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How would you deal with a noticeably "addled" server?

A friend and I dined at a notable restaurant a few weeks ago (which shall remain nameless, as the food is quite good and I believe the service usually is, too), and our server was clearly incapable of performing simple tasks. I'm not going to hazard a guess as to what, precisely, was going on behind the scenes. Suffice to say that orders went missing or were forgotten completely (or had to be repeated multiple times), conversation between diner and server was awkward to the point of discomfort, and we ultimately had to summon a manager to rescue us from said server's grasp.

I felt squeamish about "ratting out" a server, but after enduring two hours of thorough ineptitude, I couldn't think of anything else to do. I honestly believe that the server wasn't "firing on all cylinders," though I certainly didn't suggest this to the manager. I simply said that service was quite slow and would he mind helping to speed things along. This, of course, ended up being a bit awkward as our ex-server still caromed from surrounding table to table, giggling at us.

What would you have done?

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  1. I don't remember all the particulars but I had a waiter like that. I didn't take it for 2 hours but asked for the manager pretty quickly. I explained that I didn't know what the problem with the waiter was; maybe he didn't like my haircut.:). but could he find us another waiter. He complied. The original waiter came over later and apologized for his bad mood and that he had other issues going on that night. I told him no hard feelings and hope his evening had improved.

    1. I think I might scale my reaction to the cost and my expectations of the meal. If I'm shelling out at Menton-level prices, I'm hoping to get near-flawless service. If I'm at my local tavern, not so much.

      If it were apparent early on at a higher-end place that our server was drunk or otherwise impaired, I would probably speak to the host and asked to be reseated in another server's section. (I've also done this to get away from drunken / obnoxious / overly loud neighboring parties, fighting couples, too much perfume, the dude in my line of sight in the neon green wife-beater revealing copious armpit hair, etc.) The fighting-couples thing has happened so often that I wrote about it on my blog (the "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf in the Restaurant?" bit.)

      Hard to imagine this happening at a really fancy place, where there is generally a floor manager watching the servers and patrons closely, but not impossible. I've experienced plenty of ineptitude without suspecting that controlled substances were involved. As often, I think bad service is attributable to anemic training/experience (probably the most common problem), understaffing, shakedown-cruise problems (new menu, workflow not yet streamlined, etc.), the server having had a bad day, and occasionally, a server who simply doesn't belong in the hospitality business (another story I recounted here first, later in my "Terror Waiter" blog bit, which talks about the issue of dealing with bad service more broadly).

      It helps to understand that some issues are beyond the server's control and should be attributed to the kitchen, expediting, runners / back waiters, etc.


      3 Replies
      1. re: MC Slim JB

        In my instance, the server was not drinking alcohol or on drugs. Just rude and inhospitable. It was an "upper middle" type place. I wouldn't complain about a surly waitperson at Regina's or santarpio's for ex..actually I rarely get surly behavior at either place..if I do, it's part of the shtick. There are a few places in CTown where that type of service is common.,,no biggie.

        My local tavern, great service..:)

        I've asked to be moved at a table in the Cafe at #9...sitting next to a loud, well dressed and well lubed older gent and his wife, who couldn't quite get the concept of no ordering off dinner menu unless you are actually AT the bar. Waiter waited til 2 seats opened at the bar and moved us. Lot of laughs and wonderful meal.

        1. re: MC Slim JB

          This happens more often with bartenders than servers. The cause is usually the bartender having a drink with guests. Service is self-denial for bartender/servers and self-indulgence for guests.

          Servers are often fired for drunk/high work while it is often overlooked for bartenders.

          1. re: postemotional1

            wait, what? are you trying to say that most(I know you did not say all, but it seems like you are saying the majority at least. that it is common.) bartenders are in some state of inebriation while on the job!? Do I need to actually point out the ignorance in that statement?

            *FYI, I am and know personally, at least 100(probably much more) bartenders and I can vouch for the vast majority that we are not drinking on the job. If a patron buys us a drink, we say thank you and simply charge them for it and mark it down. Then we have the option of drinking it after our shift or taking the money. I can only speak for me, but I do about a 25/75 drink to cash out ratio since it tends to be 10-12 drinks on a busy night.

            *in states that it is illegal to drink on the job. which is most states.

        2. First reaction................ did you attempt to resolve it with the server first, as in "Seems like something's got you pre-occupied. I really don't want to have to ask for the manager, but........."? Also.............two hours is a long time to put up with really bad service. Kinda reinforces the behavior a bit...... no?

          I realize that confrontation can be awkward, but it could also give the server a chance to 'repent' and stay out of the dog house. You'd be the best judge of whether that would have been possible.

          4 Replies
          1. re: Midlife

            eeeee.... i'm respectfully thinking why is it the responsibility of the paying customer to have to figure out what is wrong with the server and how it might be resolved, and also have to hazard an uncomfortable moment. You're there to eat well, be treated right, no matter what, really, and you're paying top prices for that privilege, right?

            1. re: mariacarmen

              Well, it's called empathy. Worth at least one shot unless the server is outright rude. But that's just me, I guess.

              1. re: Midlife

                It sounds like the service was pretty bad. I am curious, and this is not snark: would you empathize with a chef that sent you, plain, old, terrible food? I don't mean that the chicken was a little over-cooked...I mean, BAD food.

