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Tooting The Gluten

I always hoped that I would never have a story to tell you, mostly because it’s just plain embarrassing for me to witness a faux pas and also because I like to think that people are better than *that*.  However, what happened this weekend was just too boorish to not send in, in the hopes that people will learn by example and never, NEVER do this!

My husband, J, and I flew out to attend our friend N’s wedding in Missouri and were accompanied by N’s other friends C and K, who live close to us.  (The wedding was lovely, tasteful, full of wonderful people and has nothing to do with this story other than background.)  K, bless her heart, is gluten intolerant, VERY gluten intolerant and has to be exceptionally careful of what she eats or it becomes life-threatening.  For example, if something touches something containing gluten and then touches her food, she has a reaction; she’s THAT sensitive.  And K is very up front about using trigger words (allergic, gluten-free, etc) when placing orders at restaurants to keep herself safe.

So K, C, N, J and I go to this nice little independent sandwich/salad/pizza shop for dinner when we get in.  You order at the counter and then take a number to your seat and they bring your food to you.  Everyone orders.  Food’s great.  Everyone’s happy.  We decide to go there for breakfast the next day, especially because they have a gluten free menu for K.  Morning comes, we order, and K is careful to use her trigger words when ordering a gluten free omelet and we all go sit down to wait for our food.  The waiter (same guy who took our food up at the counter and whom I am naming B) comes and brings a meal for K that is definitely NOT gluten free.  There is an English Muffin sitting ON TOP OF her eggs, and granola in her fruit cup thingy, effectively ruining her food.

K politely tells the waiter, B, that she cannot eat this because of her allergy and asks him to remake it.  He says something to the effect of, “You can’t eat any of it?”, and she explains that no, she can’t because there is gluten touching her food.  He says “Sorry” and whisks the plate back to the kitchen.  A little short, but no real offense.  Not yet.

The waiter returns some time later with fresh food and C, K’s husband, asks if B was the manager (he was currently dressed in khaki’s and a navy polo, very different from what everyone else who worked at the restaurant wore).  B says no and why?

“I’m just a little upset that you took my wife’s order, you heard that she asked for gluten free, and you brought this,” says C.  “And you didn’t apologize for it.”

“I did apologize, I apologized for it when I took the food away!” protests B (which is true, I heard him).  “What do you want from me?” he continues, getting a little hot under the collar.  “Do you want a formal letter of apology?  Do you want a refund?”  (B is practically yelling at this point)

“Actually, yes, I would like a refund” C replies, still calm.  “I’m just upset because my wife can’t eat this kind of food.”

“Well, I brought her new food and I didn’t charge you for it and I’m going to get you a refund!” B storms off, but not before we hear him huff “jack****s” rather loudly in the aisle behind us.

I am MORTIFIED, Ms. Jeanne!  K is looking hurt, C is rather triumphant.  N and J are trading looks that say “We are NEVER coming back here AGAIN!”  And I can still see B at the counter, yelling back to one of the cooks in the back, gesturing angrily towards us.  Our group quietly finishes our food and scoots out of there rather quick.

Now, I admit that I think C pressed the issue a little too far, but B’s reaction (and towards a customer!) just about stunned me.  How could this kind of situation be addressed better?  How can one best defend one’s self against Rude Aliens from the Planet Booron without becoming one?   0912-11

For some added background, readers, I did confirm with the story writer that the meal K ordered was not the same as what she was given.   She did not order oatmeal or an English muffin.  Further, the waiter not only comped K’s meal but gave them a $15-20 gift card as well.

A considerable component of gracious manners is to know when to overlook an offense and to certainly not escalate the problem any further.      I’m going to lay the blame on C as the main Booron in this story for the following reasons:

1.  C presumed that the waiter had gotten the order wrong.   The waiter may have or he may not have.  Instead the kitchen staff may have not executed the order correctly.  So, taking an antagonistic approach to blame the waiter for the error when the evidence is not conclusive set up the scenario of the waiter not reacting well.

