My Crummy Waitress: In Defense Of Poor Customer Service

My Crummy Waitress: In Defense Of Poor Customer Service

My crummy waitress isn’t amused by my endearing wit and simply writes my order down and moves on.

My crummy waitress forgets the butter on the toast.

My crummy waitress never brings the water I asked for so usually I have to flag down someone else’s waitress and beg her to spare a drop.

My crummy waitress looks utterly annoyed that I ask for extra napkins even though the ketchup is dripping down my chin.

Sound Like Someone Who You’ve Met Before?

When this happens, my first reaction is, “Doesn’t she know she works for tips?”

My second reaction is, “This is ridiculous. I’m not tipping her.”

But my last reaction is always to add 20% to the check, however egregious the service.

I mean, someone would have to get me pretty mad – like, break a baseball bat over my head and insult my haircut mad – before I’d be mean enough to cut their tip.

So what’s the deal? Am I independently wealthy with nothing better to do with my extra three bucks?

Am I Just A Sucker?

Actually… no.

And maybe.

But here’s the thing. Anyone who is in a service business knows how tough some days can be. You know how one aggravating, demanding client after another aggravating, demanding client can scorch your scones enough that by the time a nice, accommodating client comes around you don’t have anything left to give.

So I’m sympathetic to anyone who is off their game.

I also know that I don’t know everything.

I don’t know what kind of day my waitress is having. I don’t know how many people stiffed her out of a tip for having red hair or for forgetting the butter. I don’t know that she forgot the butter in the first place because she got some bad news that distracted her but had to show up for work anyway.

My waitress, maybe she’s just a bitch, right?

But maybe not.

And here’s another thing.

What if… a decent tip cheered my waitress up, and the next customer got better service, and everyone else had a better day?

What if… a crummy tip just compounded my waitress’ crummy day and things spiraled down for her and everyone else after that?

The world is full of what ifs. We’ll never be able to suppose them all. But I like to imagine that if we extend a kindness – even when it’s not earned – then we can have an ongoing positive impact on the world.

So I’ll never really know if my tip mattered. And no waitress will ever chase me down in the parking lot to thank me for my generous three bucks.

But maybe… just maybe… something somewhere in the world is a little better because of it.

In case you’re wondering, this has nothing to do with tipping a waitress, really. It has everything to do with stepping out of the center of the universe for a second and extending yourself to someone else. It could be in the form of money, or time, or attention, or a simple kind word.

It Could Be In The Form Of Patience.

Social media is loud. Like, squeeze your eyes shut and try not to peek at the train wreck loud.

And every day people lambaste other people and companies with all the wit and snark they can muster.

News stations love to quote mean tweets. Websites love to embed them. We delight in how cleverly we complain or make fun of someone, even if that someone is a faceless company.

But here’s yet another thing. Somewhere at the other end of that tweet or post or email address is actually a human being. One who may be having a good day or a bad day. One who is probably tasked with dealing with you and me and our snark but who has not set out with the sole intent of making our day miserable.

Last week I tried to sign up for a software service. It didn’t work. The website crashed, my form went into the ether and the experience was a huge irritation. So I did the rational thing. I shot off a terse email to the horrible human being who set out to ruin my day by creating such a miserable website experience.

The only problem was that I got a really nice, helpful reply back from a really nice, helpful human being who was tasked with dealing with me and my snark even though they had nothing to do with the broken website.

It’s not the first time I’ve gotten irritated at “a thing” and taken it out on a person. On the internet it’s very easy to do that. We can take our dissatisfaction with a service, a product or a situation and vent it wonderfully and cathartically without ever considering that we may actually be affecting another person.

But even the worst of the worst of the nameless, faceless corporations still have people working there at the other end of the tweets and emails and calls.

And in our space, the small business space, there is always a person at the other end who is probably pretty invested in the outcome of the transaction.

And they probably didn’t set out to make your day miserable, just like my waitress probably didn’t set out to ruin my breakfast.

We All Have Our Days.

Sometimes we’re cranky. Sometimes we’re preoccupied. Sometimes we make mistakes. We don’t deliver. We fail on our promises. We miss our targets. We forget the butter.

But those things are not the totality of us, nor are they the totality of the people we deal with, even though we may have been dropped into their lives at the absolute wrong time for them to make a good impression on us.

Sometimes you don’t know the whole story.

So let’s make a deal, you and I. I’ll be more mindful the next time some random thing irritates me and instead of lashing out at some random person I’ll send a nice email to customer service or make a pleasant phone call to resolve the issue.

And the next time your waitress stinks, you tip her 20% anyway.

Let’s make a deal to be kind, even when everything in our head is screaming otherwise. Maybe between us we can cut through the shrieking noise and be responsible for a more positive outcome.

What do you say?

