A few minutes into the meal, or closer to the end, a server always asks how everything is tasting. If the meal is so-so or not up to my liking, I never reveal the truth. Ninety-nine percent of the time I just say “fine” assuming that you don’t really care. Also, by telling you, it means my food may be taken away to be recooked or another will be made which results in the meal taking longer. So my question: When you ask how the meal tastes, do you care? Or is it just a reflex question?
Everything Is Fine
Dear Everything is Fine,
I think the answer here, for the vast majority of servers, is yes. We do want you to enjoy your meal. That means our tip will probably be better. We also don’t want to be associated with a garbage restaurant. We typically care about our colleagues in the kitchen, behind the bar and beyond. We want to be proud of our work, and even if you’re annoying, we want you to be happy (mostly so you leave us alone).
That said, you should let us know if your meal is no good. If your burger is undercooked (or overcooked), or if it’s just something you aren’t going to eat because it’s gross. Obviously, we will try to get you something else to eat quickly. If you’re in a rush, there’s not much we can do aside from discounting the meal.
But there is a pet peeve among myself and other servers when it comes to unsatisfied diners: When people eat the entire meal and then demand a refund.
If I’m really not into a meal, I’m not about to down the whole thing and then lick the plate clean unless it’s pizza—I can pretty much choke down any pizza unless it has a cauliflower crust. Get that abomination out of my face. It’s like putting sauce and cheese on a damp, mildewed dishrag.
Also, the type of restaurant you’re in matters here. If you’re at a neighborhood bar and grill and you scarfed a mediocre burger only to find yourself filled with self-loathing and Sysco Food Service cheese, what did you expect? That’s what you signed up for, kiddo.
However, if you dropped a pretty penny at a trendy new restaurant and couldn’t even get through the first course, you should quickly let your server know. Try something else. I think the worst case scenario here is waiting forever to tell your the server your meal is nasty, then being too rushed to get something else. It sort of ties our hands and we feel bad, you are hungry, and everyone is sad.
So, speak up! And if you’re dining with a friend or partner, ask for their opinion. They’ll likely give you an eye roll if they think you’re being unreasonable.
Oh, and here’s some unsolicited advice on how to avoid ordering something you’ll hate:
- Listen to your server before you order. Don’t interrupt them like an asshole. They’re likely trying to give you hints about certain menu items: “Do you like spicy food? Just a heads up it’s too spicy for some diners,” or “Our special tonight is this magical thing you should try before it’s off the menu.”
- Ask questions if you know you’re picky about certain things. I can’t do raw onions (sorry not sorry), so I tend to ask if there are raw onions on whatever I’m about to order so I don’t get all whiney when it arrives.
- If you’re torn between two menu items, ask your server what their pick would be. They eat this stuff all the time and know what’s solid and what’s skippable.
The bottom line is this: You’re paying for this meal and should be happy with it. Every meal isn’t going to be the best thing you’ve ever eaten, but if it’s something you don’t want to eat at all, tell someone about it. However, if you find yourself doing this a lot, it’s time to reassess: Is the endive salad too bitter—or is it just you?
Got a question about dining out etiquette? Or just a general question about life we can help you with? Email us: firstname.lastname@example.org