I Get Bad Service!

I’m staying at my parent’s house in the bucolic Pennsylvania countryside. Exhausted from the previous 110 work week I’m enjoying some recuperative the peace and quiet. Since I was working on Mother and Father’s Day I offer to take my parents out to dinner.

“Let’s go to restaurant XYZ,” my mother suggests.

I’ve eaten there before. The food’s good. My mouth waters at the memory of their excellent blue cheese encrusted filet mignon.

“Let’s go,” I say, “I’m hungry.”

Of course, everything’s a half hour’s drive away in the countryside. By the time we pull into the parking lot we’re starving. The restaurant’s housed in an elegant old building dating back to the Civil War. As I walk up the stairs I peek through the lace curtains and note the hand polished glasses and gleaming silver. The servers bustle purposefully about in their starched white shirts. Passing through the front door I take a deep breath and finally begin to relax. I’m looking forward to a martini, a good meal, and people waiting on me for a change.

We’re quickly seated at a nice table. My Dad and I discuss what kind of cocktails to get. We patiently wait for the waiter to come take out drink order.

And we wait.

And we wait.

After fifteen minutes our server finally appears. He apologizes for taking so long.

“Not a problem,” I murmur beatifically. My Dad orders a Scotch and soda. I ask for a Ketel One up with olives.

“I’ll be right back with your drinks,” the server says.

After fifteen minutes I despair of ever seeing my drink.

“Something’s wrong here,” I say.

“What do you mean?” my mother says fidgeting uncomfortably. She’s famished.

“In my restaurant you’d be on appetizers by now,” I grumble.

“Maybe the guy’s new?” my father suggests.

Before I can reply the waiter returns with our drinks. The vodka in my martini glass doesn’t even cover the olive. I reach out and touch the glass. It’s HOT.

“Can I take your order?” the waiter asks.

“Do you have any specials tonight?” I inquire politely.

“Oh I forgot,” the waiter replies. He launches into an exhaustive list.

As he’s reciting the specials I notice he has a southern accent with a faint trace of a speech impediment. He probably had a tough time as a kid. Years of speech therapy have worn down his disability till it’s barely noticeable. He has a shy vulnerable quality about him. I decide not to mention the sorry ass martini.

“Ok we need a few minutes,” I say, “but could you bring us some ice water and bread please?”

The waiter stares at me like I shot his dog. That stuff should have been on the table two minutes after we sat down.

After he delivers the bread and water we place our order: two appetizers, three salads, and three entrees. I get the Filet Mignon – medium.

“Thank you,” the waiter says. He goes off to God knows where.

I spoon some ice cubes into my martini. Dad and I start arguing politics. Mom talks about my brother’s wedding. Forty five minutes pass. No appetizers.

“Jesus, are the growing the food?” my Dad sighs.

“Something’s very wrong with this place,” I say, “appetizers shouldn’t take this long.” I look for my waiter but he’s disappeared like Jimmy Hoffa.

“Should we say something?” my mother asks.

“Why are you looking at me?” I say defensively.

“You’re the professional,” my Mom chides.

I get up and go over to the hostess stand. I catch a vibe from the other waiters. Something is wrong. My imagination runs riot. I have a vision of the chef passed out in the kitchen with a needle sticking out of his arm.

“Pardon me,” I say to the hostess, “is everything all right in the kitchen?”

“Everything’s fine,” the hostess replies a shade too quickly.

“Well,” I say looking at my watch, “we’ve been waiting almost an hour for our appetizers.”

“I’ll take care of it sir.”

“Thank you,” I reply courteously. “Could you ask the waiter to come by the table? I’d like to order another drink.”

“Of course sir.”

I sit back down. After a few minutes my waiter reappears. He looks stressed. “Another Ketel One sir?” he asks.

“Yes, but on the rocks this time.”

“Right away.”

The drink comes out quickly. “Are our appetizers almost ready?” I ask.

An “oh shit” expression crosses his face.

“I’ll see what’s the hold up is,” he says nervously.

We wait so long the ice cubes in my drink melt into thin slivers. Now I’m pissed.

“Maybe we should leave,” my mother says.

I look at my watch. It’s too late to go to another restaurant.

“Let’s stick it out,” I sigh.

Our waiter is committing the cardinal sin of food service. He’s hiding from the customer. Now I’ve screwed up tables. Sometimes our kitchen’s dropped the ball. But I don’t hide from the customers. I tell them the truth, give them free shit, and usually salvage their good time and my tip. The worst thing a waiter can do is keep the customer in the dark. They begin to imagine all sorts of horrors.

The waiter appears with our salads. They were supposed to come after the apps. No matter. It’s food. We wolf it down.

The apps appear. We eat them. They’re unremarkable. I hope the entrées are better.

After an interminable wait another server brings out our food. I realize the staff’s covering for our waiter. His other tables are complaining loudly. I’m glad it’s not just us.

Shaking my head I tuck into my steak. It’s cold and raw.

My parents’ entrée’s are fine. I don’t want to upset them so I push my dinner around the plate. I’m aggravated and two warm Ketel One’s are sloshing around my stomach.

After our plates are cleared the waiter sheepishly asks us if we want dessert on the house. That’s nice of him but I want to get home before sunup. I ask for the check.

