May it Please the Palate: Now that's what I call bad service

As a former waiter and bartender, I am an embarrassingly large tipper. I give 25-30 percent for excellent service, 20-25 percent for good service, and 15-20 percent for indifferent service. However, if the server tries to poison me, or chases me around the restaurant with a meat cleaver, I draw the line. In such cases, they are lucky to get 10-15 percent (clever poisoning plots are at the higher end of the scale).

Tonight was a good example. I was on the road, on one of my frequent litigation tours of Michigan, and decided to stop into a restaurant for dessert. Whereupon I ordered, and waited. And waited. And ... after about five to ten minutes, the server returned. Only to tell me they were out of what I ordered.

OK, fine, you could have told me earlier. No matter, bring hither your ballyhooed confection! I must drown my litigation sorrows with sugar!

Eventually dessert arrived, clattering on the counter with all the fanfare of a pennywhistle. And after all this anticipation, I was dumbfounded by its wanton, unredeemable mediocrity. With utmost resentment, I ate the entire thing. But I almost didn't, out of spite; and while I was eating, I also tried valiantly to signal my annoyance to staff with my furrowed countenance.

Upon finishing, I placed my credit card on the counter. Picture this: I was the only person sitting at the bar, which also trebled as the host stand, the place where the servers gathered to give orders to the staff, and the manager's station. I sat there almost palpably twiddling my thumbs, my orange credit card in stark relief to the granite countertop, my dark Greek eyes flashing impatience. Two feet away from me was the manager, polishing glassware. Next to him, the bartender filled drink orders. A server stood next to the bartender, watching him pour drinks, as intently as if he were riding a unicycle on a tightrope across the Grand Canyon.

Next to her stood another server, doing discernibly nothing --just standing there. And right behind this discernibly-doing-nothing server was the hostess, polishing silverware, avoiding my gaze as if she were an upperclassman at a high school dance.

Five employees, none further than five feet from me, sitting at the counter, studiously avoiding me, my empty bowl of mediocre dessert, and my orange credit card. For one minute, two, three, four, then five.

I thought about it. I came this close to "diner dashing." I stood up, I harrumphed, Someone finally noticed, and with faux joviality, boomed "How was everything tonight, sir?"

"Fine, thanks," I mumbled.

I left a dollar.

Nick Roumel is an attorney with Nacht, Roumel, Salvatore, Blanchard and Walker, P.C. He also has many years of varied restaurant and catering experience, has taught Greek cooking classes, and writes a food/restaurant column for "Current" magazine. He can be reached at: nroumel

Published: Thu, May 17, 2012