There’s a lot of things I love about Europe, but the table service at restaurants is not one of them. I know I’m generalizing and there are some countries that are more guilty of this than others (Belgium, I’m looking at you), but even in cities like Amsterdam, where the service is pretty good overall, you stand close to a 40 or 50% chance of getting completely terrible service.
I know… the servers don’t work for tips in a lot of these countries, which I think is actually awesome. I’ve worked in the service industry and I firmly believe your pay should not be tied to the whim or stinginess of random strangers. But that doesn’t give you an excuse to be completely absent or rude. If I was hired at a factory to put labels on beer bottles and I only did that correctly like half of the time, I would lose my job. So if you’re hired to wait tables, and you let your tables sit there without so much as a tepid glass of water for 30 minutes, you should lose your job.
Maybe it’s the laid back attitude everyone has here that I’m not yet used to, but when I’m hungry and not getting food, I’m not laid back. I get hangry. I didn’t sit in a restaurant to socialize. I could do that anywhere. I came to your restaurant to eat. Please feed me! I don’t feel like I’m asking for too much.
Even worse than feeling invisible when you’re waiting to get a menu, give your order, or even ask for water, is waiting to pay. I’ve never skipped on a bill, but when you make me wait to pay for my meal, that’s exactly what I want to do. I know a lot of people like to sit and relax after their meal and that’s great, but for those of us that have a meeting or a train to catch, it’s nice to at least acknowledge our presence.
Recently in Krakow, I had a delicious meal at a very nice restaurant. While we ate, we enjoyed the restaurant’s live pianist and violinist. It’s the kind of meal that would have probably cost at least $100 back home. But it didn’t. It was about $20, dessert and all. And after we were done with said dessert, the waitress picked up our plate, didn’t ask if we wanted anything else or the check and proceeded to ignore us for 25 minutes. I was desperate to get her attention, but she would walk past our table and look everywhere but in our direction. It was exasperating. Eventually, I was able to ask for the bill and upon waiting another 15 minutes, I just got up and went to the register. Frankly, I was either going to get up to pay or get up to walk out, so they’re lucky that I’m a mostly decent person. As good as that meal was, I will always remember that place for how bad the service was.
Unfortunately, that is the prevailing impression I’ve had about some entire cities or countries. “Yeah, Brussels was nice, but I either starve or learn to cook there, because I don’t have 4 hours to spare to get lunch.“ It’s a shame to do that to the place you work and the city where you live. If you don’t like customer service, do something else. And if you own a restaurant, do your own business a favor and get better servers.