Customer service at a fine restaurant

Happy to be Seated 45 Minutes Late for Dinner

It’s easy to criticize restaurants because often the experience is so unpleasant. Delays in being seated, long waits for food to arrive, and waiters with scarce knowledge of the menu.

But recently friends and I had dinner at one of the hottest restaurants in New York and we were happy to be seated 45 minutes late for dinner.

Why, You Ask?

Of course, I don’t like hanging around in a noisy bar area checking my watch every two minutes wondering when I’ll be seated. But my excursion to Williamsburg, Brooklyn, to dine at Lilia was worth the wait, because we were treated to outstanding customer service.

The friend I was visiting in Manhattan had read glowing reviews of the restaurant that is always fully booked a month in advance. However, she called anyway and the hostess, after learning  I would be leaving for home the next day, gave us a 7:30 reservation for that evening.

We took the L train to Williamsburg and walked the few blocks to the restaurant that was already filled with happy diners. We were escorted to the bar area and that’s where we waited to be seated. Within a few minutes of arriving, a hostess gave us an update, apologizing for the delay (we really had nothing to complain about — they had squeezed us in).

While we were waiting, we were treated to free appetizers and a bottle of wine by way of apology. After finally being seated at our table, the waiter again apologized profusely for the delay. Then, before we even ordered, the restaurant manager came to our table with a complimentary bottle of Prosecco and a specialty pasta dish.

Did I mention that our meal was delicious? The chef, Missy Robbins, won the 2018 James Beard Award for Best Chef: New York City. I’ve been to “hot” restaurants before and often felt like they were doing me a favor. Haughty attitudes and long delays without so much as a “sorry to make you wait.” I’ve also seen a lot of those places go under after a couple of years. You can’t get away with treating people badly.

Other Great Experiences

I was curious if friends had experienced good service and would share their stories. Here are three.

My husband and I have always been big fans of Red Lobster. My husband is disabled, and so the staff really go out of their way to be accommodating, and make sure to speak and joke with him. He loves the attention! He also has a delicate stomach, and the food we’ve ingested at many restaurants has caused unfortunate trips to the washroom. But in all the years we’ve been going to Red Lobster, he has never had any problems. I like the way Red Lobster keeps adding new menu items to its offerings to keep the choices fresh, and the fact that there have such a wide range of things to choose from.

On a New Year’s Day visit to Outback Steakhouse with my grandson, I used a gift card to pay, but the waiter didn’t tell me the I had to leave the tip before he ran it through the system, even though I had enough money on the card. I asked for the manager who remarked, “You don’t understand.” Needless to say I left unhappy and expressed my feelings in a survey I received about my experience. Within three hours I received a call from the managing partner who offered her apology and sent me a $40 coupon. I have a favorite waiter who always makes me feel as if I were eating in a five-star European restaurant. I continue to frequent Outback and the managing partner has also arranged to assign my favorite waiter when I walk in.

As a birthday present, I took a good friend for dinner at Michael’s on East in Sarasota. The ambiance and food were all that you could ask for. When the bill came I paid with a $100 gift card. To my embarrassment, the waiter returned and said the balance was zero. I knew that was impossible as I had added money to the card with the restaurant that very day. Michael, the owner himself, came to the table to apologize and said there must have been some mistake. He refunded the entire amount of the bill and asked that I speak to the billing department the next day. I was very pleased that they recognized the error and didn’t give me a hard time. I’ll surely return to the restaurant. 

Being Polite Pays Off

Customer service is a two-way street. You can’t expect a waiter or a salesperson to give their best when you treat them badly. Why berate the agent at the counter when you’re wait listed for a flight? It’s not his problem that you didn’t book early enough.

My own experience shows that being polite pays off. Not too long ago I missed a 6 am flight. I mistakenly called for a car service an hour later than I should have. It was a mental lapse. I was put on the next flight to Atlanta, but the earliest connection to Raleigh was already overbooked. I hoofed it to another terminal and went to the counter just to check if I was on the wait-list for the next flight.

The agent told me that it was doubtful I’d get on because they were already overbooked with paying customers (I was using points). I told him, “You know it’s my fault. I did a dumb thing by missing my flight out of Sarasota. Maybe I should just buy a ticket for the next flight after this one.” He smiled and told me to wait and he would see what he could do.

Not long after, he waved me over to the counter. He had not only gotten me a seat but it was on the aisle with extra leg room. He personally swiped my boarding pass and I was whisked through with the priority customers.

As I was boarding, we looked at each other with big smiles on our faces. I was forever grateful for his kindness and I think he appreciated that I didn’t badger him at the counter.

Do you have any stories you’d like to share? If so, please leave a comment.

Leave a Reply


  1. The restaurant in Brooklyn sounds fantastic in every way. Would love to be there right now for the reasons you mention. Agree with you completely about how tiresome it is staff in popular restaurants having an arrogant attitude.

    • Catarina – I find it’s the new “hot” restaurants where you get treated so badly. Their attitude is “take it or leave it” as we have more customers than we can handle. A lot of them don’t survive a first visit and repeat business is essential to staying in business.

  2. Restaurants which have a high status can sometimes lean on this alone forgetting their ongoing reputation actually matters. I am astounded by the hospitality you received at the restaurant you visited – it really was second to none. They offered you complimentary food and drinks.

  3. Excellent post! It’s amazing what a difference attitude makes. I have smiled and waited patiently after being bumped from an overbooked flight at the airport only to find myself bumped to first class for the five-hour flight from Vancouver to Ottawa. 🙂

    • Debra — niceness does pay off! I haven’t been upgraded to first class yet but that would be a nice perk.

  4. Great post, Jeannette. Customer service seems to be a dying art in so many sectors of our society. It’s nice to hear these stories that show us that it’s still alive and meaningful to many of us.

    • Doreen — thanks for sharing yours. Yes, it is nice when you’re treated well, which we should expect when we’re paying customers.

  5. I love and completely agree that customer service is a two-way street and you should be nice to a waiter as well if you want to receive a great service. However, based on my experience — customer service in the USA is already very good as they are working for their tips — in many European countries it is a disaster as tips are already included in prices and very often it can take ages to ask for a menu; this is of course disappointing

    • Kristina — interesting point about not being much incentive for waiters in Europe when their tips are already built into the check. Many US restaurants now print suggested tips at the bottom of your check so you can give a little extra for outstanding service.

  6. What great stories of customer service as it should be. One of my favorites, actually two, concern the same restaurant, Il Pizzaiolo in Mt Lebanon where I live. We went there for dinner, where we’d been many times & knew the manager of their wine bar. When he went to slide our credit card, it fell and in a total fluke hit the sole slot in the wooden floor and fell to the depths who knows where in the 100 year old building. He was stricken when he came to tell us while we were laughing like crazy. He even took my husband to show him where it went. Hilarious! I pulled out a different card, but he said no–and gave us our meal for free!

    We went there for a lunch with three friends after we got married (at the JP, between him sentencing orange jumpsuited convicts for various offenses). We were already in good humor, but our favorite waiter was having a heck of a day and one thing after another got screwed up. Again, we didn’t care because we were festive. he brought a free bottle of wine and free desserts for everyone.

    Do I need to say that this remains a favorite place to go?