When Guests Complain.

(Photo: Jason Langer)
Here's an embarrassing scenario:

You're a waitress-one who prides herself on being a good one-one that listens, that connects, that doesn't get frazzled (or at least doesn't show it), and ultimately just provides impeccable services to all her tables. Always. Then one day, you show up to work--happy and ready for another night filled with serving and feeding the people, when your boss immediately asks you to talk, to "have a seat."

Uh oh.

(Panic. Fear. What did you do wrong???)

He goes on to tell you that he received a phone call.

(Ok. Definite panic. Definite fear. Wrong doing confirmed.)

A guest called and complained about your service. Not about the food, not about the restaurant in general. About you. *Your* service.

I know someone this happened to.

That someone was me. Last week.

Mind you, this is the first time in six years of waiting tables that I've ever had anyone call in and complain about my service (at least that I know of). Sure, there have been times in the past where I've been called out for certain things (when I first started out serving, for sure). And one time not too long ago, there was a woman who mentioned to my manager that I was "too chatty." However accurate that may be, I can't take complaints like that seriously. If you don't want me talk, don't ask me personal questions about my life. Just let me top off your lemonade and simply carry on as a waitress as I do and chatty crisis adverted.

In general, I haven't often gotten in any trouble. No sit downs & "you screwed up, kid", no "you're fired"s, no "you're suspended", no nothing. I've only been called into the principal's office once. It was in junior high and it was to be congratulated on a poem I wrote.

Needless to say, last week's sit down with my boss was a pretty traumatic moment in the life and career of a Punky cherub. Especially since it is a new job and I'm really trying to do everything, but disappoint and put my standards and executions in question.  It runs even deeper than that. Being the passionate person that I am, I take pride in all that I do. When I mess up, I don't just let others down, I let myself down. It was hard to sit there and hear things like, "You need to focus on being more engaging with your tables" and "when we hire around here, we aren't looking to hire people that are 'ordinary'. We want only the best."


As it turns out, this event of "bad service" occurred on a night that was crazy busy. Not to use that in my defense, but yeah, I do use that in my defense and I think it's perfectly acceptable. Sometimes, as servers, we do have a lot on our plate, more than what should be allowable (IMO), and what more can we do than just roll with the punches and hope for the best. I mean, honestly, if I could have skipped my turn in getting seated again that night, I would have, but there wasn't anyone else who could have taken those new tables anymore than I could. We got hit. Hard. All at once. As if having too many tables all at once wasn't enough, one of those tables was the waitress who trained me and her entire family, which couldn't have been anymore perfect on such a night, because I really got to show her how much I didn't know what to do (in reality, what I didn't have time to do), and that was enough to go home and be bummed out about as is. It came back to haunt me, naturally, with a hard list of all the things, "I missed" from said trainer, the following shift. Only before, the complaining guest on the phone.

Just all around great. The irony is that, on my way to work that gloomy day of harsh feedback, I was beaming with pride and satisfaction from having read a positive Yelp review that included my name in it. Ha. No joke. I guess it's really true what they say: you win some, you lose some.

There really were so many things I wanted to say when my boss was sitting there implying I was "ordinary" and lacked the ability to be "engaging". Among those things I wanted to say most was, "Wait, what????" But alas, all I could do in that moment was nod my head and finish the conversation off with a very meek "I'm sorry" coupled with an awkward slash forced smile. I was in such a state of shock, and honestly just very embarrassed. I went home sad. Sleep was lost, and some more sadness waited for me in the morning.

Being the confrontational person that I am, I went back into work the next day and this time, I asked my boss to take a seat. Having stayed up half the night thinking about what I wish I would have said in the moment of being talked to, I did just that. I said what I was too preoccupied with shock to push out. With lots of tears, mind you. Yes. However confrontational I am, that confrontation pretty much always comes with tears. I speak the truth often, but rest assured, my little voice is always shaking. I don't know if this is something I'll ever conquer, but at least I'm able to get my words out.. one way or another.

I told my boss point blank how disappointed and embarrassed I really was, and how hurtful it is to be thought of as just "ordinary." I explained to him that I do feel as though I am engaging with my tables, and though it is, in fact, recognized, it is a recognition that is usually delivered to me and me alone at my tables. And still, I will continue to try and do a better job. I explained to him how much the value of providing good service really means to me--even more than any good tip. And how the job is important to me. I feel happy and blessed to be a part of his team, and the last thing I want to do is put my standards of service and my position in question. Lastly, I thanked him for taking the time to talk to me and I let him know that any feedback whether good or bad, is taken to heart, always.

