Bill Of Wrongs


I was reading an article by Leslie Brenner in the Los Angeles Times about a Diners’ Bill Of Rights. It really got me thinking about service, especially when dining in this flashy, celebrity-obsessed town of mine. The writer proposes a bill of rights just in case you happen to be frustrated with service and through a culinary uprising she’s gonna get it. And for the most part I’d agree with it.

If I ever happened to eat at those places.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret: I rarely get bad service. And I mean rarely. Seriously. I can count the restaurant disasters and mishaps on one hand. It may have to do with the fact that many of my dinner companions are in the food trade, but more oftentimes than not it’s just me and my man Adam. Sometimes someone will recognize me from this blog but generally it’s smooth sailing when we dine out. And it brings me back to my point of service. My secret? Be a decent customer, appreciative of the experience, and expect to get what you give.

I have a friend who is filled with a million and one horror stories about restaurants. Can’t go there because they shorted him bread. Nope, forget that place because his server didn’t refill his glass with water. And you can forget even thinking about that other place because he heard from a friend of a friend how they so badly messed up his order. He can go on with tons of terrible stories, and ironically they are the very same places I enjoy.

So what’s my secret? In a word: manners. And for that I thank my father. I don’t scream, I don’t raise my voice, I don’t confront or yell at others. If there’s an issue I’ll politely address it and most of the time get resolution that satisfies me. And I’ll smile. And if you have that "but I just spent $220 of my hard-earned income on dinner for my wife/husband/girlfriend/secretlover and I expect it to be perfect" attitude, well, I just don’t know what to tell you. You’re the same kind of person who’s hardwired for disappointment and I’m pretty sure you’ll find it no matter where you go.

Last week we had brunch at Neal Fraser’s BLD on Beverly Boulevard. Cute space, lots of energy, very crowded. While my food was great, Adam’s Cuban sandwich was beyond ruined, thanks to some overzealous toasting that was disguised on the inside of the sandwich. We both love a good piece of toast, but this piece of bread was burnt past the point of flavor. It rendered his sandwich inedible, save for the layers of delicious meat inside. Did I make a fuss about it? Did I run home and snarkfully blog about it? Nope. The problem was fixed and comped by a gracious staff who knew how to correct the situation. Had that been my friend you’d be reading about World War V right about now.

Restaurants have good days and bad days. People aren’t perfect. Mistakes will be made. But I’ve always found that there’s usually one person who can fix it — and it only takes one person to make it right. Do I think we need a Diners Bill of Rights?

Absolutely not.

Thanks, I’m finished ranting.

P.S.  To the person who left a comment on the LA Times about wanting to add a no-screaming-children clause to that list: what planet are you on? Kids are kids, screaming or not. If you don’t want to encounter them doing what they do you might consider staying home. Just my two cents.


  1. says

    It always makes me a little sad when waiters seem shocked when I say “thank you” for something – like bringing some extra bread or filling my water glass. Why do people think that waiters (or really anyone working in a restaurant) don’t deserve to be treated like people? Not to claim that I haven’t ever written critical things about restaurants on my blog, but hopefully they’re all at least respectful of the people.

    On the kids in restaurants point… I think there are some restaurants where it is not appropriate to take kids. If I’m going out for a romantic dinner at a nice restaurant, I don’t think it’s out of line to be irritated by a screaming kid at the next table. But if I’m just out at a casual restaurant, I think that’s just something that can be expected.

  2. tulip says

    I wholeheartedly agree Matt. Treating others decently, civilly, results (usually) with the same treatment. It’s amazing how many people decry the poor treatment they receive when they treat waitstaff like someone beneath their notice. gah.
    I agree on the kids in restaurants. I’m a smart enough parent not to take my kid to a five star restaurant at 7pm (or later) and expect others to accommodate ME. By the same token kids have the right to dine out at good places you just have to be judicious in your timing. I think it all goes back to that “manners” thing. 😉

  3. says

    My thoughts exactly…

    Except yes on kids in nice restaurants: Leave ’em at home unless they know how to behave.

    And that goes for adults too!

