We have to discuss service; restaurant service, to be specific.

Full disclosure: I was a waitress for a long time, both when I was younger and more recently, in both local and urban area restaurants. I have worked in little diners, family restaurants, pubs, and fine dining establishments, to name a few. Because of my experience, I feel pretty equipped to speak to service standards in the restaurant industry.

So bearing those qualifying statements in mind, I have a message for establishment managers all over: you really need to step it up a notch.

My husband and I eat out quite a bit. When I am out to eat somewhere, I, like anyone else, expect at least a basic level of service. While mitigating factors can exist that threaten to compromise that level of service, everyone hired to serve customers should be expected to adhere to baseline standards: make them feel welcome, treat them courteously during their visit, and attempt to make their dining experience enjoyable. This can be accomplished with minimal effort by even the most inexperienced staff member, regardless of how busy the dining room is or how bad a server’s day has been. That is just basic customer service – not good customer service, just basic.

My experiences in restaurants in the past few years have been largely void of good customer service, sometimes even void of basic service. Most visits follow this general path: a hurried server asks how many in our party and tells us to sit “wherever is clean.” After a few minutes, sometimes as many as 10, someone returns to our table to bring us menus. Another few minutes goes by, sometimes 10 more, and someone returns to take our food order and drink order. When our food arrives, it is a regular occurrence for it to be either wrong (onions when I asked for no onions, for example) or missing something (no gravy when we asked for gravy). By the time a server comes back to the table, we’re already done and ready for the bill. The bill takes so long to come that we usually just go up to the cash for someone else to ring us through. And then we leave.

This type of visit isn’t the exception, it’s the rule. And I’m sorry, but even as a former server who knows well how harried a busy dining room can be, I find the level of service I’ve come to expect, to be completely unacceptable. Adding to my irritation is the awareness that these same sub-par servers expect a generous tip as though we’re obligated by social convention to leave one regardless of the quality of service they provide. I assure you, we’re not. And while I appreciate the solidarity in being a former (and probably future) server, I refuse to keep tipping well for poor service.

I will tell you now about an exception to the rule. A few weeks ago, we walked into a packed restaurant, greeted by a smiling young man who was clearly very busy, yet he stopped, welcomed us, asked how we were doing like he actually wanted to know, and asked if we’d mind waiting a moment so he could seat us.

In about five minutes, he returned to the hostess station, gathered a few menus, and took us to our table. He informed us that it was an extremely busy night and that he wanted us to have that information just in case we were in a rush to get somewhere, and apologized in advance if we had to wait longer than usual for our food. Our waiter repeated our order back to us after he had taken it to ensure he had everything right, and our drinks were replenished while we waited. Within two minutes of delivering our meal to the table, he checked to make sure everything was to our satisfaction, and then checked again mid-meal to see if we needed anything. Our plates were cleared shortly after we finished and the bill brought to the table just a few minutes after that, with his thanks in case he was busy when we went up to pay.

I happily tipped him generously for a job well done.

Being a server is one of the most trying jobs I’ve ever had. It requires patience, maturity, and prioritization skills and even with those things, a good server can find themselves in the weeds at times, or with customers who are never happy regardless of the circumstances. I have had beautiful service from fantastic servers, but it needs to become more common, especially if we’re expected to pay extra for it.