2.  While the waiter’s behavior in resolving the issue was not exceptionally tactful or gracious, he did promptly address the problem with a “Sorry”, replaced K’s food with something she could eat (and had actually ordered) and comped her meal.   Yes, it would be optimal for the waiter to have said, “I am so sorry for this error.  I take full responsibility. Please allow me to fix this for you,” but in a real world, one should be practically euphoric that a “sorry” crossed his lips so sometimes we have to take what we can get.  If we walk  through life expecting people to jump through our personal hoops for how it should be *exactly* done to our satisfaction, we will be consumed with critical frustration at the imperfection of humankind .  C made it clear that the manner in which the waiter resolved the problem was not up to his high standards and as he confronts the waiter, the scene is set for an epic etiquette failure by both.

3.   C was not content with a simple apology, fresh food and his wife’s meal comped.  For a gracious person, this would have been enough.   His wife is once again happy, they can finish a safe, gluten-free meal, and all is well with the world.   Well, not quite.  C wants something more.   I can’t speculate as to his motives but the description of the storywriter of C’s “triumphant” look suggests to me that his escalation was more about male ego and power than any real concern to address an injustice.   For pushing the issue, he gets a gift card which means he and his wife ate for free that morning. Was the triumphant look because he knew he had pushed the envelope and scored free food?

I’m sure many of you will object that the waiter was outrageously ill mannered.  There is not way to sugarcoat what he did….he was flat out wrong to go on a cursing rant.  But I also predict this would have *never* happened if C had not pushed for more.


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Katy September 27, 2011, 2:58 pm

    @Ashley- Yes, it’s the waiters job to place the order correctly, it’s the cook’s job to make the order correctly, and then it’s the waiter’s job to check to make sure it’s correct. However as someone who has worked in a couple restaurants (albeit fast food) I realize that during a rush sometimes special orders get messed up. Perhaps the person inputing the information hit the wrong button on the computer. Sometimes when I was on the line I went into ‘automatic mode’, espcially when I worked a Dairy Queen where I was required to remember orders and a group of 10 would give me theirs in bulk so I forgot that one person wanted carmel and fudge on their sundae. Mistakes happen, usually a ‘sorry, let me fix that for you’ is enough for people. When I worked in one place I was asked if anything on the menu was gluten-free, and that was the first time I had ever heard of gluten intolerance. I had no idea what had gluten and what didn’t, so I had to get my manager to handle that order. If a cook is used to slapping an english muffin on top of every omlette that goes out perhaps they didn’t even think about it. One cook may have made it and another, not knowing the special circumstance, may have put the muffin there because he thought that’s how every omlette goes out. And while the waiter should have checked perhaps he was just thinking ‘I have X, Y, Z, and an omlette going out to table whatever, and I have X, Y, Z and an omlette waiting to go out, so it’s good’. Things get forgotten in the rush of the day, and it’s no reason to act how C acted. I think he was just trying to get a free meal out of it.
    I’m not excusing B, but C was way worse.

  • Jenn50 September 27, 2011, 3:07 pm

    People who berate staff in a food service establishment would be well advised never to eat there again. I worked in food service for nearly a decade, and I can assure you that the less scrupulous staff definitely found ways to…retaliate. I certainly wouldn’t be using the gift card. This makes me think of Penny from the TV show “Big Bang Theory” when Sheldon comes to her restaurant after they’ve been fighting. “Here’s your burger, no sauce, no cheese, no bacon, lettuce on the side. Go ahead. Eat it. I DARE you.” It’s one thing to politely request that something be fixed. Most staff will gladly accommodate, but the second you raise your voice or get aggressive, you take a risk I wouldn’t be willing to take.

  • Lucy September 27, 2011, 3:33 pm

    I’m with admin on this. Yes, the waiter should have double-checked the first time (although I can see how this would get missed, especially if he’s serving several tables at once), and should not have gotten snippy, but C was a complete horse’s patootie.

    Frankly, I don’t understand why waitstaff (grocery checkers, customer service reps, etc.) don’t lose it and go on rampages more often: You’re held responsible for everything even though you don’t have total control over it. All the time. And my experience is that a lot of bosses don’t back up their staff on so-called establishment policies because they don’t want to deal with angry customers, either, so the low-level employees get the brunt of it. I was a gift-shop cashier briefly, and worked in the dining hall in college, and those were easy jobs by comparison, but my own classmates still treated me like a servant while I was working.

