City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
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Delighting in awful restaurant service





While on vacation this summer, my family and I endured an evening in a restaurant where we were that table — the one where everything went wrong. The drinks never came. The staff was overwhelmed. The kitchen was soooooo slow and then rushed our order, resulting in slapdash cooking. At one point, we saw our waitress head into the kitchen crying. 

As experiences go, it was a miserable one. But in a perverse way I enjoyed it. It got me thinking about my early days as a food writer when I reviewed restaurants and nobody knew who I was. Not only is it fun to write about dining disasters, but you are doing a public service for readers. I think being privy to a restaurant at its worst gives you some insight into how it is at its best. 

The subject came up recently, when Bill Keller, the editor of the New York Times, addressed the lack of anonymity of that paper’s new restaurant critic, Sam Sifton in an online chat

That got me thinking about the whole issue, which I wrote about in this column. 

The AJC’s dining critic, Meridith Ford Goldman, offers an interesting take on the issue as well. 

There certainly are two sides to this issue. On the one hand, an unknown reviewer can do the “Consumers Report”-style critique and tell you firsthand if a restaurant is consistent and well run, or if it subjects its guests to ordeal dining on busy nights. But an established, recognized critic might be in a better position to explain how well a restaurant is capable of meeting its goals.   

Anonymous critics will likely have better and more telling stories about the level of service; known critics will share more insightful stories about the chef and restaurant owners. Anonymous critics can tell you how bad a restaurant gets when the stars aren’t aligned; a known critic tells you how good a restaurant can be.

Then again, everyone’s a critic these days.

19 comments Add your comment

Watching The Braves Since '66

August 24th, 2009
10:32 pm


August 24th, 2009
11:44 pm

Atlanta has horrible service all over. I can’t afford to go to the trendy or high-end places so I’m stuck at the mid-range eateries. The local places are usually better, but the national and regional chains are piss-poor. Servers don’t care…….bartenders ignore anybody who isn’t a friend of theirs…..cooks just throw stuff together. Such a shame.

Fast food in Atlanta is a lesson in futility unless you go somewhere like Chik-Fil-A. Shernita is usually too pre-occupied with her cell phone to do her damn job.


August 25th, 2009
12:01 am

Go to the marietta diner they have great serbers Null, and if you do not agree, then you just hate everybody….

Elliot Garcia

August 25th, 2009
7:48 am

You get what you pay for Null….


August 25th, 2009
5:26 pm

1.The service is poor because the management is poor. Otherwise they would hold the employees to a reasonable, higher standard.
2.Same is true for the atmosphere of the restaurant. If there’s a kid screaming, and the parents don’t remove them from the restaurant (crass behavior), then the manager has a duty to either have them do it at his request or give the kid something to quiet him/her. Better to possibly upset one table than make it a horrible experience for all the other tables. It’s called managing.
3. I want my glass attended to on a regular basis, not sit empty for 5 or 10 minutes. Inexusable.
4. Just because the food is on the table, doesn’t mean the waiter can disappear. They still need to check back on a regular basis.
5. If I have a problem with bad food, wrong order, whatever; I should speak to a manager without asking to, and something should be taken off the bill, etc, without having to ask for it. Wait staff and managers should be proactive on customer service. Not reactive after the situation has been made worse by not addressing the problem. I’ll be back if I’m made to feel like an effort is made to remedy the situation. I won’t be back if I’m left with a full bill and no manager visit.

jill t

August 26th, 2009
9:02 am

Durgin Park is a restaurant in Boston. It is famous for its bad service. People line up in droves just to experience bad service.


August 26th, 2009
10:17 am

If a newspaper could afford it, it would almost make sense to have both a known reviewer and an anonymous one. The known reviewer would give a restaurant a chance to really shine and put its very best foot forward while the anonymous reviewer would get to see the restaurant at its normal everyday self. One would like to think that there wouldn’t be much of a difference in terms of food and service but there probably would be. Then again, anonymity is so fleeting these days anyway. I’m sure Meredith Goldman is a well known face in many restaurant circles and anyone with any ability to use Google can reveal a great deal about anyone in just minutes. You’re right in that we’ve all become critics. Such sites as TripAdvisor and Yelp let us test our budding critic’s palates… And with an iPhone or Blackberry, the review can be made in real time as the waitress goes crying into the kitchen.


