Chronicles of trading in Corporate America for a waitress's apron during my very own quarter-life crisis.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Just tell me.

This is a great talk segment featuring veteran food servers, some current and some former.  A few work in fine dining, and some work in dive bars.  They discuss what it’s like serving customers in a restaurant, and I can relate to everything they're saying.  I recognize a couple of the people on this Q&A from their blogs.  And then at the end, they press a duck, and the end result looks amaaaazing.  So I want some duck with sauce simmered in cognac and grilled asparagus with hollandaise, like, right now.

One thing mentioned in the Q&A is something I’d like to write about today:  I need to know if your food tastes like shit, and I need you to let me fix it.

You would not believe the number of times I've gone to a table when they're two bites in with their meal to ask how everything is going, and one of them is like, "meh," but they won't let me do anything about it.

Me:  "I'm sorry, is there something wrong with your ribeye, sir?"
Customer:  "It's a little underdone.  But it's okay.  I can eat it."
Me:  "Are you sure?  I can have the kitchen put it on the grill a bit longer."
Customer:  "No, it's okay.  I can deal with it."
Me, again:  "... are you sure?

Dear Customer: 
Dining out is supposed to be a good experience, not something you have to "deal with."  I want to make things as fantastic as possible for you.  Because I can't afford to go out to eat very much myself, I try to assume the same of others and make sure they have a good time with good food.  Don't be afraid to hurt my feelings, because I'm not the one that cooked it.  It isn't rude to complain or send food back to the kitchen, depending on how you do it (this will suffice: "My steak is a bit too rare, could you please have them cook it longer?  Thank you," or "I'm sorry, I thought I said no onions... could I get this remade, please?"), and no, we're not going to spit on it if you do (this isn't the movies), unless our employees feel like getting fired and/or arrested.  

You've just made me extremely nervous about the tip that I'm going to get from you, because you put a problem that I could've resolved officially out of my control.  Plus, now I have the added stress of knowing I have a customer who isn't truly enjoying his meal -- believe it or not, that really sucks for me, not only because I want you to have a good experience, but also because now I'm going to spend the next hour subconsciously trying to make it up to you and wondering if I should get a manager about a meal you refuse to be happy with.  


Another pet peeve is when I ask the table how everything is, and they say it's great, but they later complain to a manager that their pasta was too salty or some shit, and I of course get a crap tip.  Apparently, I'm supposed to be clairvoyant to all things culinary.  Do you want me to take a bite from your entrée before it leaves the kitchen, or am I to divine the quality of the dish by osmosis?  Don't pick out the tomatoes you didn't want -- TELL ME, and I'll get you a new dish in a matter of minutes.  How am I supposed to fix it if you don't tell me?

In my cubicle job, things like this didn't happen.  When you're a technical writer, your drafts end up back to your inbox with glaring signals of what you're doing wrong in the form of handwritten edits, usually in red pen.  There's no guess-work or confusion on what you need to do to correct something.  Faced with the anonymity of the sheet of paper and editing marks, people can really go wild with criticism.  With restaurant customers and the fact they know the server handles their food, it's much different... but it shouldn't be.


  1. so well said girl!!

    Basically, I am going to stand there and gently ask you question after question until I drag it out of you what is wrong. And I will explain to you that 'meh' is not good enough for me when you are paying $35+ (canadian $$!!!). Even if it is simply not what you expected, or you just don't like it but there is nothing wrong with it, I am going to do something about it. (there is a limit to what some establishments can/will do but keep in mind my resto is a pricey steak house with a strong reputation).

    If you stubbornly refuse to let me do anything about it, then the Chef will be visiting your table after dinner. Please don't ruin this experience for yourself, your dining partners, and our entire staff.

    It's always easy for us to fix. Unless of course you are just being a jerk....which by this point that conclusion will be drawn by everybody involved and probably nearby tables.
    We are in business to give you a GREAT experience. NOT a mediocre one. And we do know what we are please, let us do this.

    Thank you Susan for pointing out that we are not going to do anything to your food if you have to send it back. This is a total urban myth, and frankly insulting to all of us.

    I guess my rant comes down to this. We do this for a living. Regardless of whether or not you believe this to be a 'real job', it is most definitely a real job to us. One that takes passion, willingness to learn every day, thinking on your feet, and immense pride and satisfaction in a happy customer. Which is more than I think a lot of 'real jobs' provide and is pretty evident from the incredibly poor customer service that is rampant at all sorts of banks, telecom companies, high tech industry, medical field......hopefully you get my point.

    Really enjoying your blog updates every day before I head in to serve the masses....keep it up! cynthia

    1. Thank you Cynthia, and a resounding YES to everything in your comment. A lot of us *really do* care about the quality of a customer's service.

      (In all my years of food industry work, I've never once seen a customer's food get tampered with. I hate that myth so much.)

    2. Even though when I worked as a server, it was not my career, I never tampered with food and I always wanted to make customers happy, even when sometimes I also wanted to strangle them. If I tell you the coconut soup is extremely good,but spicy. And you say "ah I don't really eat spicy." Don't order it and complain. I told you twice it's spicy, and I gave you other non spicy great alternatives, so why? Why did you do that to yourself and to me? However now that I serve passengers on the plane, I have to laugh when they complain and DEMAND a fresh salad instead of the reheated chicken and rice in front of them or ask me to make something for them ... People I am 30 000 feet in the air, there is no farmer'a market and no fresh garden in the cargo area, just your bags. Great article! And sorry my comment is so long -:)