Consumers Speak: Bad Waitress Prompts Epic Tale

A magical unicorn writes:

Last night, my boyfriend and I went to Macaroni Grill for dinner and, in the course of the evening, experienced the worst service either one of us had ever witnessed. My boyfriend used to wait tables, and as a result is usu ally a very lenient and understanding customer. Unfortunately, as a former waiter he is also quick to recognize when the server has done something wrong. In this case, something went wrong at literally every point of interaction between ourselves and our waiter; the service was so bad as to become the single point of conversation for almost the duration of our dinner. I apologize for the length of this comment, but I feel that it is necessary to get across the consistent nature of the terrible service.

We arrived and were shown to our table. No complaints there. We look over the menu, decide what we want to get, look over the menu some more, and discuss how my boyfriend has only been to Macaroni Grill one other time in his life (in Phoenix, Arizona; oddly enough, the service was memorably sub-par there as well, although it pales in comparison to this). After about 10-15 minutes, we realize that no waiter has come to our table, and that no one has even gotten us water. My boyfriend, thinking that maybe our waiter just doesn’t know that we’re there, goes up to speak with the host. He sits back down. Another 5 minutes pass.

And another 10 minutes will pass before you read everything after the jump.

A waiter shows up, introduces herself (I forget her name) and informs us that Sam will be our waiter for the evening and will be there shortly. There was never any explanation of why Sam wasn’t there from the beginning, or why no one has come to our table yet. Anonymous Waiter then proceeds to pour us a dish of olive oil and crack some pepper into it. She asks if she can get us some drinks, and we inform her that (unsurprisingly after 20 minutes) we are ready to order. We tell her we would like a liter of sangria, and that we’ll be splitting both the chicken Florentine salad with olives on the side (something I’ve ordered before with success), and the vodka rustica pasta. We also tell her that we’d like some water. Her manner is decidedly irritated, but we forgive her that since she’s probably annoyed at having to wait a table for which she won’t be receiving a tip. She leaves.

I go to the bathroom. While I’m gone, Sam arrives and introduces herself to my boyfriend (without explaining why no one came to our table for such a long time, or why we ended up ordering with Anonymous Waiter). She brings us foccacia, and asks if there’s anything we’d like. My boyfriend tells her we could use some water. She says sure. She asks if there’s anything else, and my boyfriend tells her “well, we already ordered
“She cuts him off, “Oh, I already got your order. The salad and the sangria. Right.” She leaves. I return, and my boyfriend and I discuss our day, having now shifted into the “post-ordering, pre-eating” part of the meal. We also discuss our worry that perhaps we won’t get our vodka rustica, as she didn’t mention it as part of our order.

She brings the sangria and our waters. She asks if we need anything else, to which we answer in the negative. She then asks, “How’s your day going so far?” We both say good, and appreciate the friendly gesture, but don’t engage her in further conversation since we were already in the midst of our own conversation when she came by the table. “Good?” she asks, we nod, and she stands at the table expectantly for a bit. Probably she thought we would ask how her day was going; probably, earlier in the meal, or after less-frustrating service, we would’ve. But we did not; we just smiled politely. She leaves.

Time passes. My water glass is only 1/3 full, and Sam passes our table with the water to refill the booth behind my boyfriend. She does not refill my water.

After a bit longer (not longer than I would normally expect to wait for food at a restaurant) Sam returns with our vodka rustica, plated separately. She says, “here you go,” and leaves. We’re a bit confused about the location of the salad at this point, but didn’t have the chance to process its absence in the brief period that Sam was with us. I point out that maybe she couldn’t carry both simultaneously and is returning with the other momentarily. This does not happen.

