How to Solve All Your Food Service-Related Problems: A Local Guide

Illustration by Alicia Ekeler

As I write this PSA, I imagine myself standing at the podium at a televised conference for The Betterment of Human Interactions, promising a world where customers and service workers are finally on the same page. A symbiotic system of constructive feedback yielding a world where every guest leaves happy, and workers never cry in the broom closet.

Before we begin to drill down on the issues we often face as customers in a hospitality setting, I think it’s important to state the big-picture objective here: for everyone to be happy! We want you seated promptly, your servers to be kind but swift, your steak to be juicy, and for you to coyly order dessert because you are just feeling that good. The majority of workers under a restaurant’s roof strive to make sure that your experience is a great one.  It’s why we show up to work. Please keep this notion in your back pocket at all times and use it when the going gets tough.

A quick note about speaking to a manager: It’s our job to make sure everyone leaves content with their experience. I will always prefer having a conversation over reading a negative Yelp review when it’s too late for me to swoop in and save the day. When and if you would like to speak to a manager, it’s important to keep a level head and a kind tone. We want, and are happy, to help you. All of that said, let’s dig in.

The Problem: Your table isn’t ready on time.

Your reservation was at 6:00 p.m., but you are still waiting at 6:15 p.m. What gives? That’s very frustrating, especially if you skipped lunch.  Sometimes guests who had such a great time linger at their tables longer than anticipated. Trade secret: We allot a set amount of time for reservations. As much as we try to keep this rhythm all night, on occasion we run into the uncomfortable moment where no one is budging and we need those tables!

The Solution: Forgiveness and beer.

I know that response probably disappointed a few of you. Sometimes, we are stuck between a guest already having a good time and a guest who wants to have a good time. What better way to start forgiving us by washing down your sorrows with a pint? It’s also a good time to catch up with guests before having to focus on choosing appetizers.

When You Should Speak to a Manager: When your wait has exceeded 25 minutes.

Let them know how long you have been waiting and if it’s possible to be accommodated soon. At the very least, they should buy you a round of drinks. If they make you feel like a jerk for even asking, you may want to consider politely cancelling your reservation and trying a different restaurant.

The Problem: Your drink/food was not what you expected and you are not happy.

I always imagine a scenario where 12 people are all asked to imagine “Roast chicken with autumn vegetables.” They would all be so very different! A vision of a “Prickly Pear Margarita” can’t even be conjured by many people because, really, how often is one exposed to the nuances of a prickly pear? A menu gives us only a few words to go by and we rely on our imaginations to do the rest. But do we have to?

The Solution: Ask away!

What does a prickly pear taste like? What are the specific autumn vegetables that come with the chicken? What temperature would the chef recommend for my steak? Don’t be shy! For the classics that usually don’t require explanation, it doesn’t hurt to ask anyway (“Is the reuben sandwich traditional?”) to avoid any hidden curveballs.

When to Speak to a Manager: If your food is under/overcooked or inedible.

Do not hesitate to ask your server to send it back to the kitchen to have it fixed or replaced. You don’t even need to speak to a manager. You may have to wait a little while for your new plate while your guests enjoy theirs. It’s an excellent opportunity to learn who your true friends are (they’ll be the ones offering you their fries).

The Problem: Your server is not very good at their job, or worse, rude.

If your server is kind, knowledgeable, and charming, but is forgetting to bring items or just dropping the ball, they may be new or having a bad day. Remind them of what they forgot, or ask other servers in the vicinity for help. If the mistakes are too difficult to overlook or are killing the vibe, follow the solution steps below.

The Solution: Leave the table, find a manager.

Rude service is unacceptable.  Let me also tell you that rude people are generally not very good at receiving criticism. Find a manager and request to be assigned a different server. It’s not necessary to go into detail unless the manager asks. If you feel comfortable doing so, wait until the end of the meal to speak about the scenario or ask the manager for their email address to send a note later.

A note about defining “rudeness”: A professional server or bartender may not always be a cheerful person who asks how your great aunt Ruth is doing. They may not be able to remember you from last time you were there or want to answer personal questions about themselves. This is not rudeness. We are on the clock and we will do our best to deliver prompt service with a kind but professional demeanor. We implore you to resist the urge to interpret our focus as indifference.

Behind every success and every mistake are real people. We want you to enjoy the fortune of having friends and family to dine with. Be together, enjoy the moment, and find a way to laugh through the inevitable curveballs.

It’s never a bad resolution—whatever the time of year—to just be nice.

For a more concise TL;DR version of this information, please refer to this McSweeneys List.