  4. says

    RE: Screaming Kids

    Ha! I feel the need to reference the scene from Sex in the City wherein Samantha gets scolded by the Maître d’ of whatever fancy restaurant she’s in for talking on her cell phone. She exclaims, in horror, that the child over yonder shouldn’t be allowed if she can’t talk on her cell phone, and the Maître d’ says, “but he’s a child” so as to suggest that he’s doing what is within is repetoire of acceptable behaviors. So she walks over the child/mother and says something super nasty, and the child throws his spaghetti on her crisp white suit.

    Perfect, I say. Children scream and eat crayons and throw spaghetti. If there’s a child in the restaurant who is passive and well-behaved, I’m terrified to think of what the parents are doing at home.

    And I agree with your assessment of service. The biggest jerks, from a service-person’s perspective, are the people who haven’t worked a day in their life in the service industry. Shit happens. No sense in screaming about it. We all are adults, after all. :)

  5. says

    Great post, Matt. I completely agree with you on all your points. A genuine smile and a bunch of “thank you’s” goes a really long way with most wait-staff. I think some people just don’t know how to treat the people who are serving them, and in return they get less-than-stellar service.

    And re: kids (and I may have a bit of a biased take on this, having owned a little bistro that was intentionally very family-friendly) — but I think you are spot on. Kids are kids. They are not always tidy and silent. And eating out with your kids CAN actually be REALLY fun. Parents just need to be smart about what their kids can handle. If the little one can’t possibly sit still for an hour and half, then don’t torture her by trying to shoehorn her exuberance into a fine-dining experience. Use good judgement! It’s no fun for anybody if it’s just not the right place or time to have a little one.

    On the flip-side: teach your kids well about restaurant etiquette, and you’ll have a blast together. We just ate last weekend at a very high-end place with our 5 year-old daughter. It was delightful! Nothing like seeing her eyes light up at her first taste of Foie Gras or Creme Brulée.

    Anyway, that’s my 2 cents. :-)

  6. says

    I personally have discovered that a good, hard, “I’M A MANEATER SO WATCH OUT” snarled toward both the Maître d’ and the server upon entering ensures awesome service. Terror works wonders!

    That’s a joke folks.

    I agree with the points in Leslie’s article. The only thing that rubs me the wrong way is that it’s titled “Diner’s Bill of Rights” which sounds militant and makes it seem as if restaurants are regulated by the government. We have gotten into a habit of holding restaurants into our desired code of conduct, which when broken is akin to committing high treason. They are responsible for the level of service they choose to provide and as consumers, we have the choice to patronize them or not. Time generally sorts out those who run the business well and those who don’t.

    Instead, I would propose it be offered to restaurant owners as a “Restaurant Bible.” Like religion in our free society, it would be their choice to follow its guidelines or instead chart their own course of hospitality.

  7. says

    Absolutely true. I am amazed at the people who treat restaurant staff like some sort of lesser form of life. There are occasions when I run into someone who just doesn’t give a flip no matter how nice you are, but for the most part, treating your server like you would want to be treated will result in a much better restaurant experience. Even the best restaurants occasionally make mistakes; how they deal with it when you bring it to their attention (politely) is the proof of the pudding as to just how good a restaurant it is.

    About dining with kids, however, I have to say that I’ve seen too many people let their kids run around restaurants as if it were a playground. I have a 5-year-old and we take her out to eat, mostly at family-oriented places. We did recently have a three-hour dinner in honor of my grandmother’s 90th birthday at a fairly nice restaurant, and with the proper supervision and distractions, she was very well behaved. If she had started screaming, we would have taken her outside immediately.

  8. says

    People expect other people to be perfect while expecting grace for their own mistakes. To me, like your breakfast, mistakes happen. I don’t gauge service by mistakes (unless there are too many), but in how the mistakes are resolved.

  9. says

    I heart you, Matt! I always get great service for the same reasons you do: manners and a smile. The Golden Rule. Treat others (a category which includes waiters) the way you would want them to treat you. I particularly adored this part, so I have to repeat it: “And if you have that ‘but I just spent $220 of my hard-earned income on dinner for my wife/husband/girlfriend/secretlover and I expect it to be perfect’ attitude, well, I just don’t know what to tell you. You’re the same kind of person who’s hardwired for disappointment and I’m pretty sure you’ll find it no matter where you go.” Rock on, brother!