Carol Lynn Rivera

Carol Lynn Rivera

I'm a business owner, content creator, podcaster and marketer. In 1999 I founded Rahvalor Interactive, a web and creative services production studio, with my husband and business partner Ralph. In 2011 we created Web.Search.Social, a consulting and marketing service line for small businesses. We also cohost the Web.Search.Social Podcast where we challenge the status quo of marketing and the Carbon Based Business Units podcast where we talk about the human side of being an entrepreneur. On any given day I wear the hat of project manager, consultant, social media manager and content marketer. My true passion is writing and in my spare time I'm busy planning my early retirement to Barcelona as a famous and wealthy novelist.
Carol Lynn Rivera
Carol Lynn Rivera
  • This was a great piece. I had a similar thought recently with my iPhone. I realized that whenever I was talking to a waiter/ess, I was usually staring at my phone. That probably contributed to their bad day. So I stopped doing that.

    • Glad to hear it, Ralph! Seems everyone’s head is pointing south these days. I call it “dipped chin” syndrome. Everywhere I go, people are staring down at screens. Eye-to-eye contact in public seems a thing of the past. 🙁

    • Does talking to your wife over the top of your phone count? I’m feeling a new post coming on… but it may not be what you think!

      • You can’t fool me, Carol Lynn! The title of your post will be “The Couple’s Guide to Titillating with Technology” 😉

  • “A Toast to Crummy Customer Service!”

    I ask for toast without butter
    What I get is buttered toast
    It’s sloppy customer service
    Not a time to smile or boast

    Give your crappy waitress a tip
    If your toast is black and burned
    Remember to show a kindness
    Even if a kindness isn’t earned

    Your breakfast has been ruined
    But keep this thought in mind
    We all have cranky crusty days
    So please remember to be kind

    In the bigger scheme of life, a crummy waitress isn’t so bad and you’ll probably survive. A crummy surgeon? That’s another story. 😉

    • Hm, I imagine a crummy surgeon is definitely a deal breaker. Or a crummy bus driver? I guess I can be patient about a lot of things (just not technology, lol) and try to remind myself that I never know the whole story. I have never been a waitress. And there is a damn good reason for that!!

      Love your poem, this is one of my faves! Of course they are all amazing but once in a while I get especially tickled 🙂

      • My first job? Waitress. In a local diner. I was 15. The joy of serving meals to the public (while making a whopping 70 cents per hour) was damn HARD work! People are really, really, REALLY picky when it comes to food. And sometimes little old ladies in their eighties stiff you for the check. I’m grateful for the experience but it’s the kind of work I hope I never have to do again!

        Glad my poem tickled you. Now I’m tickled. 🙂

        • True story: we went to a diner with a friend recently who told the waitress he wanted an omelet but it could not have ANY brown on it. So of course it comes out brown, because it’s an omelet. And it got sent back! But God bless her, she got them to make it not-brown. Kind of raw looking to be honest but yes, people can be rather particular in hilarious ways.

          • That’s like asking for french fries that aren’t fried or hot ice cream or fish that doesn’t taste fishy! People. They come in a variety of flavors, don’t they? 😉

            What your friend really wanted was steamed scrambled eggs, NOT an omelet. LOL

  • Indeed! Who knew you were so pop-ish 🙂 But absolutely true.

  • My daughter works at one of the busiest and most popular restaurants in downtown Athens. The town that is famous for housing one of the top ten party schools of all time because it has 100 bars within a mile of campus. Downtown, just off campus. Needless to say, she deals with drunks, all day and night. Now, as amazing as she may be, she has more bitch in her big toe than I have in my whole body. She is an amazing worker and a great server. Yet, I wonder daily how on earth she gets through a shift without snapping someones neck. I have seen that look in here eyes, that serious desire to kill someone, oftentimes me. I wonder when she is having a bad day how she is able to put it aside and deal with these people who are so difficult.

    I personally, have a good bit of patience and get really embarrassed if someone makes a scene in a restaurant. I happen to have people in my life that love to do so. I don’t blame a server for what is not her fault. I will immediately ask for management if it is not a problem they can fix and remove them from the equation. I feel that we are responsible for our own behavior, not anyone else’s and I have to look in the mirror later and face the fact that I was an asshole to someone when I should not have been if I act that way. There is enough kindness to go around… I think sometimes all people need is someone to let them know it is all going to be ok.. I have had those days and the last thing I needed was someone adding to it by treating me like crap or pointing out that I could not handle my job at the moment.

    • ” … she has more bitch in her big toe than I have in my whole body.” I’m definitely stealing that one, Tammie! 😉

    • I can’t even imagine! I would like the whole tip system to go away so people who work in these types on jobs could actually get paid livable wages. But I guess that’s a whole other conversation for MY inner bitch 🙂