As a server, hearing the words “this is not what I ordered” from one of my customers never failed to turn my stomach inside out. I took my job as a waiter very seriously. Hearing these six little words guaranteed my customer was not happy. People pay a lot of money for their meals when they go out to eat. I always tried to keep my customers as happy as possible. Obviously, I had financial incentives to motivate me in this regard. Beyond tips, I also know how it feels to go to a restaurant and have your meal get completely screwed up. We have all there before. Most of us go out to eat when we have something, small or large, to celebrate. Whether it’s a birthday or anniversary or simply another day closer to retirement, going out to eat helps us celebrate these milestones. If our meal is not what we ordered it completely ruins the mood. Many customers are completely flummoxed at these moments. I’m not referring to those moments when your steak is underdone or your chicken is raw. I’m referring to the times when you order a chicken sandwich and receive lobster bisque. How does this happen?
In my experience there are two ways that the meal a customer orders differs from what appears on their plate.
1) The server is an idiot and/or is having a bad day.
I am not a server apologist. There are bad servers in this world who don’t belong in the profession just like there are bad politicians, police officers, teachers, and cashiers. Also, there are also moments when servers are under an extreme amount of pressure and your order falls through the cracks. I was always amazed at how bad the servers I worked with were at separating their personal lives from their jobs. Sometimes a bad day a server is having outside of work turns into a horrible day at work. Sometimes servers lose the piece of paper they wrote your order on. Rather then ask you what you wanted again and look foolish, the server guesses. To this point, occasionally you will run into a server who doesn’t write your order down, professing to have a wonderful memory. These servers always fascinated me in the sense that they allow their ego to get in the way of actually doing a good job. To many servers, not writing down orders is a badge of honor. They believe it shows how smart they are or how great their memory is. I was never one of those servers. In my opinion, it shows how irresponsible they are. When I get stressed as a server, what my customers are drinking or what they want on their salad goes in one ear and out the other. My mind is ten steps ahead of those small details. I’m thinking about how long table X’s food is taking or how I need to greet the three other tables in my section that were just sat, for example. Those are what I would call major details. How do I prevent screwing up your salad order or bringing you a Coke when you asked for water? I WRITE IT DOWN. Servers don’t have room for egos in their professional life. At any rate, this is one way in which the order you gave so clearly to your server is completely wrong when it arrives at your table.
2) You didn’t read the menu,
Honestly, this is much more common then reason one. Most of the time, the reason your order is incorrect is because you didn’t read the menu or you ordered the wrong item. After about seven years on the job, I realized that people don’t like to read, even menus. Ego again plays a role in this situation, except the customer is the guilty party. When a customer orders a meal that isn’t exactly what he/she thought it would be, it could go one of two ways. The customer realizes his or her mistake (usually after consulting a menu), swallows the appropriate amount of pride, and is apologetic for the error. In these situations I would do everything in my power to get the right food to the table. Reasonable people deserve to be treated reasonably. Or, the customer throws a fit, asks to see the manager, and complains about everything they can think of. This is where ego comes into play. Secretly, I believe these customers realize they ordered incorrectly. Unfortunately, by the time they realize they made a mistake, they are too far into the compliant process to own up to the error. There is a reason pride is a deadly sin. Customers who do this gamble with another person’s livelihood. Your complaint might be all a manager needs to fire a server on the spot. I’ve seen it happen. Your inability to read the menu may cost someone their job.
People deserve to have the food they order match the food that arrives at their table. I have all the sympathy in the world for customers who run into bad servers who let their ego get in the way of their job. However, those of you who refuse to read the menu and then cover up your mistake with angry words, complaints, and bluster probably get what you deserve.