  10. Meg says

    There is a CEO of a Fortune 500 company who, when he is interviewing individuals for big wig positions within his firm, will take them to eat at fancy-pants restaurants. He will factor into his hiring decision the candidate’s treatment of and attitude toward the staff, the other patrons, and the food of the restaurant. If the candidate is a smug, entitled asshole, no job. I think that’s an excellent way to cull out a fucker.

  11. says

    Oh wow, I am finding it really hard not to go off on a rant here. First let me say I have owned a bistro for 14 years. I agree with your post, Manners and grace go a very long way from the guest AND the server. In my experience there are people out there whom I will never please (no matter how hard I may try). We all have good days and bad ones- that includes restaurants.

    All people should be treated with respect- that includes waiters! You can tell so very much about a person by the way they treat their server….and lastly- sometimes those policies which annoy us- they are probably there for a good reason. The waiting for your whole party to arrive issue, (this is after all my livelyhood) I could have seated that table twice by the time their guests arrive and are ready to order.

    Anyhow, I love this business- some of my best friends- I met through the restaurant. Overall, there are far more polite people than jerks out there- I try not to lose sight of that!

  12. says

    Absolutely agree about the expectations and people being rude and treating the staff like petty tirants.
    But the kids? You said yourself that you have to thank your father for bringing you up so that you don´t scream and ask nicely. It seems to me that many parents who bring their kids to restaurants aren´t doing any of that.

  13. says

    I’m with you Matt …its “nice to be nice” … not just at restaurants but everywhere, whethen u are flying, or at the hospital … anyplace where u get service.Be polite and be nice !
    I think that guy who left that comment must be an absolute whacko ! His punishment should be locking him up for an entire day with a bunch of kids who have had an overdose of candy 😛

    BTW i’ve nomniated you for a MEME … u inspire me :). Chk out my blog for the rules.

  14. says

    I totally agree with you. I mean, come on people…it’s a hard thing to do, and people make mistakes…lighten up.

    I personally tend to laugh most restaurant calamity off (and then instantly forget it anyway…), it makes life SO much more pleasant…

  15. says

    like you, i think our overall dining experiences have been great, believe me our luck as far as where they seat us is bad, usually in the back or by the bathroom so what makes us ever want to eat out again? well b/c we don’t care. like you said restaurants have bad days too. the food is definately important, but really its the experience of who your with. we’ve had bad food and service before, but we make it work. recently i found a piece of hair in my pancakes, i didn’t throw an all out fit and ask for a comp—all i did was ask for another plate…and they brought me a new one, i totally expected to pay for my meal b/c they did make me a new plate, but they comped me instead and none of the other 8 ladies i was having brunch even knew that there was a problem

  16. says

    I agree whole-heartedly with ya, Matt. People forget that being a server (or any position in the food industry) is hard work and you’ve got a million things going on at one time. If somebody forget something, give them a break and they’ll surely redeem themselves (most of the time). People feel they are “owed” something when they go out to eat, when really, to me, it should be viewed as a treat. We’re lucky to be able to eat what we want, where we want and when we want – let alone being able to afford food, seeing how expensive it is now. We take it all for granted. Give people a break. You’re at THEIR job. We all make mistakes!

    Oh… and BLD = awesome. Please try the yellow cake. So fucking good!

  17. says

    I once had a horrible experience at a restaurant, part of it being a very bad waiter. After our order he returned some 30 minutes later saying that the kitchen had lost our order. When we finally got our food it was so hot with chilies (a mexican restaurant)that it was inedible. The waiter told us he was the trainer of new employees and yakked on and on about his life. I finally asked for the manager as I wanted to complain about the food and the waiter but the darn guy stood there when the manager arrived and I didn’t say what I had wanted to. Afterwards he actually sat down at our table and tasted a few things from our plates. Honestly, I think he must have been on a drug of some sort. Once, I also had a waiter-from a well known restaurant in LA-bring me my signed visa receipt and tell me that I hadn’t tipped him enough. I should have changed the tip to even less but I went ahead and readjusted it. It just seemed strange to me.