Thankfully, the boss was very gracious and compassionate in response to my thoughts and feelings, which was essential in moving forward in a healthy and productive manner. It felt good to get those things out. Am I still bummed out? A little bit, yeah, but at least my boss knows where I stand.

At the end of the day, things aren't always going to go according to plan. Not everyone is going to go home happy, not everyone is going to be as forgiving or understand what "too many tables at once" means, not everyone is going to share the same interpretation of what good service looks like, etc. On the flip side, I'm not going to always be able to provide the very best service to everyone all the time. I can try, and I do, trust me I really do--but a perfect set of circumstances isn't always there at my service. All I can do, is keeping working, keep smiling, and keep improving in any way possible. That's all anyone can do.

What about you? Have you ever received complaints on your service/performance on the job? How did you work through the disappointment and embarrassment? Do share.. it'll make me feel a whole lotssss better :)


  1. Good for you for speaking up and going back there with your head held high. I, too, cannot seem to have a conversation sans tears when it's an emotional one. Anger? I cry. Sad? I cry. Irritated? I cry. Frustrated? I cry.
    Sometimes it sucks, but oh well. Whaddya gonna do. We're emotional. Get over it.

    Keep up the good work! :)

    1. Ha, yes--us vaginas are just forever full of emotions constantly, huh. I just wish so badly for once (in very differing situations such as the one described in this post) I could tell someone exactly how I feel without breaking down into tears instantly. I just feel like I would be that much more bad ass, ya know! Thanks for the comment, Mish :)

  2. Great post. I've had my own business for 10 years and everything - good, bad and otherwise - starts and stops with me. It's so hard not to take the "bad" personally. There have been times where it's definitely been on me and I do my very best to make it right. But sometimes you just can't please the person and those are the most frustrating situations of all. I think you're to be commended for going back in to share your feelings with your boss and I'm sure, over time, the negative feedback will be just a small fraction of how your customers feel about you! :)

    1. Thanks for sharing your positive thoughts here, Sheri. It's hard to be an all around party pleaser, but similarly, it's hard not take the bad personally as well-just like you said.

  3. I once had a boss (in the corporate world) tell me that I was a terrible communicator, when my peer reviews from that same review all said things like "I appreciate how Jenny communicates so well". There were about 10 other things about me that he was completely wrong about. He and one other boss I had a few years before that helped me realize that bosses are completely wrong sometimes. Just because they're in authority over me does not mean that they are 1) knowledgeable, 2) watching or listening, or 3) smart. My advice to another friend with a boss who got things wrong a few weeks ago was: just wait. Bosses who aren't observant enough to know which of their staff are good and which aren't will not be around long. Just wait it out and that person will be gone before you are.

    1. Jenny! Blogher roomie what what! Thanks for stopping by :-)

      Though I have definitely had the kind of managers you speak of here in the past (the non-observant, not as knowledgeable kind), I don't think this is the case here with my current boss. It's a very small restaurant I'm working in now, and my boss is actually the chef and the only one working in the he usually never steps foot out into the dining room even once through any given shift, which makes it impossible for him to be observant of how any of us interact with the guests period. So I don't think that it's a matter of him not being observant, it's just a matter of one guest complaining and him not having opportunities to observe the positive and compare said incident to. I just got hit with one negative review is all it is, sucks... but I'm confident it won't happen again.

      And still, thanks for sharing your mind with me. I do agree with many of the points you have made as I have experienced similar things in past serving jobs. Looking forward to August!!

  4. Bless your heart. I would definitely have been crying too but it was so brave of you to speak up. And honestly, what kind of jerk CALLS A RESTAURANT to complain about the service? Someone who needs to get a life, I'd say. I was a waitress once. I remember when I was just starting out and some grouchy old man said, "You don't know what you're doing, do you?" This was at Cracker Barrel, where we were ALWAYS swamped and a good night was $35 in tips. Don't take it too much to heart. This was about them, not you.

    1. Thanks Leslie. Yeah, the worst part is, I was so busy that night, I can't even recall who it was or could have possibly been that complained. I usually can sense if I have a disgruntled table and am able to remedy the moodiness, if not at least kill them with so much kindness that they have no choice, but keep their opinions to themselves.

      In a situation like this, I'm so quick to just assume that the customer was/is in fact in the "right"...truly. I'm fully ready to take the blame and accept the fact that I probably messed up or really DIDN'T provide the best service. And still, I know that no matter what, I was trying my hardest, and the part where someone calls and complains because they maybe felt I wasn't working at my best, is the part that hurts. Try not to take it to heart, I know... but easier said, than done !


Your comments make my day! I read each and every one of them and try to deliver a response to as many as I can! Unless there's a discussion going, I will usually reach back to you via e-mail. Thank you for your willingness to speak and share your thoughts :) You is dope.