  • Another Laura September 27, 2011, 3:39 pm

    I only have minor food allergies, which can easily be avoided, and if I do happen to accidently eat the wrong thing all I get is a mild headache, so I don’t know if this would be appropriate. Could someone with a severe allergy or intollerance mention when they order “I will DIE if any gluten/milk/peanuts, etc touch my food. Can you promise me that won’t happen?” Maybe even suggest that they speak personally to anyone who will prepare/handle the food, and then tip generously if they follow through.

    Too dramatic? Too much trouble?

  • Twik September 27, 2011, 4:15 pm

    The mistake was serious, but this was a “sandwich/salad/pizza” place, where “you order at the counter and then take a number to your seat and they bring your food to you”. That makes it difficult for the waiter to be aware of who ordered what, since he may not have taken the initial order.

    The proper response was to say, “Sorry, but this isn’t what we ordered. Please replace it with what we wanted.” And the restaurant apparently did this, with reasonably good grace – no accusations that “this is what you ordered, fool.” The husband, though, seems to be one of those people who are never satisfied by an apology unless they are convinced you are so devastated by your offense that you will spend the rest of your life a broken person.

  • AnonMom September 27, 2011, 4:29 pm

    I think both C and the waiter handled this all wrong.

    I have food allergies and I have been served food I specifically said I was allergic to. I find that most of the time a simple explanation when the food arrives rectifies the situation without a fuss. There have been a couple of times where the waitress got argumentative and one time a manager even accused me of trying to get a free meal, when I kept saying “I intend to pay for my meal, I simply want X food item without Y food on it that I am allergic to.” Both waitress and manager were so nasty about it (and it was a clear and obvious mistake by kitchen staff as the food item added to my meal was something you “add on” to your meal and when asked about said item I said “No, I am allergic to that and cannot eat it.” ) that I swore to never return and I haven’t.

    Another time wait staff and management was extremely nasty to us was when we found larvae/bugs in our food. Instead of screaming and raising a fuss (like some would do) we quietly waived the waitress over to show her the obvious bugs in our food. She discreetly took away the plates and sent over the manager. Manager wanted to give us new food and I politely explained that we were not interested in more food and that we’d like to pay for our drinks and leave. The manager got belligerant about the fact we had eaten “a few bites off each plate!” before noticing the bugs. Therefore we should pay for part of the meals. I will admit my own hand in how the conversation went downhill from there, including my threat (promise) to call the health department to report them. I also raised my voice enough for other patrons to understand that we had found BUGS in our food and that is why we were trying to leave. I probably should not have done that, but they were threatening to call the police on us if we only paid for our drinks.

    Aside from a few incidents like what I’ve listed above, every other time there has been an issue with our food, in a restaurant, being courteous and understanding goes a long way towards getting the issue resolved without rudeness on anyone’s part.

  • --Lia September 27, 2011, 4:30 pm

    I owned a business once where the main part of my work was preparing food for people with special diets. For every customer who had a life threatening allergy or sensitivity, there were 2 others who would go on and on about how important it was to avoid x, then go ahead and eat x when it was convenient for them, not for me. I.e., they couldn’t have x in vegetables; they could have it in dessert.

    The OP asks how it could have been handled more graciously. Well, K could have stood up to her husband for one thing. I have a rule in my marriage that I stick up for my husband in public. I might tell him I thought he was wrong later, but I don’t make a fool of him when we’re out. That’s a good rule given that my husband is not normally an ass. In the situation described, however, if by some weird turn of events my husband was behaving so horribly, I think I would say “Oh, honey, it’s good of you to care so much, but really, it’s O.K. The omelette looks wonderful now. Let’s just eat.” And then to the waiter, “Thank you so much. You went out of your way. There’s no need to comp the meal. I’m happy now.” When I wrote earlier, I suggested that C should be divorced immediately. That was quick and flip of me, but at bottom, I believe it. When we’re dating, how our dates treat waitstaff is important. It’s no less important after we’re married. If C acts like that all the time, or even a lot of the time, it’s not enough to look hurt. That woman has to do something.

    Given that this is now a done deal, K can still write a letter of apology to the restaurant and enclose money for the waiter. The price of the comped meal might have come out of his pocket.

  • Cherry September 27, 2011, 4:33 pm

    @Ashley, do we know it was the waiters fault? He could have given the order to the cook exactly as it was described to him. The people in the kitchen were the ones who actually handled the food, it’s entirely possible they made the same dish several times in a row for several different people and forgot that one of the dishes was supposed to be gluten free.

