Saturday, May 5, 2012

My worst customer service experience

This week there was a Food Lush post on tipping and I found it fascinating. Most people said they leave 15% even if the service is horrible, which made me think of the one time we left no tip. Last month, when we went to St. Louis, we ate breakfast at the hotel one morning (there was no free breakfast). We walked into the restaurant around 9 and it was pretty dead. After a second, a waitress came over and started to seat us. While she was grabbing a high chair for Paul, another waitress came over and – right in front of us – said “It’s MY turn!” The first said “No, you got the last table!” “But you have that big table over there!” “You have the two tables over there!” They argued (in quiet-ish whispers) until the first waitress gave up.

The second waitress lead us to a table, took our order, and proceeded to ignore us for the rest of the meal. Thomas got the buffet, so all she had to bring to the table was my omelet. She never refilled our water, even though my glass was empty by the time the omelet came. She didn’t mention the buffet came with a free drink (we overheard the other waitress tell a different table when we were almost done). She spent almost every second with her eyes on the door, trying to grab more tables. The first waitress got the table after us, but the stealer took the two after that. I spent most of the meal with absolutely astonished at her unprofessionality.

I did try to rationalize her behavior in my mind: what if she’s a single mom trying to support her family on the tips from this almost-empty restaurant? (Though it hadn’t been empty earlier in the morning.) Still, would that justify stealing from the other waitress? Maybe SHE needed the money, too.

It took a while to flag her down to get the check. At that point we saw no reason to tip her – she’d given us horrible service and the other waitress should have been the one getting the tip anyway. Also, whether she desperately needs the income or not, why should she get a tip for being so unprofessional? I still feel rather guilty, though. Plus, we swore we’d go straight to the manager, but chickened out.

Should we have tipped her regardless? Is it only OK to not tip if you do go to the manager and explain why? Should we have gone to someone and asked how to tip the buffet restocker only? It's not fair whomever that was didn't get a tip because the waitress was so bad. We were just so stunned by her behavior we weren't thinking of things like that.


  1. I think it's okay not to tip in a case like this. She did not deserve a tip, I would not have left one. The only time I think you should not NOT tip is if the food is bad. In that case it isn't the server's fault, it is the kitchen's fault and you could/should have complained about it.

  2. I think it's reasonable to not tip in this case. I usually leave SOMETHING, but there was one time when we left what was equivalent to maybe 1% tip simply because we paid in cash and left the guy the change because he couldn't be found to take the check. We also tend to tip less if they combine poor service with cash-change in big bills only. (If the change on a bill should come to $7 and you give me a 5 and two 1s, you're only going to get the $2 even if the tip should have been 3 or 4. If you bring me a 10 and no ones, good luck.)

    No fun. Sorry you had such crappy service. If she needs money that badly, maybe she should look for another industry to get a job.

  3. Hi! I'm the one that wrote the Food Lush post.

    I think this is one of those lose-lose situations that you're just not going to walk away from feeling good about because there is no easy answer. She was unprofessional and her total lack of service doesn't deserve to be rewarded. But then there's everyone else to consider, who's also missing out on the tip (if she'd have fairly tipped them out anyway, which, yeah). I'd say, yes, you should've talked to the manager. But you know, sometimes you're just not in the mood for that.

    If it were me, I probably would've left 10% -- if only to ease my conscious and walk away from it without worrying too much afterward.

    Thanks for reading!