Serves you right — or not

Quality of service varies widely, and it’s not always dependent on quality of restaurant

By Devra First
Globe Staff / June 2, 2010

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Devra First: Let’s talk about service. What does “good service’’ mean to you?

Kimba: Service in other parts of the country — such as New Orleans, New York, and San Francisco, and even smaller towns and cities — is so much better. I think a big part of this is that we are a college town and the service industry hires students, not people who make their career working in restaurants. Do you agree?

D.F.: I think service overall in other cities is sometimes more polished. But I think it’s improving in Boston. The hiring of students rather than career servers may be part of it, I agree. But good training goes a long way, so we can’t pin it entirely on that.

Angie: I think the service at the best restaurants in Boston is great. But I find that there is great disparity between the service at the top restaurants and the rest.

D.F.: How important is service to your experience, or does that fluctuate depending on the kind of restaurant you’re at?

Angie: When I’m at, say, No. 9 Park or Hamersley’s, I expect (and get) amazing service. I don’t expect it when I’m someplace more casual.

Matt: It hasn’t been easy as a server in the last few years. You get a lot of turnover. Inexperienced staff leads to inconsistency.

Sue C: Smart management knows that good service goes a long way toward making a good meal a memorable one. Some of the best service I’ve come across locally has been at chains, but in the suburbs, where a lot of the business is from repeat customers. One of my worst recent experiences was at a restaurant near Quincy Market where the business is mainly from tourists. The waitress knew she wouldn’t be seeing us again in all likelihood.

Miri: Do servers hate when people change things from the way they are on the menu? I always feel bad when I ask to substitute something.

D.F.: If it’s, say, one thing and there’s a reason, it might not be annoying. But if you’re the kind of high-maintenance diner who wants everything substituted, that would be very irritating. Like: “I’d like the chicken salad without the mayo and instead of wheat bread I’d like a lettuce leaf and instead of chicken do you have any tuna?’’ Just make your lunch at home, please.

Sue C: Miri, I would think that would depend on the restaurant. I can remember one restaurant in the Midwest where the chef would serve the meat the way he felt it should be cooked. The menu said as much, and if you didn’t like it, you could go elsewhere.

Everymoms: I don’t feel that servers are bothered by substitutions as much now as in the past.

Misterv: Although I seldom pay cash, my opinion is any wait staff who asks if I need change are either not trained properly or don’t care. Even if service is good, this question negatively affects their tip.

Kc: Why do waiters/waitresses always stop by to ask how the food is when your mouth is full?

D.F.: Why do they always ask you if you’re “still working’’? It was bad enough when it was “Are you still working on that?’’ But the “on that’’ is so frequently dropped, it makes eating seem that much more laborious.

Everymoms: I hate being addressed as “guys’’!!!

Miri: I hate when I have just finished my food and the waiter swoops in to collect my plate before the other people at the table have finished.

D.F.: I hate when I am eating with several women and the servers feel the need to stress how much we are eating. Like, oooh women eating! That’s so crazy! Recently, at a rather high-end restaurant, every time we finished a small course, the server would say, “You hated that, didn’t you?’’

Mrs. Peel: My biggest pet peeve is when people who get seated after me get their order taken — and delivered — before me. Like, hello??? I’m not invisible, am I?

Jon: As a former server, I can tell you what my biggest pet peeve is of the customers — get off of your cellphone. You’re at dinner, have some manners. Don’t expect me to wait for you to wrap up your conversation. Rude.

Excerpted from Devra First’s weekly chat. Go to today at 11 a.m. to chat live about your favorite dishes, recipes, and restaurants. Devra First can be reached at