Recently, Matt and I have had horrible service at restaurants while traveling. It's tourist season in Alaska. Many couples are spending big bucks on their trip here. Picture the setting:
Matt and I walk in with the girls around 5:00pm. We try to time it so that the girls aren't too hungry and/or too tired yet and hope the restaurant is still nearly empty. We get the girls settled. Speed read the menu, pick out what we want, quickly close our menus and wait. And wait. And wait. Olivia is getting mad. The crayons and/or snacks we brought are no longer enough. She wants to eat and she wants to eat now. She's also just hit the wall and fatigue is setting in.
It's now 5:45pm. We've only gotten our drinks and have just barely had our order taken. The couple across from us, who arrived 20 minutes after us, has just received their dinner. Matt and I stare at their food with furious envy. Olivia has just spilt her water. All over Matt's lap. We wave down the waiter who appears to ignore us. We grab napkins from a nearby table.
At 6:00, he comes over and informs us that our food will be another two to three minutes. The table across from us is now finishing up dessert. Most everyone around us is offering their french fries to keep Olivia from screaming (at this point she's been taken outside and/or the bathroom several times) any further. We start to get glares. Our waiter is oblivious and is all smiles and small talk with his patrons who do not have children (potentially high tippers).
Finally, at 6:30pm, our food arrives. Olivia can barely eat because she's so tired. Lila finished the food I brought for her long ago and is starting to cry. As soon as our food is placed on the table, our waiter quickly runs off. We have to ask a waitress to find him at 7:00 because he hasn't reappeared to give us our bill, let alone check on us. He comes by, slaps the bill on the table, mumbles a "sorry" under his breath and tries to leave before Matt can give him is credit card (long ago pulled out of his wallet). Matt has to stand up and walk a few steps in order to get his attention to give him the card. We barely tip him. We probably should have left a penny - but would he have gotten the hint?
It's 7:20pm. We arrived nearly two and a half hours ago. Do I hear the patrons who were sitting near us singing songs of joy that we've left or is that my subconscious?
The above scenario takes place on a regular basis here in Alaska.
Personally, I think waitstaff should pay special attention to families with small children. Get them in and get them out. You'll get thanks and good tips from those families and from those sitting nearby who were able to eat their meals in peace!
Matt's comment--I don't necessarily think we should get special service. However, I do think that, when someone walks up to pour water, bring bread, etc, whether it be after 1 or 20 minutes, and I say "we're ready to order", that should be sufficient to send the message. We've eaten out more than a few times with our kids and have a few unspoken rules:
1. When the waitor comes, we order, regardless of whether or not we've had time to look at the whole menu.
2. If one or both of the kids is likely to put up a fuss that particular meal, I'm sure to tell the waitor right off the bat.
3. I politely ask the waitor to bring out Olivia's food as soon as it's ready.
4. I'm very specific with what I ask for for Olivia.
We get the occassional waitor, usually one who tells us that he/she has small kids, that is on the ball and knows just what to do. Unfortunately, that's not the case with everyone. One of the more frustrating parts is that we don't order the cheapest thing on the menu, and I do tip well. So, basically, I'm not asking for special service, I'm just asking that the waitor recognize that we're putting forth the effort to speed things along, potentially for the benefit of everyone in the restaurant, and he/she put forth the same effort to help us get our food, eat, and get on our way before the witching hour hits.