Critiquing The Server

Next week we review the biopic of an amateur server critic entitled, "Why did you shove that fork in my eye?"

As you are reading this, I am most likely sitting in a courthouse awaiting a trial.  Not my trial or anything of that nature.  I was summoned for jury duty.  If this is the last post for a while, you will know I was sequestered for the crime of the century.  In anticipation of my potential selection, I have spent some time thinking about my recent guest post and a comment it included.  The idea of critiquing a server was brought up in the post and confirmed by some comments posted afterwards.

I have never been a lawyer, but I was on the mock trial team at North Kansas City High School.  I love Law and Order.  I have several friends who are lawyers and even know a couple judges.  People tell me all the time that I should have been a lawyer.  All of this makes me fully qualified to tell the lawyers what they could do better next time.  Right?

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6 comments on “Critiquing The Server

  1. Imagine if you will: If you frequented hundreds of lawyers performing the same duty each time (let’s say, fixing a speeding ticket) and you were situationally forced into a position where you had to pay each lawyer based on how well you think they did …

    Imagine most of the lawyers you deal with get your $100 ticket reduced to $50. This time, however, Lawyer X actually got the ticket priced raised higher to $200. Would you want to tell lawyer X “I think you could do a better job and want you to know my payment is a reflection of how I value your performance as my attorney in comparison to the innumerable other performances of this exact service I’ve received from innumerable other lawyers.”? … Would you feel that would be grossly inappropriate? … Would feel that you are in no position to criticize the performance you received? … Would you feel it’s your obligation to pay the lawyer as handsomely as you would a lawyer that performed better and just be grateful for his time and expertise?

    If lawyer X didn’t take any notes and forgot to do what you asked him, would you feel ill-equipped to recommend he might want to jot down a few notes next time? If your lawyer X didn’t return your calls at all and just sent you a bill, would you respond with “well, I obviously have no idea how to do HIS job, so who am I to want him to know I’d like him to have returned my calls?”

    Maybe I’m misjudging what you’re categorizing as “criticism”, but in the context of the earlier post: wanting to clarify the reasons for poor tip with the hopes it would be received AS constructive criticism instead of being flippantly dismissed as “they must be cheap” … I think your analogy falls on its face a bit.

    For YOU and the people you probably work with (genuine, bona fide PROFESSIONAL servers who take their jobs seriously, strive to improve, take pride in their performance), there’s rarely any window FOR criticism. However, there are MORE than a large percentage of servers out there who are the equivalent of ambulance chasers (or perhaps the first few sessions of “My Cousin Vinny”)

    • tipsfortips on said:

      I see your point. I think the difference would be that the lawyer is given one very specific task. The outcome of that task is also very measurable. The basis on which you would judge them primarily is the level they reduced your ticket to. The process they would use would be very similar and they would all operate under the same laws. A server has a myriad of tasks that meed to be properly timed and are subject to any number of factors. The judging is far more subjective and based upon a number of factors that are unseen by the guest and not explained by the server. If I had to wait for a dishwasher to wash a hot tea pot for your tea, then dried it by hand, and brought it to the table, you are only aware of the time it took. What can be perceived as a lack of extra was actually a great deal more. Deciding to knock a buck off the tip because a server took too long cancels out more than 20% on a $3.00 drink. Telling me you took away from my tip because it took so long adds insult to the injury inflicted on the tip.

      If a server is inept and shows no sign of caring, then why bother criticizing. You know it won’t make them care, but choose to extract a pound of flesh anyway. You set the tip. If a lawyer or server don’t care about earning their money, then they most likely don’t care about the comment either. Telling then that they would have made more if they tried harder is not likely to change it. It won’t make them think you are not cheap. It will make them think you are cheap and condescending.

      In any field there are people who do it well and people who do the minimum to get by. I would agree with your analogy to the extent that being able to control someone’s wage does give you an extra opportunity to justify your choices. What I still don’t understand is why having the ability to judge someone financially gives people the right to do it vocally too while other jobs allow people to be far less competent, get paid regardless, and not get criticized.

      I would like to thank the judges and timekeepers for their time and ask you to vote affirmative.

  2. I’d like to cover the affirmative’s position in reverse order …

    Equating a DMV worker to a restaurant server is an inappropriate parallel. I’m not expected to pay the DMV worker more money because they were extremely efficient and friendly. I don’t GET to pay less because they were rude, confused and took forever. The DMV worker is not viewed as being responsible for my EXPERIENCE. My transaction cost is expected to be the same regardless of my pleasure. Or the other side is that the DMV worker doesn’t even have the OPPORTUNITY to improve their pay by being really “on” that day. They also don’t make less because their cat died and their sad. Risk v Reward.

    The server is (perhaps unfairly viewed as) the steward of the patron’s EXPERIENCE. So while I agree that a server should not get punished for the dishwashers not having clean teapots, the other side of that coin is should the server get rewarded for the steak being cooked beyond compare? And good servers can mitigate things that are out of their control (most often through communication) … and the ones that can should and often do earn more.

    EVERY job in a service economy is a “subservient” one … “you do this thing for me and I will bless you with money”. Waiting tables is no different. Accordingly every service position tends to be held to the same scrutiny of “am I happy with the service I received or not?”

