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I lied to the waiter

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Today I was solo for lunch, so I tried a new-ish, highly touted, chef-centered place with a casual attitude, a reputation for being very serious about the menu, and prices in the moderate-to-moderately-expensive range. I've waited three months since opening to let them equalize the issues that I find perfectly expected and understandable at any startup business.

I arrived a bit after the lunch rush had gotten underway. They were pretty full, and since I was eating alone, I happily accepted the host's offer to seat me at the bar. It took a while for me to be acknowledged and get my order taken, but it looked like the bartender was also waiting or at least assisting at a couple of tables as well as manning the bar. I understand he had a lot on his shoulders.

I ordered an iced tea, a small starter and a sandwich. After about 20 minutes, I realized I'd run out of things to goof around with on my phone, but my appetizer hadn't shown up yet. Five minutes later I got that. The tea had only gotten there 10 minutes before, and it was almost empty by that time.

About 45 minutes later, the bartender came up to me and said, with a smile, "They're plating your food right now."

My meal was finally delivered at around the 55-minute mark, after which time the woman next to me at the bar had already ordered, received her (simple) dish, eaten it, guzzled two vodka tonics, paid and scooted out the door. A two-top behind me had done the same.

In other words, they obviously lost my order in the kitchen. This happens. But usually with an apology.

Now, I have to admit my food was pretty good. While the chicken was overcooked, it wasn't bad. The side dish was truly excellent. It was all very fresh -- meaning the bartender had lied about it being plated ten minutes previous.

But by that time I was absolutely seething with frustration. I really didn't enjoy the food much because I was so worked up over how long it had taken and how nobody even gave a word of apology or even explanation.

When the bartender asked how things were at the five-minute sweep-by, I said, "OK." He didn't notice my tea glass was again empty. I mean, he'd refilled it just 30 minutes before, so what's the big?

I ate quickly, tipped about 8% and left fast. (I normally tip at least 20% for adequate-to-good service. Many of my peers are waiters and baristas, and I recognize how hard they work, and how often they get stiffed.)

I'm sure the lousy tip got my point across. And later that day, I e-mailed the restaurant about it.

I should have said something, obviously. "No, actually, it's not OK that my lunch order took almost an hour, and that you lied to me about its progress."

Even my favorite places have screwed up like this in the past. I've forgiven gladly when it's been handled professionally.

I need assertiveness training. And now I'm even more annoyed at myself.

Shouldn't any reasonably savvy server not take some initiative when it's obvious a $16 lunch, served at the blazed bar, isn't ticking along like clockwork? Should I HAVE to say something in that situation? I'm cheap -- just comping my beverage would have made a world of difference.

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  1. I would have done the same as you dmd. Even when I have stuck up for myself and complained it just leaves a bad taste in my mouth and I end up not going back. I think you are right to be angry about the way you were treated but confrontation leads to more stress and maybe even indigestion. Sounds like they took enough of your time as it is when you were just trying to have an enjoyable meal. You shouldn't have to explain the obvious when you are handing over your money. I think you were just protecting yourself from more aggravation and you handled it in the way that was most comfortable to you. Let us know if they respond to your email and make it up to you somehow.

    1 Reply
    1. re: givemecarbs

      Yea. Curious if they respond back to you. And if so, perhaps with a comp or an offer of sorts, I would not rush back to the place say within next week or few months. New-ish place or not, no excuse for the lousy service. And I'd avoid the bar or anywhere near that guy...maybe wear a hat too lol

    2. I think you were appropriately annoyed with the situation and really were much more patient than I would be.

      At the 20 minute mark I would have made a bit of a fuss, especially if others that arrived later had received their dishes. And by fuss I mean asking "Hey, I know you guys are busy, but how's that app doing?" Just a casual hint. If 10 minutes later still nothing (at least a response) I'd leave payment for whatever I had been served plus a small tip.

      1. You were more than reasonable and your 8% tip was 8% more than jfood would have given, but then again, jfood would not have been present when the sandwich arrived. You were kind enough to sit at the bar, you were then treated like a second class citizen by your description of the priorities of the bartender, waited waaaay too long for the app, did not received any service from the bartender that met minimum standards and then the old "your meal is being plated" line.

        Jfood HATES being lied to, and even more so when the lier believes that they are speaking to someone with an IQ of a cantaloupe. Once you make that "plating" comment you have about 2 minutes to get the food to the table. Over the last 6 months three servers have made that mistake. And each time jfood asked for the check and told the server to cancel the order. Both times the MOD came over and jfood explained what happened and he was no longer interested in eating there. He insisted onpaying for the food and beverages he had already consumed. Jfood gives feedback both verbally and with his feet.

        No need to get all agitated by bad service, being lied to and the nonsense described.

