The Insane Waiter

Running wild on customers, chefs, owners and managers since 1997. I bring to you, The Insane Waiter. What do bring to your table? A crisp bottle of San Pellegrino ? Perhaps a lovely seared Sashimi Tuna? Start off with a wonderful bottle from Tuscany perhaps? Why I'll be more than happy to bring you your White Zinfandel and Chicken Caesar. No you can't order the mac and cheese off the kids menu and sorry no, we don't serve cheese sticks....

Friday, August 03, 2007

What to do?

All right, I’m going to answer this one because the exact situation happened at a restaurant I worked at a few years back…

“Related topic: I'd like to know -from your perspective - what I should have done in this story.Location: upscale steakhouse near Hartford, CT. Price: Apps, Drinks, Entree's, Desert & tip ~ $120 for 2 people

My wife got a babysitter and went out to celebrate something or other. Since we were dropping $25 on the babysitter and $100+ for dinner, we only do this every couple of months. Hey - living in New England is expensive! Anyway, we go to one of our favorite restaurants. It is a nice steakhouse near Hartford, CT. You do occasionally see kids there, but mostly it is couples or groups. Anyway, we are about 30 minutes into our meal (steaks had just arrived) when the FIRE ALARM starts going off. The assistant manager (I think) comes around and tells everyone that it's ok, it was just a malfunction but they have to wait for the fire department to arrive. He then opens some of the emergency exit doors. Now it is early April and about 45 degrees outside. The draft from the outside air is starting to feel cold (my wife puts her coat back on) and the FIRE ALARM IS STILL GOING OFF. They do no evacuate the building (it was just a malfunction, he said). After 20 minutes of trying eat and have a conversation with my wife (with the FIRE ALARM STILL GOING OFF!), I give up and we put on our coats and go outside to the patio to get away from the noise. After about 10 minutes on the patio, the fire trucks show up and 2 minutes later the alarm is off.

We go back inside and finish our (now cold) meal. The assistant manager comes by again and closes the doors and offers a personal apology, but nothing more. How should I have handled it?If I get an actual response, I'll let you know what I did.Thanks!”

First off tip the server still, regardless of what the manager did or did not do.

Secondly, the manager sounds like an idiot. Open the doors when it is cold out? Its bad enough that there are sirens blaring. I don’t understand why he would open the doors if it was just a malfunction.

As far as the alarm still going off, most businesses don’t have the option of turning alarms off, either security, the police or fire department have the ability, surely for insurance/legal reasons.

It has nothing to do with turning off the alarm from the inside, you pretty much have to wait for the authorities to show up.

So after all of that, the restaurant has a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation. Pretty much at an upscale restaurant you will be dropping minimum $50 a head, before tip. If the management comps everyone in the house not only will that cost thousands of dollars, it could cost him his job. If there is no compensation they risk having every customer in the joint not returning. The old management saying that goes a dissatisfied customer will tell ten friends and they won’t patronize the business could be applied as well, though I think that one is mostly bullshit in the company manual.

On the other hand you do deserve compensation for the inconvenience. I have always been a proponent of compensation that can guarantee the return of a customer and not a straight out comp, such as free drinks next time or a free appetizer on your next visit, something along those line. In this case compensation on your current visit seems in order. I would do a combination of both.

If I was a manager in this case I would personally visit any tables that I could and authorize my
staff to grant 50% discounts on entrees and appetizers, that way the business could at least cover product cost or defray the cost at the very least. As well I would personally hand out my business card to each table and apologize, on the back of the card I would sign my name grant some kind of discount/free item for the next visit.

That way the guest is covered and feels all warm and toasty about a manager sucking up to them and the business is covered as far as any loss and the customer is more likely to have a return visit.

As far as what happened at my restaurant, the alarm went off for about five minutes, we were mostly empty due to a holiday weekend and most customers were fairly understanding. Except for one.

They were a name dropping friend of the owner and decided they were the owner by proxy.

They demanded the manager pay for everyone in the restaurant and set them up with drinks (They weren’t even eating, just having cocktails).

Management promptly ignored their demands and stated that our management, not they, were in charge and would decide on the proper response.

Name droppers threatened to tell their good friend, but like most name droppers they didn’t do shit.

We bought drinks for each table and all was good, name droppers sulked in front of their pink martinis and weren’t comped shit.


At 9:05 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the response. I brought this up because it still sticks in my craw (so to speak) after 2 years.

What I did do: I asked my server for AT LEAST a desert comp. He then went to ask the manager, and I guess they approved. I thought that they would have pre-approved something like that, and I was surprised/disappointed that he even had to ask (maybe it was policy?). Anyway, I tipped the server 20% (hey, he did the best he could under the circumstances - and if I did anything less, I wouldn't be bringing it up on your blog!!!!). But the fact that I had to ask for it made me feel like crap. It is probably only the second time that I have asked for a comp in my life. I realize it was a crappy situation for everyone involved. I really didn't expect them to comp the meal, but at least offering an free drink or free desert or discount on next meal or SOMETHING without me having to ask for it would have gone a long way in my book.

As it was, I got a whopping $6 off a $100 meal. The food was good (as usual), but I left the restaurant pissed off because of both the situation and how management handled it. I didn't go back for over a year.

Post Script on opening the emergency doors: It may have been required by policy and/or law. Personally, I thought it seemed a little smoky and they were trying to air it out. I think the malfunction was a kitchen vent and not the alarm itself, but I have no way of knowing for sure.