    Assumptions that any errors are a waiter’s fault are a big part of the reason why a job as a waiter is stereotypically seen as Hell on Earth.

  • Yet Another Laura September 27, 2011, 4:45 pm

    Wow. Eating out shows who’s civilized and who’s boorish. I’m with the Admin. C is the most boorish of all. For one thing, the person who gets the wrong order is the one who should be dealing with it. I hate it when people take over for me when things like that happen to me. They almost always seem to blow it way out of proportion.

    I dislike mayonnaise and whenever I order a sandwich anywhere, I make a specific request for no mayonnaise. Mayonnaise can’t be easily removed without it getting into everything.

    A very long time ago, I was out with a large group and the server brought me a sandwich with everything. I politely asked for a replacement.

    After a long wait, the server brought back the same sandwich with the mayonnaise scraped off. Before I could calmly point out this was unacceptable, one of my friends grabbed my sandwich, leapt up, loudly stated that there was still mayonnaise on the sandwich and followed the poor server into the kitchen and made someone remake my sandwich. I was mortified. Then this friend said to the rest of the group that she was afraid I’d go off on the server, so she took over.

    I left the server a larger than normal tip on my separate check as an apology and warned this friend never to do that again as I was perfectly capable of dealing with the issue myself and what she did was a violation of the health code. Customers are not allowed in restaurant kitchens for a reason.

  • Sharon September 27, 2011, 5:04 pm

    While I do not think for one minute the waiter was right, I blame “C” for this situation.

    To me, there is a little more than meets the eye to “C” and his wife…
    I think deep in his little mind “C” is in reality angry and frustrated about dealing with his wife’s allergies. (He may not even realize this.) I can kind of understand his frustrations… once again, a meal has to be all about her “problem”. So, just when HIS food arrives… once again, everything has to stop while HER meal is sorted out.
    I know, I know… the wife cannot help her situation, she did not choose to have the ailment. The rest of us will do our best to accomodate them, but… mistakes happen. As the Admin points out, we live in an imperfect world and sometimes even the best laid plans can (and often DO) go awry.

  • acr September 27, 2011, 5:38 pm

    WOW. C was a HUGE JERK. I would bet money he bullies waiters and scores free food whenever possible.

  • Calliope September 27, 2011, 6:09 pm

    Reading this story, I found myself getting more and more irritated with C. The fact that he was described as both “calm” and “triumphant” tells me exactly what kind of customer he is.

    Years ago, when I worked retail, I had a customer complain, with painstaking calm, about the fact that our store was out of a popular item she’d wanted to purchase. I apologized for the inconvenience, but that was not enough; the customer proceeded to ever-so-calmly nitpick my apology. I tried again to apologize and be helpful, but no matter what I said or did, she found a problem with it and, in a tone of voice one might use when dealing with an unruly child, scolded me. This wasn’t a quick exchange, either; she was calmly informing me how poor I was at my job for a good three or four minutes, and the entire time, she had this look on her face that showed she was truly enjoying tormenting me. I’m ashamed to say that she pushed me to my breaking point, and in the end, I got a bit snippy. She responded with a smirk and a lilting, “You really need to work on your customer service skills, my dear.” This was almost ten years ago, and I still bristle when I think of it. The lesson learned was that some customers do set out to get a rise out of service workers. Since then, I’ve always made a point of deriving those customers the satisfaction of irritating me.

  • Calliope September 27, 2011, 6:10 pm

    Er, depriving. Not deriving.

  • Leslie Holman-Anderson September 27, 2011, 6:33 pm

    C, in my estimation, was a complete jackass, and while it was wrong of the waiter to let the party hear him say so, he was entirely justified in thinking so.

    I have numerous food intolerances — wheat and most of its relatives, most raw vegetables, chocolate (waaah!), carbonated drinks — the list gets longer and longer. And I have low blood sugar, so when I get the shakes I don’t have the luxury of searching for the right place to eat — I have to eat NOW. I’ve been extremely fortunate in finding places willing to accommodate my needs; even burger joints will give you your meal without the bun and lettuce if you simply tell them up front you need to eat but have some dietary restrictions, and could they possibly make your burger (or whatever) to order. They’re usually not only happy to do so but gracious, and in turn I tell their boss they need a raise.