August 26th, 2009
10:49 am

I agree with Null. except that Shernaqzata wouldn’t be working at a chic-fil-a, more likely at a wal-mart or McDonald’s. Chic-Fil-a seems to hire good looking kids that don’t have criminal backgrounds and that you can understand in the drive-through. “Can I axe you a questin?”


August 26th, 2009
11:09 am

Customers can be a problem also. My wife is a resturant GM and tells terrible stories about some customers. Always looking for any little thing wrong and then immediatly asking for it free or a deep discount. The same ones do it all the time. And if you are a server, forget about a tip. They were not going to tip even if the service was beyond perfect.


August 26th, 2009
1:57 pm

Part of the bad service in the chains, especially, is the incredibly high turn-over in management AND staff. My daughter was a hostess at an Applebees for five months while in high school, and had THREE new managers within that time. Every time a new one came in, everything was topsy-turvy for a week while the new manager flexed their muscles and rearranged everything. Then they’d wander off and work on something else for a while, and ignore what they had “fixed”. Usually the staff had no idea that there would be a new manager until — ta da! — Monday morning rolled around and here was a new guy. The best-run restaurants are fine-tuned machines, where the staff and management have worked together enough to be able to anticipate most problems before they become disasters.


August 26th, 2009
2:43 pm

I’d rather be “Axed” a question while driving through the drive-thru than knocked over the head for my ten bucks while walking on the sidewalk.

Ty Pike

August 26th, 2009
3:53 pm

Mr. Kessler, you’re absolutely right. It starts with dining in at a restaurant, but where does it end?? Whether it is taking a trip to the local bank, going to the full service pump at the gas station, or waiting on hold for assistance with my dial-up internet connection, customer service these days is nonexistent. Heck, even Sonny’s BBQ has gone downhill! And their reputation is the BEST! These days we just keep our business and our wallets to ourselves and have Daddy home cook us his BBQ. At least then we can control our piggy banks, no pun intended.


August 26th, 2009
8:20 pm

Speaking as a professional waiter, people need to be good customers as well. I can, have, and will absolutely kill myself to make the experience as perfect as I can possibly make it, but you have to meet me halfway. Don’t make me read your mind- if I ask you a question, don’t roll your eyes like I am stupid, or your flunky. I’m not. I’m a highly trained professional (let’s see you remember every ingredient on a 70+ item menu off the top of your head, or know how to pair wines with twelve different and uncomplimentary items) and I want to know what YOU want. I’m not going to guess, I’m going to ask you questions until you manage to communicate exactly what you want. Because I want you to have exactly that.

I’m not the enemy. And I am not a college kid (oh, how career waiters loathe that question), and I don’t work at places that involve paper-wrapped food, because I am about quality and service, and quality OF service.

We’re out there. You just have to know how to let us do our jobs and look after you.


August 26th, 2009
8:59 pm

Frequently, I go to an IHOP on Clairmont Rd at Briarcliff and the wait staff has always been on the ball and always has a smile on even if the place is busy and they are rushing around. I know it’s not an easy job and as Rebelliousrose said you have to meet them half way. Keep up the good work IHOP!


August 26th, 2009
10:52 pm

Linda is definately right about that particular IHOP. We have to drive 20 minutes to get to it but they will absolutely take care of you in there. They will make sure every item is to the customer’s liking. Great place for breakfast.


August 27th, 2009
1:14 am

If you go to a restaurant and see Steve R sitting there, run (don’t walk) in the other direction because he likes to think of himself as being the only person in the world. Enjoy your meal!


August 27th, 2009
9:52 am

I’ve got to the servers credit at Goldberg’s over at West Paces Ferry. They’re always polite, professional, and quick. I’ve never had a problem and even though I live closer to the other stores, I will travel to this one for the the service.

Jason Greene

August 27th, 2009
11:23 am

I eat out all the time. And awful restaurant service is certainly no worse than some of the awful customers. The ones that come in groups, stay on their cells, while ordering, eat half of their entrees, and want to send it back, credit to their bill, and a free drink. When a server approaches a group like this, he knows how it’s going to end. Penny’s on the table. Atlanta has many great servers, too bad we don’t have more great customer’s.


August 29th, 2009
4:14 am

There is a certain Atlanta radio duo who call themselves reviewers. They go to restauraunts only if the entire meal is comp’ed. They NEVER criticize any restaurant. It’s amazing that they get away with it!