When our entrees are a little more than halfway through, Sam stops by to see how everything is. We ask about the salad. “Salad? What salad did you two order?” I respond by saying, “chicken Florentine with olives on the side.” She repeats this back to me, and walks off. Significantly, she does not explain what could’ve happened to the salad, why it wasn’t brought out earlier, etc. She returns with a chicken Florentine salad plated separately, and leaves again, after apologizing. We also order more bread. About two seconds later, I realize that there is no side of olives. Which is ominous. My boyfriend (who detests olives with a passion) notices that the salad has olives in it. We flag down Sam.

“I’m sorry, but this has olives in it,” I say, pointing at the salad. She looks at me blankly. “And we ordered it with olives on the side,” I prompt her. “You did?” she asks, with apparently no recollection of the fact that she repeated this very same order to me less than 5 minutes ago. At this point, my boyfriend and I are getting full, so we ask that she just take the salad off the check. She leaves with the salads.

About 2 minutes later the manager comes over. He apologizes for “our little chicken Florentine mixup that we had there” and asks if there’s anything we need. His attitude implies that we asked to see the manager, or that we have been problem customers in some way
which we certainly hadn’t been, at least for a reasonably competent waiter. We ask for more bread, since we clearly won’t be getting it from Sam, and he responds as though we’re getting something that doesn’t already come with the meal. He assures us that the salad we didn’t eat will be taken off our check. At no point did he explain how the “mixup” occurred, offer to get us a new salad on the house, or offer anything else.

Sam brings us more bread. My water glass is empty at this point, but she apparently does not notice. At some subsequent point in this course of events, Sam again walks past our table with the water
twice
to refill the booth behind my boyfriend. My water remains empty.

The check comes. The chicken Florentine salad is listed as a line item and the total comes to $38-something. We fail to see the part UNDER where it says “TOTAL: $38.XX”, which is also underneath the Mastercard logo on the credit card sleeve and thus tot ally obscured. On this section, the salad is listed as a “comp” and there is a new total listed of $29-something. Lacking both x-ray vision and the instinct to check for a second total underneath the part of the bill where the “total” is listed, we c all Sam back over and inform her that the chicken Florentine salad was still on our bill. She points out the real total (something she should’ve done initially) and my boyfriend gives her his credit card.

She comes back with the check, and gives an excessively long explanation of how to complete the transaction. “Just put your signature here and leave the top merchant copy with me. This is your receipt
” etc., as though my boyfriend has neither eaten in a restaurant nor used a credit card before. He takes the check from her and sets it on the table, as we still have a good 1/3 of our sangria left, and some bread.

About two minutes later, certainly less time than she was gone with the check initially, she comes back with my boyfriend’s credit card, saying she forgot to give it back. My boyfriend’s surprise at this, coupled with the fact that the check is sitting exactly where she left it last, should have indicated to her that he hadn’t actu ally signed yet. But it didn’t, and so she lunged for the check, asking if it was ready. My boyfriend informed her that it wasn’t.

After we’d finished the sangria and entertained ourselves by head-shakingly recounting the litany of errors that made up Sam’s attempt to wait our table, we left a one dollar tip and departed. As people who routinely tip 20% for good service and usu ally 15% for the mundanely bad, it takes a lot to shake our habitual generosity toward waitstaff. This was one instance where we simply couldn’t feel justified in leaving anything more.

Surely this isn’t the worst wait experience in the world. Who will top it?

Comments

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  1. billhelm says:

    Ordering with an “alternate” waiter was a mistake. Too many hands on the order.

    She was obviously a new, poorly trained server.

    Too bad for them, though I’ve experienced far worse than that.

  2. ValkRaider says:

    I am a former waiter as well, and am quite similar. I reward good service generously, but I notice bad service instantly and have no tolerance for customer abuse. We all know anyone can get busy, but it is all in how you deal with the customer.

    We had a similar experience at Rock Bottom Brewery in downtown Portland, Oregon.

    No need to describe the whole experience, but to say that it was abysmal.

    We merely rounded our check up to the next dollar and left that as a tip. We were a party of two, and the check was probably $25 or so, and the “tip” amounted to around 70 cents. He really didn’t deserve anything…

    We left the restaurant and as we were halfway down the street, the waiter comes running up to us and hands us the tip in change, and says “I don’t need your money.” and turns around and goes back inside.

