Lexd's Blog

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Some words on food service March 2, 2010

Filed under: other,rant — lexd @ 4:51 pm
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I read a lot on the Internet. I read a lot of blogs, including Consumerist and Serious Eats, to name a couple.

A topic that comes up fairly regularly on both these sites is some aspect of food service/dining out. I usually have an opinion on these topics, having spent years in a variety of food service venues (chain to high-end dining).

Yesterday Consumerist posted a story from a reader who walked out on a $90 tab after a horrendous restaurant experience.

While I don’t think the reader and his party were justified in walking (more on that later), it was actually the comments section that struck a chord more than anything else. As I read comments from people who suggested anything other than speaking with the manager about adjusting the bill, not leaving a tip and then not coming back, I was shocked. One person said they responded to sub-par restaurant experiences by writing about their displeasure — on the table — in ketchup and mustard. Passive-aggressive, much?

Look, you have to consider who you are really punishing with your actions. Most of the time, you’re not making an impact with the entity that really matters: THE RESTAURANT.

  • No tip: This should mean you didn’t like the service. In nearly all of the restaurants I worked at, the servers don’t tip out the kitchen staff, so not tipping because you didn’t like the food accomplishes nothing. You not tipping only hurts the server … who usually has to tip out a certain percentage of their sales to the bartender, expo and bussers (not a certain percentage of their tips.)  If you didn’t like the food? Talk to your server or a manager.
  • Messing up the table, etc: The only person you are hurting here is the busser (maybe the server or hostess depending on how the restaurant is run). And really, most bussers I’ve worked with have been very nice, hardworking people. They haul ass because bussers are fairly easy to replace. A lot is asked of them, and their action is often required in less than 30 seconds. The manager and the owner certainly don’t clean the tables, and they’re often the ones making the decisions regarding how the restaurant is run. Why are you punishing the busser?
  • Filling out a comment card: I’m guilty of this one on the server side. If you fill this out and give it to anyone BUT a manager, it’s not getting there. Just sayin’.
  • Verbally abusing restaurant staff: You may scoff at this one and call me dramatic, but take your shenanigans elsewhere unless you’ve worked in a restaurant. It happens far more often than people think. While it’s never acceptable to say hurtful things to anyone, being mean or yelling at a server accomplishes nothing. Why? Besides the human instinct to avoid abuse, if you’ve reached this level, we already know we’re not getting a tip. Anything above basic service is wasted on your table. It’s not very fair, but it’s economically sound. 
  • Walking on a check: This is probably the most misguided retaliation method. As one person in the comments of the Consumerist article pointed out, the OP probably wasn’t hurting the restaurant with that move. He screwed the server big time, because servers are generally expected to cover walk-outs with their own money. Another commenter asks if this is legal — I have no idea. But it’s common practice. As they get tables, servers create “tables” on a POS (point of service) system where they input your orders, cash people out, etc. Those tables are under the server’s name. At the end of a shift, they are responsible for anything under their name. If you walk on that $90 tab? Yep, it’s still open under their name, and the restaurant holds them accountable. It sucks, and it’s why servers have been known to chase people out the door.

In closing, what should the OP at Consumerist have done? It may have been a pain in the ass, but get with the manager to get the check fixed. The manager may even have comped something (either to try and amend the situation, or just to get them out the door … sometimes the latter is just easier). If the manager didn’t handle the adjustment well, write a letter to the owner, or put a call in during a non-busy time (usually between 9 and 10, or between 3 and 4) to speak to the owner. Leave a bad review on Yelp, UrbanSpoon, whatever.

Just think about how far your actions actually go towards creating the change that you want.

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