    Additionally, the litmus scenario you paint sounds more like “Would I be willing to have a random passerby come over and tell me how to do my job better?” While that may FEEL like what occurs during those moments of perceived (or real) condescension, allow me to flesh out your test a bit … I would be happy to invite any server to my job AS A CUSTOMER where they PAID ME to do XYZ for them and allow them to critique the job I did. What they do in their day job is immaterial. More-so if they were to come visit me AS A CUSTOMER, then I would be in the subservient position.

    As a patron, I expect my opinion to be just as valued as I would value one from one of MY customers. I’m not saying when people criticize that they’re RIGHT (most often, I imagine they’re not) … or that it’s in any way productive (seems like a waste of time to me) … or even SHOULD be valued (case by case, but the odds are … probably not) … just that they should have every right to feel they can and that servers don’t deserve the immunity idol.

    • tipsfortips on said:

      I agree with all of your points on the DMV worker except that they are the equivalent steward of your experience. You pay their salaries through fees rather than tips. They are also guaranteed a higher wage regardless of their service. Just because the expectations are lower does not make them any less responsible for your experience. It think precisely because you cannot punish them financially you do not do so verbally either. Even when they meet a standard that would cause you to demand a server be fired.

      While a server shouldnt be rewarded for a steak being prepared well, they are often punished for it being done poorly. While a server isn’t punished for a tea pot not being clean, they are often punished for the guest waiting on the tea. They also don’t have the power to order more tea pots to prevent the problem. The restaurant gets their money, the dishwasher gets their money, the server takes the fall.

      The DMV agent is a service job. So is the person at walmart or any of the other jobs I listed. My point is that the threshold to complain to or about a server is far lower than any of the other positions. This is both because and in spite of the ability to punish them financially. While all may be subservient, only one fields the level of criticism.

      Your customers can also critique you. They can not do so on top of refusing to pay you. If they refused to pay for the services you would be able to give an explanation of your side of the story. You would not be fired for doing so on top of having your pay with held. If a customer chose to take this route, you would probably not be a gracious recipient of the input. You might have a few choice names for them in your mind. Servers are no different. It is rude and not to be encouraged in polite society

  3. michaeleriksson on said:

    This is a new one: A server complaining about receiving tips 🙂

    To take a more serious approach, I think that the above will depend very much on the situation. There is, for instance, a large group of people who are know-it-alls, a-holes, or simply like to gripe, and who see the server as an easy target. I even recall over-hearing one instance where I suspect a fraudulent attempt to get the bill reduced (a long complaint about how the meat, which had been eaten!, was sub-par, how the speaker herself was in the food-business, and so on). At the same time, there are many incompetent servers (in particular among the beginners), who really do make mistakes even an outsider can legitimately spot and who receive constructive feedback. (With countless mixtures between the two cases and other alternatives. For that matter, it is often the case that a layman with a better head can spot errors even in the work of the incompetent lawyer, physician, whatnot.)

    Now, one of the largest differences between the true professional and the journeyman is how he handles feedback/critique/criticism. (Without any restriction to specifically servers.) Receiving even constructive feedback can hurt, but the professional overcomes that hurt, looks at his own behaviour, evaluates whether he has done something wrong or worthy of improvement, whatnot—and he at least tries to do so even with rude and aggressive statements. (It does not automatically follow, however, that he agrees, even after the evaluation.)

    Notably, even when a customer is objectively wrong, it can be prudent to adapt, because other customers may have the same reaction, which cuts into both tips and the chance that they return for further meals.

    In many other cases, there is something of value to be found. Assume e.g. that a particular server is over-loaded with work during lunch hour, only delivers the bill fifteen minutes after it was requested, and receives a complaint. Now, this may look like something to shrug off—after all, it is not his fault that the manager had not provided sufficient staff on that particular day. On a closer inspection, however, it may be that the server should explicitly point out this situation to the manager (after the fact) or that he should have asked for assistance or re-priorisations during the lunch hour (possibly, a disher could have been turned into a temporary bus-boy?). He may need to himself re-prioritize the order of tasks (possibly, it is more important to deliver bills than to take orders?). He may benefit from throwing an eye at individual customers, to take note of those who seem annoyed, and then expedite their service somewhat—or, similarly, he might need to pay extra attention to customers who have already had a long wait before ordering or who have been the victims of some accidental mishap. Etc.

    Feedback can be a bitter medicine, but it can still improve ones health. In the example above, five years later, who will be the best-tipped server in town and who barely hanging on to his job—the one who analyses the situation or the one who shrugs it off?

    As for myself: So far, I have never done anything except altering the tip or politely pointing to specific short-term problems (e.g. requesting a replacement for a dirty fork)—except on one or two blog discussions…

  4. yellowcat on said:

    My favourite criticism lately was from a woman who was picking up a to go order. I had absolutely no contact with her, yet she complained to the cashier that I didn’t seem friendly. Why didn’t I seem friendly? Because some guy had just taken a crap in one of my booths and I had to clean it up.

    Seriously, folks, if you haven’t walked a mile in my Crocs you shouldn’t judge, critique, or complain.

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