  • Cordelia September 27, 2011, 7:52 pm

    B shouldn’t have started ranting, but I can’t blame him for being frustrated. He had been provoked and abused. C’s behavior was inexcusably rude and demeaning to him for making a simple mistake. Simply being *served* the meal caused no harm to his wife, because she could tell right away that there was a mistake and she couldn’t eat it.

    I feel sorry for K. What must it be like to be married to that man?

    If that had been me, I would have made him apologize to the waiter, paid for the correct meal that I ate, and left a normal tip. If the waiter hadn’t flown off the handle, I would have left a very large tip.

  • MidoriBird September 27, 2011, 9:48 pm

    Le sigh.

    I was just at McD’s a few hours ago and witnessed a transgression of the argumenative sort….order taker got the order wrong, customer raised voice slightly in protest (“Could I have this PLAIN please?”) and the order taker, instead of simply fixing the error, said “Your wife SAID she wanted cheese on it!” with the end result of the customer raising his voice further, andmonishing the order taker for starting an argument instead of just fixing his food, and the manager coming over and sharply admonishing the order taker as well for arguing back to a customer in a general no-no manner it isn’t polite or customer-friendly to do. I have worked with customers for fourteen years and all I could think of, as I plastered a blank smile on my face in witness to all of it, is the workplace is not the scene to exhibit angsty boorishness in response to a legitimate complaint. I overheard her say as I left with my own food she was sure she was going to get written up as well, after being scolded in front of the customer. There was no need for her to argue back. I’ve seen that type of customer many times and a quick fix and apology is usually all that is required.

  • Steph September 28, 2011, 1:49 am

    @Lia: As far as I know, it is illegal (in the USA) to make a server pay for a comped meal. Of course, that doesn’t mean the manager won’t try to make them pay, or just cut their hours, but legally they do not have to.

    The best thing my parents ever taught me was “If you want to know a person, see how they treat the help.” C sounds like he can be an awful person. Sharon’s theory doesn’t sound too bad to me.

  • Lady Macbeth September 28, 2011, 2:25 am

    @Lia, in response to your first paragraph, I would like to mention that my dad is lactose intolerant, but he can have milk in dishes that are cooked or baked over a certain temperature for a specific period of time (cream cheese is an exception, in that he cannot have it on its own or cooked/baked). So, in the instances of the customers you mentioned, it may have been that they could have consumed cooked/baked food items that they would normally be allergic to in a raw state and in no way intended to inconvenience you. The hardest thing to say to yourself – and then put into practice – when you work retail or customer service is “it has nothing to do with me,” as it is frequently the case that customers are bringing outside “baggage” to the transaction.

    Additionally, as another commentary on having certain ingredients left out one thing only to have it in another, I have to admit to being a relatively picky eater and consider myself to be a “supertaster” (though, as I’ve aged, I’ve tried and liked a slightly wider variety of foods). Often, both my taste buds and system tolerate processed foods better than raw foods, so for instance, I have less trouble digesting tomatoes in the form of pizza sauce or ketchup as opposed to raw (much to my chagrin, it is sometimes the case that I can stomach none of the above). Texture plays an important role in foods and food formulations for me, so that also may have been a consideration for your former customers.

  • Marna September 28, 2011, 5:53 am

    Does anyone else find it interesting that C only really hit the ceiling after ascertaining that B was not, indeed, the manager, i.e., someone who he could more realistically expect not to “fight back”? Not only is C obnoxious, he’s a coward.

  • Ally L September 28, 2011, 10:28 am

    Something very similar happened to my family this weekend when we were out at an Italian restaurant, except instead of gluten free, it was my dad’s lactose intolerance, and our waitress was awesome. She was able to explain the dishes that didn’t have any cheese baked in, and put in a special request for a no-cheese dish.

    Except that the pasta came out with parm grated on top of the whole thing.

    For us, everyone was calm, and my dad even realized that the plates were probably all lined up after being cooked and got hit with the cheese grater all together, and it was a personal slight on his taste buds. The dish was replaced, and all was well.

    @ Cherry, this was a place with a dedicated gluten free menu. It’s not that the special order was messed up, they were given the completely wrong dish. It’s like ordering #7 from the gluten free menu, and receiving #3 from the regular one. That is something the waiter should be expected to notice, and should have offered something a little bit better than a quick sorry and an angry rant.

