Alex has spent the last couple of days recovering from ear infections in both ears; she is still sound asleep (at 9:30 am!) as I type this. Thankfully, our urgent care experience this weekend was loads better than our last: we had an appointment at noon on Saturday; the doctor saw us immediately; and I was pouring a spoonful of antibiotics down my child’s throat two hours later. The urgent care visit cost me $90, but it was a flat rate they told me about the minute I walked in the door, and there was no dealing with insurance issues (since the clinic doesn’t take insurance).
Yesterday, Alex was feeling well enough that we ventured up to Sonoma and one of our favorite restaurants, The Fremont Diner. By the time we arrived, it was about 1 pm, and we were hungry. Since the Diner normally serves an excellent meal, we didn’t mind waiting about fifteen minutes to get a seat…but then things went downhill.
Our waitress had five tables and the counter inside the restaurant to deal with, for a total of twenty to twenty-five customers (a number I could handle in my sleep when I waitress going on fifteen years ago). She walked past our table. Then, she walked past our table again. Then, she walked past our table another time. It took ten minutes and her walking back and forth past our table for her to pause and tell us that she would be with us in a minute. Five minutes later, she showed up to take her order.
We would’ve been willing to put up with this — after all, the waitress was clearly running around like a chicken with her head cut off. But then it took nearly thirty minutes for our food to arrive…and, when our food did come out, it was…not great.
Nick ordered the oyster poboy. His sandwich was cold (it shouldn’t have been) and soaked in dressing from the accompanying salad. My catfish was warm, but it and the two hushpuppies that came with my meal had also clearly been sitting in pickled onion juice for awhile. Did the kitchen plate Nick’s food too soon, before my food was cooked? Did our waitress not pick up our order as soon as it was ready? I have no idea, but by the time she rolled back around to our table, Nick had finished picking at his meal in disgust. Most of his food was still on the plate.
“It was pretty good, right?” the waitress asked Nick.
He showed extraordinary patience and only muttered in reply, “It was okay.”
He was finished with his food. His water glass was empty, and mine was nearly so. That didn’t matter; our waitress waltzed away without clearing a plate or offering to refill our water.
I told Nick to take Alex to the bathroom, and that I would take care of the check. They’d gone and come back by the time I finally got the bill, where I proceeded to leave a two-dollar tip on a thirty-dollar ticket and to write up our issues with the service and the food on the back of the credit card slip.
I always wonder if I judge restaurants too harshly. After all, I haven’t waited a table in ten years. But my thought is this: I know what it’s like to be a waitress. I know what it’s like to be a floor manager. I know what it’s like to be the liaison between hungry customers and a slow kitchen, and I know what it’s like to deal with customers who are impatient or in a bad mood or just plain dumb.
And, having had that experience, our waitress at The Fremont Diner did not make the cut. There was no excuse for her not stopping by our table immediately to tell us she would be by in a minute to take our order. There was no excuse for her not stopping by within a minute or two of her having delivered our food to ask how our meal was. There was no excuse for our water glasses to be empty, or nearly so. There was no excuse, after she saw Nick’s picked-over plate, for her not asking if something was wrong with his meal.
I like to tip well. I normally leave twenty percent. If a waiter or waitress knocks my socks off, I’ll leave more than that. I hate leaving the STD, or two-dollar tip, because I know wait staff survive on tips.
But I also refuse to reward someone for poor service. To me, as a former waitress, there are straightforward rules to getting a good tip: Be polite. Be prompt. Treat your customers the way you’d want to be treated in their place.
Besides our wacky waitress, my guess would be that there was something amiss in the kitchen at The Fremont Diner yesterday. I don’t know if they were understaffed or what, but we saw a couple of other incidents around the dining room where people either got their food after a very long wait, or flat-out didn’t get what they ordered at all. That’s a managerial problem right there. Nick thinks the kitchen is too small for the number of people the Diner tries to serve, and judging by what I’ve seen, I’m tempted to agree.
We’ve been to the Diner several times; we’ve raved about it to friends and family. We take the hour-and-a-half trip once a month from San Mateo just to eat at the place. All the same, after yesterday, I don’t know that we’ll go back. The food and the service just weren’t worth it.
What’s your take on this? Have you ever had such a terrible experience at a restaurant that you never went back? Do you think wait staff, management, or both should be held accountable for poor service?