Dear Salty Waitress,
Do I have any recourse if my food order is taking an unreasonably long time? Can I just cancel our order, pay for our drinks, and leave? This is something I would only consider if there was a time restriction on my end and waiting for the food was putting me in danger of being late.
Places To Be
Dear Places To Be,
There is nothing that grinds my gears more than being rushed during a dinner out. You know, when the appetizer arrives two seconds after you ordered (did they have the plate just sitting back there?), then the entree shows up 5 minutes later.
But the opposite is even worse. You’re hangry, you’re on a schedule, and your food is totally AWOL. I’m going to assume you’re talking about a long delay at a sit-down restaurant, not a fast food or counter-order place. While your food won’t come out instantly, the lag shouldn’t be so long that you’re noticing the delay and busting out a book of crosswords.
Of course it depends on the exact restaurant, but if you’ve been sitting for 30 to 45 minutes and haven’t heard an update-apology from your server, I’d say it’s fair to leave money on the table for the drinks you had and walk out. But I would suggest you first try to flag down your server, stop by the host station, or talk to a manager before that; it will let the restaurant know why you’re leaving, and hopefully the staff will be apologetic and offer to comp your drinks or offer you a discount on a future meal. Best-case scenario, they can take the criticism and use it to improve.
I see how it might make you feel guilty if you find out your meal has already been “fired” by the server (meaning the kitchen is already cooking it). If you leave, the food might go to waste. But it’s not really your fault for not eating the food—look, I’m no ethicist, just a waitress who answers questions on the internet—it’s the restaurant’s fault for taking longer to serve your food than a normal person could reasonably expect.
Delays happen, though: The kitchen gets backed up, or there was a large party whose order came in right before yours, or your meal got overcooked and the kitchen has to start it over. But a server should update you, being honest that there’s going to be a delay. If that happens, you can ask up front how much time it’s going to take, especially if you mention you have somewhere else to be in whatever amount of time. Giving them a time frame—“I have to leave in 20 minutes”—would hopefully encourage them to be straight with you about whether your food will be done by then.
Oh, and if you sit down and a server doesn’t acknowledge you within five to 10 minutes, just go. I doubt the service is going to get any better from there.
Got a question about dining out etiquette? Or are you a server/bartender with a horror story the world needs to hear? Email us: email@example.com.