaturally at all?