  18. says

    My daughter is a server’s assistant in a fine dining restaurant and I am appalled by the stories she tells of rudeness among people who are edcated and well-heeled enough to know better.

    And as for kids- I have raised 6 and taken them to many restaurants. Often children misbehave because their parents don’t take them along often enough that they know what the expecations are. If one of our children began to misbehave, my husband would ask if they wanted to be taken outside. No kid wants to be where the action isn’t and so after one demonstration that he actually would remove them, usually asking that question was enough. Also don’t take a tired, or overly hungry or stimulated child to a restaurant and expect them to be a little angel- just not possible!

  19. says

    I think an overarching rule, in any case, is to not take things personally, and realize that you are one of a million people that anyone will encounter in any one given day, depending on the time of day. I think that really puts people’s behaviors (and yours) into perspective.

    But I also agree with being nice to wait staff, ESPECIALLY if they are preparing/serving your FOOD. If you have bad service, you should just suck it up, tip accordingly and move on without complaining. Don’t come back. When you have good service, you should tip accordingly.

    I used to complain in restaurants, I used to be a “Sally Albright” type orderer. I used to think “If THAT’S HOW I WANT MY FOOD, THEN BYGUMMIT THAT’S HOW IT SHOULD BE SERVED” and then I realized that the more curves I put in the road, the more possibilities for the car careening off the cliff…

    Now I am content to order with no modifications. If there’s nothing on the menu I can stand to eat without modifying it, I just get the simplest thing. I tip VERY WELL in places I like, so that I can go back, and they always greet me by name and always seem to find me a table…

    As for the screaming kids, I have no kids, so I don’t know what it’s like to raise them. I do know that kids scream and they are kids. I do not think that a well-behaved child is a sign of mean or torturous parents. I think a well-behaved child is a sign of a parent who has spent time with the child teaching it manners (+ what Linda said). Seeing how small children behave in different cultures around the world is enough to see that children ARE capable of not screaming and running around a restaurant. If I had even DARED to show my behind in a restaurant as a small child (i.e. old enough to walk/run around), I wouldn’t be here to tell the story today.


  20. Grubbjunkie says

    Great post. I completely agree that a show of respect can go a long way. And the fact that a small show of respect goes so far indicates that the majority of people treat service staff poorly.

    As for a Bill of Rights – please!! I feel a bit sad for the people who fixate on minor service issues. Sounds like they’ve got other problems in their lives and are transferring their issues. Maybe it’s me but a person who can actually remember not getting a glass re-filled or whatever needs to re-examine priorities.

  21. D Hooks says

    I completely agree with the LA Times article but disagree with you about the kids.

    Leave the unruly kids at home.

  22. says

    Love your post. I’ve been thinking that this is a topic not just for restaurants, but for customer service in general. Have you tried to do anything that was “outside of company policy” anywhere lately? It’s as if the robots have taken over. If you’re twenty-something (having grown to maturity in the fallout from greed-is-good)then you have no idea that courtesy to your customers may be a pleasant and profitable thing. Anyway, thanks for your post and check my related rant:

  23. Lisa says

    I totally agree that treating waitstaff as people is, well, only human IMO (although I’ve seen plenty of people who don’t agree), and that the real proof is in how people handle mistakes. I have a friend who gets all indignant if things don’t go perfectly (although he’s still cordial to the servers, he just bitches incessantly to the rest of us, no matter how well they handle it). Strangely enough, he is the one that bad things happen to the most (out of an item, order botched, etc). I have a theory that it’s karma waiting on him to lighten up and remember that people are human.

    I love the post about a CEO not hiring someone who doesn’t treat restaurant staff appropriately. I recently went to lunch with one of the salespeople from our company, and was appalled at how he treated the servers. I was completely embarrassed, and I must say I would never buy something from him.

  24. says

    Matt, I’ve recently found your website and have really been enjoying it. Your photos are incredible and your words inspiring.

    As a server, I couldn’t agree more with your kind, insightful and thoughtful words. Your post (upon reading it a few months later) inspired me to finally break the restaurant industry vow of silence and write my reaction to her bill of rights.

    If you have the chance, come by and check out what you inspired! It’s called “The Hulk vs. Leslie Brenner” at

    thank you!

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