        1 Reply
        1. re: jfood

          Not everyone can do it your/my/our way but perhaps they could practice. You wrote this perfectly. Go, boy.

        2. Well, I think you are a very nice person. Nice people like you often are taken advantage of unfortunately. I often just let things go too.

          1. Something similar just happened to me last weekend for breakfast in a new upscale cafe. I DID tell the "water gal" (because the waitress never came back to my table) about my runny eggs that were supposed to be "over medium", the soggy biscuits, lack of butter, and coffee refills. She didn't blink, no apology, no comp, etc. I was presented with the bill from the waitress with no eye contact (I knew she was told about it). I didn't insist on anything and was offended that they didn't offer anything. I left half of the breakfast uneaten so I left half a tip. I now wish I would have been more "disgruntled" but I hate to feel "petty" about a dollar comp by HAVING to ask for it in order to get it. It's not the money- it's the principal.

            1. good job. but it would have been a great job if you'd left zero as a tip.

              1. Ugg. Sorry about your lunch! I hate experiences like that. Obviously the best thing would be to speak up at the time so the resto has an opportunity to fix things (or at least try to). You don't HAVE to say anything (and yes, they should know better but clearly something went wrong and they weren't being upfront about it) but if you don't say anything, you just accept how things go without putting the resto on the spot to try to do better while they still can. I do understand not wanting to confront people - but you don't have to think of it that way...just be nice, but firm. Smile and remind the bartender/server that you've been there a while or mention that you have an appointment to get to and inquire as to the ETA for your lunch. I'd certainly remind him about my iced tea needing to be refilled.

                Generally I don't advocate leaving a smaller tip without saying something at the time, but I think you did the next best thing by emailing the resto. Let us know if they respond (I doubt it, sorry!).

                1. I've had similar experiences. The worst is when you need to be on your way, as on lunch and don't have time to wait an unreasonable period to get your food. I've done both things, voiced unhappiness and been silent. I don't think there is an totally satisfactory response for every situation.

                  It could be a bad day at the place, and your experience is not typical. Or, it could be imcompetence in the kitchen or by the wait person. If you feel you are being treated unfairly, I do think you should voice something. I think it is best to do this early enough in the wait that you haven't stewed and become progressively more irritated. I wouldn't make a scene. (Obvously you wouldn't either.)

                  As I understand it, tips are for services rendered. If you feel that the wait person has not treated you well, then I think you are justified in not leaving a generous tip. If it is the kitchen's fault, and the wait person has tried to speed things along, and is giving you information, then you should tip accordingly.

                  In one restaurant, I remember our dinner was exceedingly late, and the explanation given was a mishap in the kitchen. With apologies, we were given a free dessert. I thought that was very reasonable.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: sueatmo

                    It's been my experience that the waiter will always say it is the kitchen (and the kitchen is well aware of this), so I don't use this as a gauge of whose fault it is. There are some things that are obviously the kitchen's fault, like overcooked, burnt, etc, and I'm not going to blame the waiter for it, but other things, like delays, cold food, etc, it's not so clear. The waiter may have forgot to put in your order (or pick it up) but could tell you that it's the kitchen that's backed up.

                    Personally, if there's a delay and the waiter remains attentive and unlike in the OP keeps me up to date (even if they could be lying), I'm not likely to reduce the tip. But if it takes forever and there's no communication, the tip-o-meter will be ticking downward.

                  2. Thanks for all the good perspective here.

                    As of now, over 48 hours after e-mailing, I've had no reply, and don't think I expect to at this point.

                    I've posed the question to a lot of my restaurant-biz friends, who offered similar feedback to what I've had here. One insider tells me the managing partner is well known to his restaurateur peers as considering himself too cool for things like customer service.

                    That speaks volumes to me. And I've certainly decided not to give the place a second chance, unless I hear things have turned around. Too bad for them; my visit was a trial-run before treating two friends to a celebration meal next week. We'll choose someplace else.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: dmd_kc

                      The thing that would have fried me was the lack of tea refills. I drink a lot of water/tea/diet coke.... if a waiter/waitress keeps my glass better than half full for the duration of my stay, I'm going to tip well, no matter if the food sucks or not.

                      1. re: Firegoat

                        yeah...they managed to give the girl next to you TWO alacholic drinks

                    2. I think you do need to be more assertive. There are all sorts of reasons why others may have gotten their food before you, if you came during the lunch rush (eg. they had stuff that was pre-prepped, they said on arrival that they needed to be out in 45 minutes). If you didn't appear to be in a hurry the bartender may have assumed you had all afternoon. When he came by for the five minute sweep why say things are "OK" what's wrong with saying "more iced tea please". I think it's a lot more productive to enquire (not necessarily complain) about things when they can be rectified, even a small thing like "I'm in a bit of a hurry, how much longer is my sandwich going to be?" would have probably sped things up.

