You’ve been counting down the days until this moment for months now.
Maybe you have been here before; maybe you’ve spent the preceding months excitedly taking in all the hype from every avenue possible to gear up for your first experience. Either way, the anticipation of sitting down in these very chairs is the stuff dreams are made of. Bringing your friends and family to this Disney restaurant was your goal, your reward, and part of the reason you got up and went to work every day. You finally walked through those doors, and everything is perfect. The decor, the vibe, the view, everything is just as you had hoped it would be. So what happens when the one aspect that pulls it all undone is the service you are offered by your server?
We’ve all had a dining experience or two with an unenthusiastic staff member. I can recall on our last trip to the USA, we visited a quiet IHOP without a single employee in sight. After 10 minutes, my husband had to politely call into the kitchen for someone to come out. A very disgruntled waitress eventually appeared, grabbed a few menus, threw them on a nearby table and walked away. Had there been another restaurant, or diner open nearby, we would have been out of there; but I had two kids that had been on the road for hours and needed to get some food. At this point, we needed to make a choice, kick up a stink or get creative.
It became our unspoken family mission to break this young employee with kindness until she smiled.
Unlike this situation, your Universal or Disney Dining isn’t just something you randomly pulled over on the side of the road for. It is something you plan six months in advance to ensure you have the right place, at the right time to have the right amount of magic for your family. You read reviews and plan your days around where you can be when, in some ways, dining reservations are the first piece of your Disney Vacation puzzle, often dictating where you will be for each day. So when you finally take your seat at that very place you worked so hard to get to only to find that your server feels more like a poorly behaved temp than the well trained Cast Member you expected, what can you actually do about it?
You have a few options and choosing between them can often be narrowed down by establishing what the problem with your server is. Has your server disappeared and not returned to take your order for an extended period of time? Perhaps they are ignoring your wishes, continually making mistakes with your order or just generally not paying attention. Taking it one step further, you may get the odd person who is outright rude or argumentative in some instances, coming across as aggressive, indignant or equally indifferent to any of your requests. Each of those things will require a different response. So why don’t we run through a few things you can do when met with disappointment.
Don’t be afraid to say something.
With the exception of a few, most of us don’t enjoy being the complainer, so much so that many times we let a lot more slide than we should. Sometimes when things are not going to plan, speaking up earlier before the situation intensifies can be helpful. If you mention to your server early on when something doesn’t feel quite right, that can often give them the chance to rectify it before it becomes a bigger problem. Not saying anything and then leaving with complaints doesn’t provide them with an opportunity to accommodate your needs or correct the aspects of your experience that you were not happy with.
Ask to speak away from the table.
If the situation is intensifying with several points of contention, try to approach your server away from the tables. Some people will become defensive when they are put on-the-spot in front of a large audience. If you feel like your server isn’t paying attention or may have a better response when taking a one-on-one method, consider addressing them away from your group to make any specific wishes known.
Ask to speak to management.
When you have a situation that isn’t improving, you may need to ask to speak to someone higher up the proverbial food chain. If you need to, do your best to do it discreetly. You don’t need to involve the surrounding tables enjoying their meal with the dramatic request for management unless absolutely necessary. Just quietly ask to speak to a manager and don’t forget to thank the server if they have done everything within their power to assist you and the problem you are facing is out of their control. Despite being your point of contact, they can’t control every element of your experience.
Choose not to let the situation escalate.
Whichever way you choose to handle the situation, make a conscious effort not to let it spoil your evening. With the right attitude, even the worst of problems can be skirted around for an enjoyable evening filled with the tone you set yourselves at the table. Choose to make your server smile if they are grumpy or have a joke with them about that noisy group of Australians down the back that just never shut up; there are always a few of us around.
Basically, try to be part of the solution, not part of a bigger problem.
Now let’s run through a list of a few things you shouldn’t do when faced with a less than perfect situation
Make fun of them or call them names
‘Listen, Bucko,‘ nothing good can come from that opening, and I can promise that whatever well-deserved point you may have will go out the window when starting with a conversation as the patronizing knob. No one wants to be spoken down to so even when you are frustrated and trying to form a constructive argument, try to hold back on the sarcasm. You are much more likely to get what you need by appealing to them with kindness first, followed by a strong but concise complaint while remaining respectful of the people around you if things progress.
Complaining over every little thing
If your children swapped seats after you ordered, but your server didn’t pick up on it when the food was actually served? Get over it.
If there was a slight mix up with the order that was rectified quickly and incident-free after that? Get over it.
If the kitchen is unable to make you a dish on the menu with the 34 substitutions, you made a list of? Get over it.
If your 70-year-old mother who has been eating from the quick service children’s menu all week needs to pay a little bit extra since she is over nine years old, hear me when I say, get over it.
Behaving like an entitled buffoon.
There is always that one person that given a chance to complain will start parading around as though it is feeding time at the zoo. They get hyped up, ready for action, dramatic arm movements, raised voices, uses language that is filled with more disrespect and stupidity than a description of the actual problem. You know the one. Don’t be a tool. Just because you got the short end of the stick in server roulette doesn’t mean you should ruin the evening for everyone in the building.
Keep your behavior together otherwise instead of remembering a night that was lovely other than a few issues with a server; your party will remember that time Bob went insane over broccoli and was asked to leave the hotel.
In the end, it was my son who managed to break the IHOP server with his 9-year-old charm and boyish appreciation for her bringing his dinner. That night we found a way to turn a really poor service experience into a family challenge to brighten the evening of this early-20’s, angst-ridden, eye-rolling machine. To our satisfaction, we cracked her, leaving her with a smile and a wave, as a completely different person to that who greeted us with her murderous eyes of attitude earlier.
We all have the power to impress positivity on those around us, even in the toughest of times. Sometimes all it takes is a little compassion to settle down a tense situation. Others may require a more stern approach and in those moments, never let the poor behavior of your opponent distract you from monitoring your own.
When all else fails, leave your most significant moves for last, giving the restaurant ample opportunity to correct any mistakes. Even then, for the sake of your own sanity sometimes it is best to simply walk away and write the experience off as a lesson in what not to do.
If you are feeling a little more feisty, some may turn to social media or review sites to share their experience with others. Just remember when doing so the same rules apply, a well-constructed, succinct argument is much more relatable than an emotionally-charged blast of negativity that can be written off a dramatic.
Zoë Wood is a travel writer from Sydney, Australia. Since her first visit to Disneyland at the age of 6, she has spent her years frequently visiting Disney Parks and traveling around the world.
Join Zoë as she lets you in on all the tips, tricks, anecdotes, and embarrassments that arise from her family adventures.