    I think C is still mean for trying to push the waiter’s buttons, but rereading this a few days later, nothing he says is really all that bad, and to me doesn’t warrant the waiter’s explosive rant. As someone who’s worked in retail for far too long, I wouldn’t have enjoyed C’s comments, but it was easily forgetable until B lost his cool and argued back and snapped. Just ugliness all around.

  • Enna September 28, 2011, 10:35 am

    C’s attitude was all wrong – the waiter had apologised and it’s not the waiter’s fault if C didn’t hear. Alougth it was wrong for the waiter to swear. I do agree with admin, however I do disagree with Queenofallthings: if someone has a specific intolerance or allergry and there is a mistake in the meal ordered then it is only fair that there is at very least a free replacement. It goes for undercooked meat or any undercooked food for that matter as it can cause serious illness and in some cases death especially when it comes to undercooked meat and food allergies. Providing of course the person is reasonable and polite.

    I am a vegetarian so always order vegetarian food and thankfully have never been given meat by mistake, if I am I would politely point it out and ask for a replacement. When I was eating out once with my mum she had salad and notice there was a little catapiller on it. She told the waitress just to let her know, waitress offered her more salad Mum said no thanks. But then Mum noticed that there was a little catapiller on my salad. She then asked if she could talk to someone – she wasn’t demarnding free food just wanted them to be aware they had some really catapiller-ly salad. She even joked about me being vegetarian.

    When I was out once drinking with some firends, I asked for a vodka and coke and the barman got me something else, I said I had asked for vodka and coke and he said it was vodka and lemonade. As it was sill vodka I said “that’s fine.” as it was the same alochol – if it was say archers and lemonade I wouldn’t want to mix my drinks.

  • Shea September 28, 2011, 12:28 pm

    The restaurant handled the order issue well, if you ask me. The waiter apologized, went back and got the proper order and comped the meal.

    A few years ago I was at a restaurant and ordered a ham and cheese sandwich. After one bite I noticed that the cheese had many spots of blue mold on it. I flagged down the waitress and showed her the mold. She just said (in an annoyed tone), “Oh. Do you want another sandwich?” By this point my appetite was a bit ruined, so I said no, I’d just eat the salad I’d also ordered. When the bill came, the sandwich was on it. I again got the waitress and asked that the sandwich be taken off. She signed, rolled her eyes and went and got a new bill. Next to that, the way the waiter in the OP was a model of good service. C was horribly rude.

  • Calli Arcale September 28, 2011, 12:33 pm

    As far as food allergies/intolerances that can exist in one form but not another, I am allergic to raw citrus fruit. When I order iced tea, I always specify “no lemon” as clearly as possible, but in the hullaballoo, sometimes it still comes out with lemon on it, or in restaurants which serve water by default it might have a lemon slice floating in it, and I’ve never had any trouble getting it swapped. There was exactly one occasion ever when the waitress thought she could get away with merely removing the offending fruit, but as there were seeds in the glass, it was obvious. I did not get upset; I merely pointed out the seeds and informed her of the reason I couldn’t have the lemon. I still tipped, but henceforth made sure that if I had to request a do-over, I explained that it was due to an allergy. I actually like lemons; they’re delicious, and before I developed the allergy, I used to eat them straight. I miss lemons, and once in a while, I’ll get naughty, take a Benadryl, and go ahead and have lemon anyway.

    I tend not to mention the allergy right away because some restaurants will freak out if you do that and be unwilling to let you have ANYTHING with lemon in it, which is annoying because a) it’s a pretty mild allergy (more annoying than life threatening) and b) cooked citrus fruit is fine. My dad, meanwhile, gets serious stomach upset if he eats raw eggplant — but cooked eggplant is fine. And my husband cannot tolerate mushrooms (as he puts it, they “bounce”) except boiled.