                      However, it's inexcusable that they didn't reply to your email, I'm with you, don't go back.

                      1. I think a comped bev or dessert would have been appropriate. However, when the bartender did a fly-by and you responded that everything was OK, you acknowledged that there was nothing wrong and then tipped 8%. Moral to this story, state how you feel and yes go back again, sit at the bar hint at what happened last time out and tip well, as you said that the chow was very good.

                        1. I understand you don't want to come off as a grouch. On the other hand you don't want to feel disregarded by wait staff at a place you're paying plenty of money for.

                          For your own sake, the best thing to do to get your point across is to simply ask, "Is the meal coming along? It seems to be taking a while." You won't be seen as an ogre, just a polite person who is asking a reasonable question on his/her behalf about what they know is an over-long delay. They most certainly shoudl have been aware and apologized to you.

                          1. Yeah I agree with hsk and earlybird.

                            PEOPLE! IF YOUR EXPERIENCE IS SUCKING! SAY SOMETHING!

                            This holds true for restaurants, relationships, businesses, and all other things. Saying things are "okay" when you are really mad about them is passive-aggressive and
                            there is no way for people to interpret hidden meanings and stuff behind statements like that when they are either too busy, selfish, or ignorant to care.

                            Let this be a lesson: Assertiveness is key. It's okay to ask questions like why your food isn't there yet, or to let them know you're in a rush, or that you want more water/iced tea, or that the food wasn't good. If nobody speaks up, how does the staff know the guests are happy, and how does the manager know that a good job is being done? Even if the manager/owner is lame, everybody loses when clear communication grinds to a halt.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: karitickle

                              I agree completely, but then again I hate passive-aggressive behavior like you wouldn't believe. With something like an empty glass, I always ask a server to refill if I see him/her walking by or asking if I need anything. I don't expect that s/he'll notice and do it without having to be asked. Some people don't necessarily want their glasses to be refilled without a server asking first, so I see nothing wrong with mentioning it.

                              As for the meal taking a long time, just because the bartender looked busy doesn't mean you can't ask what's going on. Sometimes a server will put in an order for a main course after the appetizer comes out, and that could explain the time delay in this case if the main course order was put in after a rush of customers. There's no need to be rude/snippy with anyone if you don't like confrontation. It's easy to ask innocently why you're still waiting for your appetizer 15 minutes after ordering. That'll also give you a chance to let the bartender know that you don't have much time and need to be out quickly.

                            2. I don't believe in leaving less than 15% tip under any circumstances. If the service is poor enough to warrant a failure to tip at the minimum acceptable rate then you have a duty to speak with the manager during the meal so that the problem can be addressed.

                              On the other hand I would not have waited that long to be served unless I were engrossed in conversation or some work. Next time, let your feet do the talking.

                              1. What did you say in the email?

                                Did you imply that you'd be willing to go back if they could shape up/apologize? Or did you imply that you won't be going back regardless?

                                6 Replies
                                1. re: Dave MP

                                  I want to weigh in on the side of those who say, "Communicate!" That being said, the last time I had a truly "off-putting" experience, I wrote a very nice letter, offering the owner/manager the benefit of my experience. I received a great letter, with a coupon for dinner entrees for two. I was so proud of myself for not having retreated and handled it in a childish way--lose/lose; but was a caring adult, win/win. It became a truly joyous experience. Alas, the second trip was not noticeably better, and there were two of us to laugh about it all.

                                  1. re: Dave MP

                                    The e-mail was polite and constructive. I told them I'd heard very good things about the food, which I found to be true, and then laid out my case in a fairly matter-of-fact manner.

                                    Still no reply. They don't care. And, as I said before, I was angry at myself for not being more assertive. However, I'm pretty certain it wouldn't have done me much good to say anything anyhow, if they don't even reply to constructive mail like mine.

                                    It's OK. There are scores of other places with staffs that give two cents within walking distance. As I ask more people, I'm discovering mine was hardly a unique experience there.

                                    1. re: dmd_kc

                                      The bartender has nothing to do with whomever is reading the email. Had you said something to him fairly early in the meal, I'm sure it would have improved things a bit.

                                      1. re: dmd_kc

                                        so where was this?

                                        1. re: LaLa

                                          I'm not going to name it because I don't like to slam places on a message board.

                                          1. re: dmd_kc

                                            I thought one of the reasons for the board was to tout the good/great places and pan the poor ones. I think you do all the folks who take the time to read your post a real disservice by not telling us where a problem exists. I'd urge you to reconsider your dislike of naming restaurants that have not lived up to normal expectations and share that with the rest of us.