Common Restaurant Complaint Number 1: “My server is so slow!”

Without question, this is the most common complaint heard in any restaurant anywhere in the world. To these customers, their drink, appetizer, meal, dessert, etc just doesn’t get to the table fast enough. This is a pandemic in the restaurant industry. On a busy night, a restaurant manager will field several of these complaints typically reducing the “victim’s” bill to compensate for the trouble. The question that begs to be answered is: WHY?

There are several reasons why service in a restaurant may not be as fast as you would like it to be. Let’s start with the most obvious first:
1) You are impatient.
American society is constantly moving. We work more hours as a society than just about anyone in the world. We consume massive amounts of caffeine. We are the birth place of “fast food” like McDonalds, Burger King, and Taco Bell. We need weather updates on the 9’s. We think diet pills are a good idea to speed weight loss despite their health effects. Generally speaking, we will not tolerate waiting for anything. We are allergic to lines, traffic jams, hold buttons, and dial up Internet access.
This same rule applies to restaurants and going out to eat. The restaurant I spent seven years working for had a number of benchmarks for service. The restaurant’s parent corporation engaged the services of a market research firm that asked people to outline acceptable amounts of time to wait for certain aspects of restaurant service. According to this research, that was to become corporate restaurant policy, customers liked being greeted in less than ninety seconds and served their drinks three minutes later. Appetizers should be on the table in seven minutes with entrees following eight minutes later. Twenty minutes after entrée service, the desert menu should be offered. Fifty-five minutes after the customer sat down, the check should be paid and the customer should be on his and her way. Research shows that this timetable should be escalated considerably for lunch. I am not making this up. This is what market research shows.

Having said all this, the first reason that service seems slow to many of you when you go out to eat is that you have grossly unreasonable expectations. The steakhouse I worked in offered 30 dollar meals. Do you really want to eat a 30 dollar steak in 55 minutes? According to market research, YES.
2) Some severs are terrible. Some servers are overwhelmed.
Another very real reason your service is slow may be that is that your server isn’t very good. Just like there are bad lawyers, teachers, and doctors, there are inefficient servers. The servers who make the most money from tips are the most efficient people you have ever seen. To be an effective server you must be able to instantly prioritize the tasks that must be completed. “Should I get this order’s salad first or that order’s drinks?” “Should I bring this order’s meal or make change for that table?” Good servers have an alarm clock in their head that goes off when a meal is taking too long or the bar is dragging on a drink order. Efficient servers need interpersonal skills to smooth over long meal times or improperly cooked food. Good servers are decisive, focused, and out in front of potential problems. They also have the ability to handle stressful situations in a positive way without resulting to throwing, breaking, or swearing at the closest object or individual. In other words, really good servers have the same qualities that any successful person you know would have.
How many people do you know like this? Perhaps a better question would be, how many people do you know who are not like this? These inefficient people that you know go on to hold many different jobs. Some of them will become servers.
The law of averages states that you will run into a truly inefficient or overwhelmed server eventually and chances are, they will take a lot longer to bring your food, drinks, etc than you are reasonably prepared to wait. Those of you who have experienced this situation, you have my sympathies.

3) The restaurant is overwhelmed or poorly run.
The server is the fall guy for the restaurant. Most of the time when you think your service is slow it is, more than likely, it’s not your server’s fault. You server may be guilty of inadequate interpersonal skills to explain the problem with your meal to you. However, most of the time, when your meal isn’t everything you hoped it would be, you should squarely blame the restaurant and not the person taking your order. How can this be?
As I have mentioned, the server is the most visible representative of the restaurant. Servers greet tables, take orders, deliver food, and handle payment for the meals. However, servers are only one component of the restaurant. Servers do not seat tables, clean tables, cook meals, or wash dishes. The bartenders, hosts, bus boys, cooks, prep cooks, dishwashers, and managers all make their own contribution to the speed of your service. The saying “you are only as good as your weakest link” is absolutely true in a restaurant. A server can only be as efficient as the least efficient person in these support positions. Management’s most important job in a restaurant is the hiring process. If managers hire efficient people, service will take care of itself. If managers hire poorly the restaurant will easily be overwhelmed by unexpected busy periods.
Have you ever had a dirty fork? Servers do not was dishes. Have you ever been unhappy with the wait to sit at a table? The seating process is completely out of the server’s realm of responsibility. Have you ever had a poorly made/weak alcoholic drink (that probably cost you $8)? The server did not pour that drink. Have you ever eaten at a restaurant that was out of something prominently featured on their menu? Like steak? Servers do not order food for the restaurant to prepare. This list could go on and on. Severs are simply the people who put it all together for the customer. Inefficient support staff contribute, in their own way, to the general quality and speed of service. Most of the time, when your “service is slow”, it has nothing to do with the server. You are simply eating in an overwhelmed or improperly run restaurant.
So, the next time you go out to eat and things are exactly the way you hoped they would be, stop to think about this top ten list. It is never as cut and dry as you may think

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