My musings on the mainstream media and culture.

First World Problem: Does Complaining about the Service Make Me a Bourgeois Capitalist Pig?


Big news. Apparently it’s now customary in the United States to receive your salad WITH you entrée.

I learned this on Saturday night at the Good Earth in Edina, Minnesota, when my entrée arrived shortly before my salad. Before my drink had been served. And also before my husband’s soup or entrée had been served.

I complained. I told the waiter I wanted to eat my salad before my entrée. So several confused waiters took away the entrée, and finally served my husband his soup.

The original waiter came out to apologize. Sort of. You see, he explained to me, MOST people want their salad and entrée to come out at the same time. This lame and patently wrong excuse made me irate, and told him this was ridiculous (which prompted my seven-year-old daughter to nudge me repeatedly because Mommy was being mean to the waiter). And yet, the waiter stuck to his claim that the first and second course customarily arrive simultaneously. So now you know. Next time you go to a restaurant—whether it’s Denny’s or something with a Michelin star—expect to be served your starter course at the same time as your entrée.

Clearly this restaurant was having problems expediting their food, and clearly my waiter was full of it. I had a legitimate complaint. But whenever I complain about bad service—and there seems to be plenty of bad service these days—I find myself feeling guilty.

The thing is, I know that being on the serving end of the service economy sucks. (Just read what this fired Applebee’s waitress has to say.) I’m sure the Good Earth server makes more than an Applebee’s server, but probably not lots more. Also, the poor servers at the Good Earth have to deal with some of the snootiest people in Minnesota, as the restaurant is located at the upscale Galleria, a boutique-infested place where few of us mere 99-percenters walk into except to mock the one percent and to eat at the Good Earth. In fact, here’s a Yelp review from a former Galleria employee who said the clientele was so rude that he saw a customer actually dump a latte on the floor because it wasn’t “done right.”

So why bother getting irate at this fellow at the Good Earth? I have a salaried job at a desk where I get to be creative, use my mind, and work with respectful people. I’m at the top of the caste system—well, not on par with the Galleria shoppers, but certainly higher than the waiter.

And no, it doesn’t really matter that I’ve been on the other side of the service economy. I’ve worked at fast food restaurants and other jobs that were crappier than this guy’s job at the Good Earth. I paid most of my way through college and grad school and didn’t own my first vehicle until I was 28 years old. My husband grew up in a family that was so poor that they didn’t go the dentist regularly or get birthday parties. None of this matters because when I walk into the Good Earth on a Saturday night with my family and we order whatever we want off the menu, we’re doing something that billions of people worldwide can’t afford to do, and this guy is serving us.

You don’t think there’s a caste system in the service economy? I invite you to walk around the downtown Minneapolis skyway system at lunch on a weekday, which are lined with places to buy a sandwich or sushi or a slice of pizza. At noon, the eateries are filled up with the desk job people, purchasing food from people who work for minimum wage.

And while most of the people who work at these places are competent and courteous, I estimate than for every 1 in 6 orders I place at these eateries, the food I get back is not what I ordered. This is better, of course, than the service at the McDonalds down the street from my house (the culinary opposite of the Good Earth, I realize). I don’t eat there anymore. They’ve never gotten a single order of mine exactly right, ever.

So, should I complain? Most of me feels like I need to suck up my First World Problem and not complain about bad service. Who can blame them if they’re phoning it in? They’re not being paid a living wage. They’re part of an oppressive capitalist system where some people have the resources and advantages to get ahead, and some people just don’t.

On the other hand, bad service increasingly seems to becoming the norm—and not just on the fast food level. We’re increasingly becoming an economy where people rebel against the elite, one-percenter corporations they work for by doing a poor job. They’re rebelling against corporations that operate in a country where workers have fewer rights than in any other developed country, where health care premiums go up constantly, where companies aren’t required to give ANY paid maternity leave, and where workers can be laid off whenever the company is worried about stock prices. Things are not fair in corporate America.

But does that mean when my husband comes home with my daughter’s birthday cupcakes from Target and they’ve messed up my order four different ways, I shouldn’t get annoyed? Is there a point at which I can stop critiquing the capitalist economy and just expect to get the product I paid for?

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5 thoughts on “First World Problem: Does Complaining about the Service Make Me a Bourgeois Capitalist Pig?

  1. Rebecca on said:

    The thing I don’t understand now is that even though the service is terrible, a 20% tip is now the expected norm?! That is absolutely crazy.

  2. I don’t think that complaining about service necessarily makes someone a bourgeois capitalist pig. Yes, it’s a first world problem, but you recognize that it’s a first world problem – unlike those among us that act as though 2% instead of whole milk in their cappuccino is the end of the universe as we know it.

  3. When someone gets my order wrong, I usually view it as an opportunity to try something I normally wouldn’t have chosen. Then again, I have no food allergies and few foods that I dislike.
    Cliched as “the customer is always right” is, you can’t win by arguing with your customers, especially when you’re wrong. In the short run, that server avoided a black mark on his own record by refusing to admit fault, transferring it instead to the restaurant.
    Having said that, I do feel the conflict between viewing the tip either as a reward for good service, or as a 20% surcharge to be paid to the staff (regardless of service quality). While I want to tip poorly for bad service, irrational guilt keeps me from ever going below 15%. After all, I can’t usually tell if the problem was the server, a miscalibrated touch screen, or the kitchen/bar staff.

  4. Yes, for those of us who are especially self-aware, there is a fine line between complaining and acting like capitalist pigs. It’s not wrong or unethical to expect the product and/ or service to be what you paid for. Communicating when it isn’t with respect and dignity for others is what keeps us from looking like spoiled brats. (I.e. dumping lattes on the floor crosses that line. 🙂 )

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