Readers say a mouthful about "When service goes south"

Whoa! Talk about a can of worms.

After reading "When restaurant service goes south" (Taste of the Town", Oct. 13), readers, in unprecedented number (200 the first day!), spoke their piece and vented their spleens. Responding with conviction, humor, passion and outrage, they let me know how they have handled bad service.

The catalyst for this conversation was a column in which I'd described two visits to the same bistro. The first, a disaster, involved a surly host, an uncomfortable table, a hasty retreat and my husband — who refuses to return to a restaurant where he's been treated rudely.

The second, an exceptional meal shared with a friend, featured a warm reception, a great table, a knowledgeable, attentive waiter and fabulous food — proving my theory that every restaurant deserves a second chance, right?

Wrong! said the vocal majority, who sided with my husband an astounding 10-to-1 and felt it their duty to describe, in vivid detail, service debacles at restaurants large and small. Many of them named names. In all, more than 75 restaurants were fingered for failing the good-service test. Among these were more than a dozen high-enders listed in the "Top Service" category of Seattle Zagat Survey. As for my survey, here are some excerpts (and for more, see additional comments from readers).

The readers speak

Service starts at the door, and I always hope for the best. But should the service "go south," the tip, my mood and my opinion quickly follow suit.
— Shawn Gleason

I've worked in restaurants, so I am aware of the dynamics of a given visit. I can forgive a busy server but not a snotty or forgetful one. I am more on your husband's side than yours.

You, as you have noted, have the paid luxury of visiting a restaurant more than once in order to give a fair review. But restaurants do not exist for critics alone. The rest of us have limited time and/or budgets, and an initial bad impression is enough to put me off a repeat visit.
Angela Dougherty

Eating out is entertainment, not a job. My husband and I reward good service with high tips, compliments to the manager and our return business. Poor service gets exactly the opposite. Why reward rudeness with more of our money or "out" time? Not only do we never return to places with rude servers, we also share our experiences with friends and colleagues in hope that they will also avoid that establishment.
Sandra Gheewala

Service is one's first encounter with a restaurant, and it establishes our attitude immediately. Unfortunately, bad service leaves a lasting impression that takes some doing to overcome. There are plenty of other choices out there. One remedy: Complain to the owner immediately. His or her response will tell you reams about what to expect next time.
— Michael Angelo Masi

As a society we are no longer "cared for" as we used to be. We have to pump our own gas, put our groceries in and out of our carts and search for a salesperson in the department stores, so when we dine out (not just "eat out," mind you) we want the experience to be pleasant and comfortable. We want to be pampered a bit, and we are willing to pay for it. "One strike and you're out" — no matter what the restaurant critic says.
— Noma Edwards

For me, it's not quite as simple as "So many strikes and you're out." Good or bad service is a matter of degree. I'll also cut a place some slack, within reason, if they're newly opened. Rudeness also ranks much higher on the felony scale than ineptitude.

My feeling is that if a problem is serious enough to warrant not coming back, it's serious enough to warrant talking to the manager. Then the restaurant lives or dies (with me) on how the manager handles it.
Andrew Buc

Despite all the other sterling qualities of that restaurant, one surly server caused you to leave. Shouldn't the owner or manager know that you had left, and why?
— Connie Manson

(Nancy Leson replies: Yes, indeed, and as a "civilian" I'd have said something. As a restaurant critic on the job and hoping to return incognito, I felt it was in my best interest not to make a stink. To our waitress' credit, she did ask if we were choosing to leave because of the table. We left because of the host's insufferable behavior; the badly positioned table was a secondary complaint.)

Life is too short, baby-sitters are too scarce, and there are too many other fine restaurants to justify suffering through bad service — even once.
— Piper M. Treuting

I am retired, on a limited budget and one of my joys is going out to eat superb food that I could not cook at home. Would I return if the service was poor? Absolutely not, even though I know that poor service could be just a one-time thing and not at all typical. The point is, I can't afford to see if it's typical or not — I don't want to waste one of my restaurant visits on the chance that the service will be lousy a second time.
— Joan Kotker

After reading your column I'm reminded of the old saying, "You only get one chance to make a good first impression." There's no substitute for good service and never an excuse for poor/insolent service.
— James Verplanck

Why do I willingly, even gratefully pay restaurant prices? For the SERVICE and the AMBIANCE! Mere "eating" becomes "dining" when the service is flawless, the surroundings are welcoming and the presentation is artistry. Otherwise, I'll do it myself at home, thank you.
— Rob Jacques

For good food, I'll tolerate a poor server, but I'll not be served by them again. My husband groans and winces frequently as I ask for another table (I have a great memory for faces, and the irritation caused by a poor server just reinforces that). I won't let a poor server deny me good food.
— Andrea A. Naert

With us, it is quite simple: If the service is slow because the staff is overextended and they're hustling and apologetic, we stay. If the service is poor because the staff is lazy or arrogant, we go.
— Mark Nelson

Guests like your husband take the fun out of the restaurant business. Can't he just relax and go out? He has already set up a restaurant for failure before he even gets there. It is nearly impossible and very labor intensive to make a guest like that happy. I assume your husband performs 100 percent perfection at his job every day.

As a 25-year professional veteran server that has worked in some very fine restaurants, I could write a book on bad and boorish guests. Everyone should work in a restaurant at least once in their life, so they may appreciate the good, the bad and the very ugly of the front and back of the house. (For more from food service professionals, see: Food servers can dish up their share of gripes, too (Sept. 1, 1999)
— Holly Donovan

Most of us don't dine out simply for convenience or hunger. We want a respite from our hectic lives full of encounters with demanding bosses, cranky customers and gridlock. If gracious, timely service doesn't reveal itself, Ciao, baby!
— Cecilia Matta

When I lived in Seattle and received bad service at a restaurant that had good food, I would give the restaurant a "timeout" — by not returning for six months or so. If the service and the food were bad and the prices over-rated I would never again step in such a place and would bad-mouth the establishment to all my friends!
— Jenny Benz

My restaurant credo is, "So many restaurants, too little time and money." The service doesn't have to be impeccable, but it does have to meet basic civility. If they can't get the basic service part right, they won't make money off of me.
— Tim Hinthorn

Nancy Leson: 206-464-8838 or More columns at