    I promptly went back inside and got the manager. I told the manager what had happened. To the manager’s credit – he fired the waiter on the spot.

    Some people just don’t get what “service” means, and think that the “tip” is something they are due just by virtue of existing. I have left tips in excess of 25% on large tickets when I have been dazzled by service. And if mistakes happen, OK – no problem. Simply make it right and treat us well, and you will get a good tip.

    But morons and arseholes should not be wait staff.

    There are many many many great wait staff, and those all deserve the money they get, and should be tipped well.

    The funniest part is, when I was a waiter (for over 5 years) the crummy wait staff would always complain that they hated waiting because they never made good tips. They would pre-judge customers and neglect the ones they expected to give poor tips. Which then becomes a self fulfilling prophecy…

  3. CMPalmer says:

    Does anyone else just *hate* the concept of waiters memorizing your order instead of writing it down? Strangely, I’m never impressed when they get it right (as in, wow, you remembered everything correctly, you get an extra tip). Instead, I just cringe and worry because I’m sure they will screw it up.

    What restaurant and management training school decided that a written order was a bad idea? Maybe (just maybe) for a professional waiter at a an expensive bistro that prides itself on superior service, but who expects the Ruby Tuesday waitress who just started last Friday to remember four orders with strange exceptions and four drinks and an appetizer order? They *never* get it right…

  4. DeeJayQueue says:

    Tips are just that. Tips. It’s a way of saying, “Wow, I’m impressed with your level of service here and I think you deserve a little extra.” Sadly, it’s become almost expected to leave 15-20% even for average service.

    Good servers get 20%+ from me. Average servers get between 10-15% depending on the amount of the check, and poor servers get a Penny. Upside down on the table. This is my way of telling them that their service was poor. No tip at all and maybe I forgot to leave one, Round the change up to the next dollar and maybe I’m just a cheap bastard. A penny? That’s intentional, deliberate. A clear and decisive message to a server who needs to choose a better profession for him/herself. I try not to get management involved unless finances are, i.e. if the check is incorrect.

  5. tomdobb says:

    I was at an Iron Skillet with a friend who ordered the all you can eat soup. I don’t really remember what the soup costs, something like $5, but that was all the money he had and he had no intention of spending more. I didn’t order anything but water myself.

    Towards the end of the meal, my friend was getting up to go the bathroom and I asked if he would mind if I had some soup, he didn’t and while he was gone I had a few spoonfuls of soup and a cracker or two. While I was doing this I could hear our waitress talking to another server about me eating the soup. I was a little weirded out, but didn’t make anything of it, as we were leaving.

    When the check came, without explanation, the waitress had charged us for two soups. The restaurant apparently had a no sharing policy, which we never informed of, but was being enforced after I had eaten maybe a 1/8 a bowl of my friend’s soup. The waitress never said, “I’m sorry, sir, there is no sharing on all you can eat items” or whatever. Just charged us for the second soup without word.

    To pay for the other soup my friend had to withdrawl money from the restaurant ATM and pay whatever ridiculous service fee they charged. So, in protest, we left about 13 cents tip in pennies.

    The waitress came storming out of the restaurant and we told her that all her that if we hadnt been charged for the soup that would’ve been her tip, but, alas, after the unexpected expense there was only 13 cents left for tip. We never returned after that.

  6. Permanent4 says:

    There was one time many years ago where I went to a Bennigan’s, the host took us to our table and told us a waiter would be by shortly. No waiter came. 15 minutes passed, and we told another waiter that we were still waiting for service. 15 more minutes passed, no waiter. We got the manager. He apologized and said someone would be with us very soon. 10 more minutes passed, no waiter.

    We got up and left. On our way out, the host said, “Have a nice day.”

    So I gave him the finger. What would you do?

