I have a lot of respect for waiters and waitresses who are good at their jobs, regardless of whether they work in a classy place or a diner. I show them my admiration with both verbal praise and generous gratuities. They put in a lot of hours, have to put up with all sorts of customers, deal with management that’s not always supportive, and hope at the end of the day they can take home enough in tips to supplement the meager base wages they’re paid. As with most occupations, the majority of people waiting on tables are okay at it, not particularly good or bad, but it’s the best and the worst that always draw our attention.
I’m very impressed by the ones who can take orders from several people at a table, with special requests from some, and get every detail right without writing anything down. Unfortunately, they’re in the minority and, frankly, I don’t lose respect for the ones who put pen to paper. Whatever it takes to avoid errors and potentially ruin a nice meal.
I’ve recently had encounters with two servers who were on the lower end of the quality spectrum.
One was a deli that we’d visited before and enjoyed outstanding service and food good enough that we returned there a few days later with friends. Unfortunately, the waitress this time was simply terrible. Yes, she was new, but that’s not a good enough reason to excuse the number of mistakes she made. Of the four of us, she got three orders wrong, even after coming back three times to ask about a side order. One of our friends asked for some extra dressing on the side that never appeared. On and on it went. This wasn’t a kitchen problem — it was all on her. Several times, our friends looked at us as if to ask, “What the hell do you like about this place?”
The other incident occurred yesterday at a restaurant I’ve patronized frequently because it has delicious omelets. I went there for lunch with my friend J. We should have known things were not going to go well when he ordered a cup of tea and she brought him a glass of iced tea. When that was settled, J asked her if there were any specials — basic information any good server should volunteer early on at every table. She replied that they had two omelet specials, which she read to us. One had mushrooms, spinach, and Swiss cheese, and the other had sausage, caramelized onions, and cheddar cheese. I told her I’d like the latter without the onions and was surprised when she replied I couldn’t do that because it’s all pre-made. I was so stunned by this I could only mutter something about needing another minute or two to peruse the menu.
As soon as she walked away, J asked, “What does she mean it’s all pre-made? That can’t be true. They don’t have an omelet with those ingredients ready to be heated up. We’ve been here before and ordered custom omelets, haven’t we?” I assured him we had, so when she came back, he asked if we could build our own omelets. She said, “Sure!” (as if my earlier request didn’t qualify for that option). As I wondered whether this woman had ever even been inside a restaurant before, I told her I wanted an omelet with only sausage and cheddar cheese, re-emphasizing no onions. She dutifully wrote it down, then added J’s omelet order to whatever she scribbled on her pad.
For about ten minutes, J and I caught up on life until the waitress reappeared with our food. When she put my omelet in front of me, I said it couldn’t be mine because it clearly had spinach inside and Swiss cheese oozing out the side. She replied, “But that’s what you ordered.” No, I told her, I wanted sausage and cheddar cheese, neither of which was inside this concoction. Remember, I had seen her write down my order, but apparently she was playing a game of operator between my lips and her hand, so the end result wasn’t even close to the original words. As she picked up the plate and returned to the kitchen, she managed an “Oh!”
Knowing how quickly cooked eggs will get cold, I told J to start on his omelet while I waited for mine. We went back to our conversation for about five minutes before the waitress returned and said, “Your food will be out in just a second.”
I hate the use of the word: “I’ll be with you in a second,” or “Hold on for a second,” or “This will only take a second.” Not, it won’t. Maybe it will be a minute or two, but there’s no chance things will change in a single second. Stop saying that!
Finally, a guy who looked like he might have been the kitchen manager (or expediter, as some restaurants call them) came out, put a new omelet down in front of me, confirmed that it was sausage and cheddar, and apologized profusely. I kinda nodded, checked the food to make sure it was right, thanked him, then dug in.
In each of these instances, I had a moral dilemma. Should I ask to see the manager and complain about the server’s incompetence? Doing so wouldn’t have made my service better, but it might have helped if the waitresses in question were better trained so other customers didn’t go through similar problems. At the very least, shouldn’t the person in charge know there’s a problem that’s made me unhappy as a consumer?
These women weren’t evil or spiteful, they were just bad at their jobs, so in the end, I decided against saying anything. I didn’t want to make waves, and figured these were isolated incidents that were irritating, but not so much that they completely ruined my experience. After all, the food — when prepared and delivered correctly — turned out to be terrific, and I won’t hesitate to return to both establishments.
I only hope whoever takes my order gets it right next time.