“I’m really sorry sir,” the waiter says.

I think about how well some of my customers treated me when I made mistakes. Time to pass on the good karma.

“We all have bad days. Don’t worry about it,” I say.

“Thanks for understanding sir.”

The bill comes. My two drinks total EIGHTEEN dollars. Nothing was comped.

Screw Karma. I get up and find the manager.

“How was everything sir?” he asks.

I tell him.

“I’m so sorry,” he says.

Buddy if you were doing your job you would have nipped this problem in the bud hours ago.

“I want all the drinks taken off this check. Then I’ll pay it,” I say.

The manager returns with the adjusted check. I pay it out of sight of my parents. I go back to the table.

“We’re all set,” I say pulling some cash out of my wallet.

“Well thanks for dinner,” my mom says sweetly.

“Sorry the service was terrible,” my Dad adds.

“If the worst thing that ever happens to you is a bad meal you’re ahead of the game,” I say smiling.

I count out some bills. For the first time in a long time I want to leave the waiter nothing. But I have no idea what happened to him tonight. Maybe his wife left him. Maybe his dog died. Who knows? But my inner waiter won’t let me stiff him. I leave 18%.

On the way home I think about all the customers who’ve flipped out on me. I once had a man scream at me because a drop of wine fell on the tablecloth. I remember how a customer siced the cops on me once.

Maybe I was too nice; too forgiving.

But compared too many of my customers I’m Mahatma Gandhi.

The next night my parents take me out to dinner. The service and the food were excellent.

Thank God. Even Gandhi had his limits.


Comments

I Get Bad Service! — 5 Comments

  1. I’m bummed you never found out what the probem was. And, seriously, if the waiter was the problem, why wasn’t the manager doing what he could to cover for him? It’s just bad business to let the customers suffer.

  2. About a month ago I had a yen for Indian food, so we went to a place associated with an Indian grocery store where we had bought decent samosas previously.

    The place was less than half-full. There were staff(?) hanging around the hostess/reception area. There was a little kid who belonged to the restaurant orbiting between the hostess station and the coffee/condiment area right near the kitchen door. We were not in a big hurry. We brought our books to read.

    Twenty minutes later, someone took our order. People from other tables were in various stages of eating and leaving. Oh good! We’ll get our drinks and appetizers soon (the place didn’t serve alcohol and we’d ordered tea and soda – not the tea you complain about, but tea Asian style: a pot of hot liquid and two cups). Maybe they’re short-handed in the kitchen. We understand. We’ll be good patrons and give a tip anyway.

    Twenty minutes later, out comes a basket of papad, which we hadn’t ordered. Ok, this must be like when a Mexican place gives you chips and salsa. Um, could we please have some water? We are sitting next to the kitchen/coffee station and I can see several pitchers with like half-an-inch of water in each of them. The kid orbits by with some kind of coloring book to show its handler. Finally, we get some water. We finish the papad. “Your tea will be right out.”

    Twenty minutes later, we leave and go to Weathervane. It wasn’t what I had been in the mood for, and the table was sticky (I got a paper towel from the hostess and wiped it off myself), but the server was attentive and our food was timely.

    It’s too bad that the Indian restaurant didn’t know how to run itself. I bet the food would have been good.

  3. I live in an itty bitty town which is growing up very quickly. A few weeks ago we hit a real milestone: our first non-Chinese buffet Asian restaurant! Thai. Omigod nom. First chance I get I go for some takeout.

    Now, these guys are SWAMPED. Part of it is that they seem understaffed–the host is playing waiter and they only seemed (if I remember) to have one actual waiter–and part of it was the whole new-restaurant-in-a-small-town buzz of activity. They were handling it well, though, I thought; I really got the impression that they were cycling tables as quickly as they could.

    So I wait.

    And I wait.

    And I wait.

    Thirty minutes later they take my carryout order: Phad Thai and some crispy tofu. At this point I’m definitely committed; I’m not going to leave them hanging with unwanted food, even if I’m getting a little impatient.

    Thirty minutes later I get my food and I’m on my way. It was delicious and inexpensive, and I will definitely be going back once the new-restaurant novelty wears off, but I was there for an hour between setting foot in the door and getting my food.

    Clearly this isn’t as bad as what happened to you, but I think it also brings up the question of just how patient one should be.

    Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go explain to a couple of patrons that one is supposed to be quiet in a library. Why so many of them seem insulted when I do this is beyond me.

  4. My family and I went to Olive Garden one time, a big family of us, grandparents and Aunts and Uncles included. You think a big table like that would have given the staff some encouragement.

    We waited an hour for our table and we realized something was wrong when people who came in after us were being seated right away. It turned out the hostess had mistakenly crossed our name off the waiting list, thinking we had already been served.

    That was just the start of the evening.

    Our waiter was crap. We didn’t get our drinks for 20 minutes, people who came in after us had their entrees before our salads came.

    Finally when out entrees arrived ALL of our food was cold. I had pasta in a cream sauce that was congealed! We tried to find our waiter to bring our food back but he was missing. My Mom finally got up and went to the kitchen to flag someone from the staff down.

    The manager was nice though, he gave us a gift certificate to make up for the inconveniance. I’m not sure what my dad tipped the waiter though…I have a feeling it wasn’t much.

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