                For instance, had the chef come to your table and had not realized that a "mistake" in the kitchen actually had made it's way to your table (from miscommunication)..and the apologized, and, as soon as possible, prepared for you something great.

                Sure, I could definitely empathize. But, if he responded with indignation..well, F*ck him.

                Here is my guess (and, this is only a guess): that waiter could not have cared less about how he was treating that table. In my experience, there is a big difference between someone spacing out, and just not caring.

                The one I can empathize with, the other I do not.

                1. re: DougRisk

                  I'm not going to defend either the server or my thoughts on this very much. I think I would have said something to the waiter BEFORE it got to the point it apparently did. I don't put up with rudeness or stupidity well. I just usually try to deal with the direct source first.

          2. I do not even accept 20 minutes of ineptitude. I immediately ask the MOD to switch servers. If no positive response, check, pay and leave with no tip.

            1. Good question Swankalicious. Once when I was working as the cashier at a Holiday Inn, a popular and well-liked waitress, Laura, showed up to work drunk. I was young and stayed out of it, but the hostess, a kind and mature lady, and the other waitresses, after watching Laura stumble and sway for a few minutes in the dining room (no customers had arrived for dinner yet), gently encouraged her to head back into the kitchen. Someone gave her a ride home. They might have called her husband or the pantry guy might have made a quick run. All this was done quietly and efficiently and the manager was told that Laura had to go home sick. Thank goodness the Innkeeper and his wife, who lived on site, didn't show up for an early dinner. She probably would have been fired. That cashier job was one of the best jobs I ever had, simply because the Innkeeper and his wife were so hated. The manager was none too popular either. Everyone watched each other's backs. So my take on the situation is that no one liked your server. Doesn't sound like that place has much team spirit. Times have changed I guess. Or something. I admire your patience, I would have found some excuse to bail.

              1. I have experienced addled servers, but never at a high end place. I think your strategy was good, although I am surprised that you bore with her for 2 hours! (Or was that a slight exaggeration?) :)

                If this was a place I frequented often, (And therefore a less expensive place, frankly) I'd probably try to bear with the server, unless she was outrageous or scary in some way. But when you have come to a really nice place, dressed up a bit, looked forward to being there, I'd want good service, and I expect one of us would address the matter with the manager sooner rather than later.

                However, I understand that servers don't get sick pay, and they are under pressure to work no matter what. So, if the person was sick, I'd try to understand, But I would be unhappy if a server's difficulties marred an expensive dinner.

                1 Reply
                1. re: sueatmo

                  I think your point about having less tolerance for poor (or addled) service at a high end dinner is well put. Once a long time ago we were at one of our local, inexpensive places and the waitress was in a foul mood. She had already displayed that for a couple of tables next to us and when she got to us with our food she snapped "Yes we have honey, but I don't know where in the hell it is so DON'T ask me for it!" My wife and I just stayed quiet until she left and then we quietly began laughing so much that tears came down our faces. It was like something out of Fawlty Towers.

                2. I once had a drunk diner waitress sit down at our table and start telling us about her daughter's health problems. That was...awkward.

                  Noticeably hungover servers at brunch is something I encounter a lot more. It can be a drag.

                  1. Swankalicious, It is very refreshing to hear how you handled this situation. I will use that exact line of " would he mind helping to speed things along" A lot of people are quick to dismiss or throw a server "under the bus"

                    In my experience there is either the lazy, rude server, in wich I will go out of my way to make an example. The other type is the unskilled frustrated server, in which I typcially let slide

                    1. Maybe the server forgot to take his meds?

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: beevod

                        ...or took today's dose, tomorrow's, and Saturday's as well.

                      2. I went to a local restaurant and ordered chili with beef tips.

                        Sever: "You want tacos?"

                        Me: "No. Chili with beef tips."

                        Server: "Enchiladas?"

                        I pick up the menu and put my finger on CHILI WITH BEEF TIPS.

                        Server: "Oh yes, chicken soup."

                        Me: "No. Chili with beef tips."

                        Server: "OK."

                        Server brings me hot tortilla wraps and says, "Order will be right out."

                        I flag down another server and say that I think my order is incorrect, because tortilla wraps don't come with chili.

                        2nd Server: "Oh yes. We now provide those with chili."

                        Seriously, how would I wrap up chili in a bowl?

                        2nd Server must have tipped off kitchen that it was chili I ordered.

                        Server one arrives with chili and a fork. This is a soup - really. There's no way to eat it with a fork or in the tortilla. So, I ask for a spoon which arrives 5 or 10 minutes later.

                        I would offer some advice, but I must say that I never figured that one out.

                        Teen son said: "Maybe the dishwashers are filling in tonight."

                        Maybe so.

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: CyndiA

                          i think the tortillas were for dipping

                          1. re: KaimukiMan

                            No. The chili soup actually comes with two packs of crackers.

                            1. re: KaimukiMan

                              I was thinking the same about the tortillas.

                              Cyndia-- I feel your pain on this one.. I went to my local Italian place and the new server keep calling all the pastas spaghetti ..... Took me 10 minutes and the manager to explain to the poor girl the difference between pastas hahah I still didnt get the correct one too lol

                              1. re: Augie6

                                Yes. The tortilla idea makes sense. I just knew how they served the chili both prior and after that order. I will always wonder what would have arrived at the table if I hadn't said something to server #2.