What Part of Your Restaurant Experience Is the Most Likely to Be a Dealbreaker?

I want to preface this post with a disclaimer: I worked as a server in two restaurants during summers in college. I took my job quite seriously, as I was contemplating opening a restaurant after I graduated. Because of that experience, I have a huge amount of empathy for servers, and I try not to complicate their job for the benefit of both parties. It’s exceptionally rare that I will tip less than 20%.

Tonight I came very close to tipping less than 20%.

I don’t want to make a big deal out of it, as in the grand scheme of things, it’s fine. Basically, we finished our meal, and I realized that we hadn’t seen the server in a while. The server did finally show up, but the whole process of running our credit cards took an incredibly long time. In total, I would say that it was 1 hour between when we finished eating and when we actually signed off on the bill. It wasn’t a busy restaurant, and there were 3 servers working…I have no idea what happened.

Anyway, it got me thinking: Which part of restaurant experience is the most likely to be a dealbreaker for you? Assuming all goes well, here are the categories:

  1. Initial Contact: Ordering drinks and appetizers, learning about specials.
  2. Drinks/Appetizers: Waiting for the main courses to arrive while hopefully enjoying the drinks and appetizers.
  3. Main Course: Quality of the food, accuracy of what you ordered, and the amount of the server’s attentiveness.
  4. Checkout: Coordinating the bill, receiving it, and paying for it.

After tonight’s experience, I lean towards saying that an abysmally slow checkout process can damage the overall experience the most…but looking at that list, I’m not so sure. I think the most crucial element of a restaurant meal for me is how long it takes for me to get something–anything–on my stomach. It doesn’t even have to be the appetizer or main course–some chips or complimentary bread will do just fine. But if I’m sitting around for an hour without receiving anything, I’m going to get grumpy.

I want this to have a positive twist, so I’m trying to think of which of those elements has the potential to outshine all others. For me that’s probably the main course. If it’s delivered in a timely manner, it’s delicious, and the server keeps my water full, I can walk away incredibly pleased with the choice to eat out.

What about you? What can make or break your restaurant experience? It doesn’t necessarily need to be something on my list.

3 thoughts on “What Part of Your Restaurant Experience Is the Most Likely to Be a Dealbreaker?”

  1. The food makes the restaurant. If the food is good enough I can put up with a sub par experience in all the other categories. It helps when I know going in that a place may be slow but the food is worth it.

    On the reverse, I can’t put up with an unwarranted “bad” experience in any of the other categories if the food isn’t good.

    I always tip 20% independent of food quality and service unless someone is doing something intentionally wrong. Too many people involved to punish the whole chain because of a minor screw up or bad day. I will, however, not return… unless the food was good enough.

  2. For me the initial contact makes all the difference in the world. My girlfriend and I visited a purportedly great restaurant in Savannah a few months ago. The serve came by once and after I asked for a decaf cup f coffee, she informed me that it will take a while as all of the urns only had fully-caffeinated coffee and I wold have to wait for one to empty. Then, we didn’t see her for a 10 minutes and the place wan’t even packed. I set down my phone with the timer for 3 minutes and after only a minute my girlfriend stopped the timer, we stood up, and walked out…after we told the front desk about our experience. If you present a great first impression many later issues can be forgiven.

    • Joe: Wow, I’m sorry to hear that. I don’t think I’ve ever walked out of a restaurant, but there were times where I wish I had (before we ordered anything).


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