  7. ValkRaider says:

    The penny thing is correct.

    A bad tip with a solitary penny left tails up is a message “your service was poor”.

    A good tip with a solitary penny heads up is a message “your service was outstanding”.

    A solitary penny as the entire tip, tails up, is a message “get a different job, this is one of the worst experiences we have ever had”.

    Unfortunately, with our incident, all we had was a credit card and no penny.

    And of course, only maybe 1/10 of servers know this anymore anyway – most will just wonder why there is a penny, or think you just left it because you had it in your pocket and didn’t want it anymore.

  8. mrscolex says:

    There was an episode of third rock from the sun that tackled the tipping issue that I thought really warranted well.

    Put the tip on the table at the very beginning of the meal. Start with five dollars for an average meal and then each time the service is bad, deliberately pull a dollar from the stack. If they make up for the bad service, put the dollar back.

    Don’t blame me for being an a-hole.

  9. RandomHookup says:

    Dining out alone, I found a piece of glass in my salad and immediately brought it to the attention of the first waiter I saw (not wanting others to have the same problem). I was then left by myself for over 15 minutes with no food (the salad was my main course) and no one willing to talk to me or do anything. I finally went up to the host to ask what happens next… is someone going to ask me what I want instead of, etc. I had to beg them to serve me something or at least ask me how to correct the problem. It’s as if I were a leper because I found a problem.

  10. People Paula says:

    I love that this huge rant opens with “…my boyfriend and I went to Macaroni Grill…”

  11. Smoking Pope says:

    Big agreement on leaving a penny for a tip. A long, long time ago I was dining with some friends, and we had a waitress who would alternate between being inappropriately chummy and inordinately rude. It made for a very strange dining experience, made none better by the very poor service. So we left a penny to let her know that we didn’t forget her, we just didn’t care for the service.

    When we were getting in the car she ran out into the parking lot and threw the penny at us. No kidding. We probably could’ve gone back in and had her fired, but I was fine with knowing that we spoiled her evening much like she spoiled our meal.

  12. windowseat says:

    I’m with Paula here, it’s Macaroni Grill, not Balthazar. Macaroni Grill is chain that serves giant portions of pseudo-Italian food by paying the staff as little as is legally feasible. I don’t expect a waiter there to be stellar and if it had been me in this situation, I would have left when I hadn’t seen a waiter after sitting for 15 minutes.

  13. Kevin Meyers says:

    The Times has a great article today about what it’s like to be a waiter at a high-volume restaurant. No excuse for horrendous service, but still, doesn’t hurt to walk a mile…

    http://www.nytimes.com/2006/01/25/dining/25note.html

  14. flyover says:

    A few words.
    Always get a manager involved. Always. Leave a shite tip, fine, but that does not prevent that person from offering horrible service to every other person walking in that door. Of course, you’d have to care about more than yourselves to do that. And I realize, a competent manager should *notice* if you’re not being taken care of, but if s/he doesn’t, give a heads up! Before you’re storming out the door! Also, bad interactions with guests can give us the documentation we need to get rid of poor servers.
    Second, a “week as a waiter” really doesn’t give the experience any more than a week at any job will. Why didn’t he just interview those who make a living as servers to find out what it’s truly like living off tips?? It reminds me of an article I’d read in my old junior high newspaper. No wait, they’d actually ASK the principal what it’s like being one, rather than sitting behind the desk for a day.

  15. Kishi says:

    Tips should be an added perk for good service. Unfortunately, all too often, it’s a significant chunk of a waiter’s pay. Nothing like a voluntary mandatory gratuity, huh?

  16. The Unicorn says:

    Update: I got a response to my diatribe in the mail today — two $10 gift certificates. Obviously, this is why I wrote the letter in the first place (well, that & catharsis).

    It’s a pretty standard customer-service response, but it’s still good business. And aren’t you glad that the world’s longest restaurant-service accound has a happy ending?