  • --Lia September 28, 2011, 12:50 pm

    Lady Macbeth– I hear what you’re saying and am a little that way myself. I’ll eat eggs in baked goods but won’t touch them over easy or scrambled. For reasons I’ve never understood, underbaked flour in pancakes makes me sick, but the same ingredients in muffins are fine. But that wasn’t the situation with my customers. Most were terrific. It was the inconsistencies of the few that stick in my mind. I was both cook and counselor. I got to know these people as they explained their health limitations in detail. They’d tell me what their doctors had told them. Sometimes they’d go on and on impressing me on me how vitally important it was that they not eat something. I’d listen and take them seriously. Then they’d contradict themselves. I’m proud to say that I never insulted them or argued. I just listened, clarified, spent time on the phone with them, and tried to make them what they wanted. I do understand what it is to be allowed a little salt or a little sugar, just not in the amounts often served in restaurants. Part of me understood where they were coming from. If you’ve had people dismiss what you’ve said in the past, you get extra adamant in making sure you’re heard in the future. And it does happen that if you say that a little salt is O.K., the cook in the back will interpret that to mean that attention doesn’t need to be paid and that order can have the same tons of salt as the others. I realize that communication in this area can be tricky. For that reason, I’d recommend that restaurants have policies that say that while they’ll try to please, they can’t be held liable. They should explain that while they make every effort to please, they are cooking in a kitchen where a speck of flour could land on a plate. Customers should remember that too. If something is life threatening, do you really want to trust your life to a cook or server who might make a mistake?

  • Kendra September 28, 2011, 1:47 pm

    Maybe I’m reading this a little different than others. I agree that both B & C were out of line. The OP says that the guy who took the order was the same one who delivered the food. Maybe he should have noticed, but maybe it was a good thing for K that he didn’t. What if he had noticed that the english muffin was on what was supposed to be a glutein free dish. Maybe he would have just taken the muffin off and served the dish, not thinking anything of it, K would have eaten it not knowing that it was “contaminated” and maybe been very ill. At least this way, she was able to express how very important it was that no glutein come into contact with her food at any time. While I still think C was still in the wrong, the way I read it the waiter was the one who escalated the situation. C asked if waiter was manager, waiter asked why, and C said he was upset about mistake in wife’s order. Now, of course, mistake had been fixed so there really was no reason for C to complain, but it was the waiter who flew off the handle. When C accused waiter of not apologizing, that’s cue for K or OP to step in and say “yes, he did, we heard him”. However, that is when the waiter escalates the situation by getting “hot under the collar” and saying he did too apologize and what do you want from me, I’m not charging for fixing the order (well, of course they shouldn’t charge for fixing the mistake of bringing the wrong food), what do you want a refund…the waiter was the one who brought it up. And C, apparently being a bit of a bully, jumped all over it. So, both men acted horribly, but it was the waiter who pushed it over the top. C just pushed a couple of buttons, then sat back to enjoy the show, so no points to him either. If it wasn’t some sick mind game that C was playing on the waiter, and he really was concerned, the approriate thing for him to do would have been to ask to see the manager. When manager arrives, explain that wife ordered off their specifically glutein free menu and was brought a meal full of glutein. Now it has been fixed, just wanted manager to be aware that some people can get very ill when exposed to even the smallest amount of glutein, so kitchen should be aware how potentially dangerous the mistake they made that morning really was. I think that any establishment that advertises special dietary menus should be made aware when mistakes like that happen because it is a training and liability issue. Anyway, I cast both C and waiter into the pits of etiquette hell for making mountains out of molehills. May they enjoy each other’s roasting company for eternity.

  • Lady Macbeth September 28, 2011, 6:13 pm

    @Lia… It’s funny how most people as customers are indeed terrific, but there are some so nightmarish that notes are made within whatever organization you are working in as to warn you of their outlandish behavior. The odd thing about the few truly horrific customers is that, often and for reasons completely beyond my comprehension, they continue to patronize your establishment and exhibit the same behavior over and over again. They must be getting some sort of reward in doing so – i.e. perhaps upsetting a particular clerk (because a negative reaction on the part of a customer service person denotes an investment, which means the horrible customer is in control) or other good and perfectly well-behaved customers. I suspect its the latter, because if the person is a regular and easily recognized, the cashiers are better prepared to deal with his/her boorishness, whereas other customers are caught off guard by such a lack of decorum – and therein lies the reward.

    At the job I am currently in (a cashier at my local grocery co-op), there is a particular customer we have been warned about who likes to berate employees for scanning items too slowly or other customers if they take to long in line; for instance, if they have questions or want to write a check, he likes to verbally abuse them. Fortunately, I have yet to encounter him, but he is a repeat customer, so I’m sure I’ll run into him eventually (though, generally, if he is in the store, word gets around quickly among the employees, so we are hopefully prepared to deal with him by the time he reaches a line to check out).