At 1:18 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know in Pennsylvania if an alarm is going off you -must- evacuate the building, even if it's a "false" alarm - there could be something burning in the walls, in the basement, etc. The restaurant manager could have been fined thousands of dollars for letting everyone stay in the building; after all he did potentially put dozens of people's lives in jeopardy.

As far as your dining experience went, I think Insane Waiter here has the right idea - immediately discount the meal you're currently eating, and offer an incentive to come back, -without- you having to ask for it!

I'd recommend you let the owner (if you can contact him/her) know about this experience and how dissatisfied you were with the way things were handled. Don't mention that you -want- or that you had asked for any comps, just that you had an unpleasant experience and felt that you weren't treated as a valued customer.

If they are appalled at how you were treated and offer compensation, then continue giving them your business.

If he/she says that's how the managers are supposed to handle things or otherwise neglect to sympathize with your situation, then find another steakhouse to go to.

Simply put, without your business they couldn't operate, and they should be happy to offer some incentive to keep you coming back. However, if they are more concerned with the bottom dollar, then they probably aren't the type of establishment you'd really want to spend your hard earned money at anyway. Who knows what else they do to keep the costs down! Buying sub-par ingredients, using food that is out of date, god knows what. Just something to think about!

At 4:07 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Everyone should be self employed and own a restaurant for at least one full month just to see what it takes to make a payroll happen. Depending on the time of the month or year that one night might be the make or break for that Restaurant. With that said a little chat with the guest can let them know whats going on, and they may need to spread some comps around to show that their in tune with whats going on. Sign up now at
I own it .com

At 9:37 PM , Anonymous Anon #7 said...

I was running a restaurant in the middle of no where, middle of the Black Hills of South Dakota, USA, with the nearest town 30 miles away. It was a small place, so even though I was “manager”, I also spent six days on the floor, either cooking or bartending. I couldn’t handle waiting tables… 

We had a fun evening once: I was on the line, and noticed that the gas stove flames were acting weird. Then, the gas-powered flat-top grill started cooling down. Then the gas powered deep fryer started getting all funky.

I was aghast - I could only cook on the electric grill (steaks and such).

I was flipping steaks and burgers, and then trying to crawl under the fryer and stove, and then back to flipping steaks.

Finally, I went out to the propane tank: There was a _HUGE_ block of ice on the regulator. My understanding of the situation was this: We had gone from our normal humidity of 15% to a temporary weirdness of 60%. The expanding propane had cooled the regulator, and moisture had condensed on it (the block of ice), and somehow it was blocking the flow of gas. I hoped my diagnosis was correct.

I got the dishwasher to use a five gallon bucket of hot water to slowly remove the block of ice.

Keep in mind, the hot water was from a propane fired hot water heater, so that was now also in limited supply – That five gallons was probably about all that was left in the hot water heater.

Thankfully, his judicious use of hot water got the block of ice gone, and the flames on the fryer, flat top, and stove top started to come back to life.

I think I comped a few drinks, but thankfully, all of the customers were very understanding.

I have never been so happy to see a blue flame...

At 11:46 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would have left. You already had your coats on and were outside on the patio. Next stop Wendy's and call it a night.

At 1:00 PM , Anonymous Nana said...

I hate noisy restaurants...could never finish dinner there. Also wouldn't stay in a room with a fire alarm going, "just in case." I'd try to find the waiter and tip him/her...then I'd walk.

What kind of dining experience is this? Certainly not one I'd pay for! Five minutes...maybe. Twenty minutes...that's plain torture!

At 6:10 PM , Anonymous said...

I probably would have left as well, of course after tipping out the server and FINDING OUT FOR SURE if he/she would be responsible for the check (some places DO make dine/dashers the server's responsibility).
Again, being in the "business" I would have tracked down the manager and told him/her that I am not going to finish what is turning out to be a freezing cold scenario (us and the food), to comp my check, and then leave.
Now if management was smart, they would have automatically after just A COUPLE of minutes of this blaring and freezing cold weather, instructed the servers to tell their tables that what they had ordered up to that point would be 1) reordered and recooked for them OR 2) 50% off now or for a return visit.
There are some things in management now a days I don't quite understand. I am from the old school, where even if reservations or walk-in's had to wait more than 5 minutes for their table, a complimentary glass of wine (or soda for those that don't inbibe) would be given to them while they wait.
For management to have done nothing regarding their predicament for the customers should be brought up with the owners/corporate.
What ever happened to the saying: "If you enjoyed our food and service, tell several friends, if not tell us" ???!!!???

At 12:17 AM , Blogger briliantdonkey said...

Sounds about like I would have handled it(waiter's way not managements). Then again in this manager's defense, If this is any sort of a cooporate establishment his hands were likely pretty tied. The pencil pushers and bean counters(who often have never spent 4 minutes dealing with the public), make a lot of the policies and rules.


At 1:34 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Everything should have been:

Re-ordered and re-cooked. (if they order something more expensive the 2nd time, that's what they get charged for)


50% off food

Either way, the restaurant won't go broke and the guests should be pretty happy.

(unless said restaurants food costs are sky high, in which case they probably won't last long anyway.)

At 1:36 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

oh and.. the kitchen would be pissed about option #1, i'm sure.

but it sounds like they probably screwed up to cause the smoke alarms.

At 12:51 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

PLEASE...if you haven't already, address the issue of coupons/comped/discounted meals. If your meal is $100, no matter what your discount, YOU TIP ON THE FULL, ORIGINAL AMOUNT!

People having poor etiquette on this really piss me off.

TY :-) (Former server)


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