    I am rather consistently and constantly puzzled by those who cannot behave themselves in public and simply practice the “golden rule” when they are interacting with people in service positions. It takes so little effort to be even mildly pleasant – or even simply neutral or not outright rude – that I’m mystified as to why more people can’t manage it. I am also rather amused by the inconsistencies one encounters in retail positions (as you mention, Lia, with some of your customers) and how frequently I just find myself smiling and nodding to whatever a customer has to say – whether I agree with their sentiments or not – simply to be polite.

  • --E September 28, 2011, 6:24 pm

    C is the sort of jerk who shouldn’t be allowed to eat in a restaurant until he’s worked in one.

    The waiter was wrong to get visibly angry about the situation, but I have a lot more sympathy for him than C. We’re not all at our best 24/7, and the waiter was working at a very difficult job, where he possibly had dealt with a bunch of other grief during his shift. C, on the other hand, was having breakfast. His behavior wasn’t that of a person cracking under stress–he was a bully, plain and simple.

  • WinkAndSmile September 29, 2011, 12:04 am

    I believe in tipping well, generally 20%. I also believe in tipping in advance, if I am going to cause any kind of hassle. For example, if I have a special request or dietary need, or am dining with a companion known for being uncoordinated at messy, giving a good tip in advance will certainly ease the tension with the waitstaff. They already know I’m not going to make them jump through hoops and then stiff them. If the service is particularly good and gracious, I may even tip more at the end of the meal. If I don’t foresee any particular special need, I’ll tip at the end, as usual.

    On rare occasions, tipping up front can backfire, as the server will decide he needn’t do anything to earn a tip, so he basically pockets the money and runs. That’s when it’s time to talk to the manager. But in my experience, this is rare. Most servers are quite pleased to see a generous tip up front, especially when accompanied by a cheerful smile and several “Thank yous,” throughout the dining event.

  • Swiftlytiltingplanet October 4, 2011, 12:36 am

    Several comments have mentioned that the waiter should check to make sure that the order is correct before the food is taken out, but – in the interest of getting food out more quickly – it’s becoming more and more common that the person who takes the order is not the same person that brings the food out. It’s entirely possible that the server that brought the food didn’t take the order and had no idea that it was wrong.

    Having been a server AND worked retail (why yes, I am a glutton for punishment), C sounds like the classic customer who is looking for something for nothing. Sadly, they usually get it.

  • Enna October 6, 2011, 11:01 am

    @ AnonMOm that was shocking, the manager threatened to call the police? If I was in that situation I would have “that’s a good way to waste police time, which is a crime.”

  • Another allergic person October 10, 2011, 1:06 pm

    I had a similar problem, Calli. I’m allergic to mayo – I don’t know specifically what it is in mayo that I have the problem with, because I’m fine with eggs, and fine with veg oil. The only thing I can think is that some mayos use mixed oils containing peanut oil, which I am deathly allergic to (as in, carrying an Epinephrine shot everywhere). Anyhow, I now avoid all mayo because it’s better that than take a chance and start to feel my throat closing up.

    I went to KFC one day, ordered a sandwich meal and specifically said, no mayo. When I sat down with my friend, I opened the bun and saw the lashings of mayo. So I took it back to the counter, politely said “Excuse me, but I asked for this without mayo as I have an allergy. Could I have the sandwich without the mayonnaise, please?
    So server goes back behind the counter out of sight, and reappears a minute later, hands me a box, and I go to sit down again. Only on checking this one (automatic habit, for reasons you can understand!) I find that rather than make a fresh sandwich, he simply scraped most of the mayo off the bun and slapped it back together again!
    At this point my friend went up, and promptly explained that unless they wanted to be ringing for the paramedics in about 30 seconds, he had better actually prepare a sandwich properly without mayo, or give us the money back for the meal. As it happens, the manager overheard and he got the refund AND the mayo-free burger!

    And Mcdonalds are just as bad – I once asked for a McChicken Sandwich without the mayo, and the mouthy sarcastic brat behind the counter made a snide remark along the lines of “Do you want that without chicken as well?” For a moment I was speechless, before I put my money back into my wallet, called the manager over and told him that if that was their attitude towards customers with food allergies, then I’d be taking my custom elsewhere. Not even an apology for that one!

    Makes me glad I don’t eat at fast food places anymore!