Legit Reasons to Ask to Speak to a Restaurant Manager

Daniel Fishel/Thrillist

"I'd like to speak to a manager." When loosed from a customer's lips, it's kind of the ultimate restaurant power play, an attempt to cut through the shit, toss the middle man aside, and jump to the top of the ladder to air a grievance. In a customer's mind, it's a way to finally put a foot down. Maybe the food wasn't satisfactory. Maybe the server kept screwing up. Maybe (usually) it's a sign that a crackpot customer somehow learned that that saying those seven words is a one-way ticket to a comped meal, even if their dissatisfaction stems from their own ignorance.

But there’s a reason servers make fun of anyone who asks to speak to a manager: because they’re usually asshats drunk on their petty power and looking to ruin someone else’s day because it makes them feel better about their own. Spoiler alert: Restaurant customers are very, very often assholes, and "I'd like to speak to a manager" is generally translated as "I'm a horrible person, and I want something but have no idea how restaurants work."

But despite all the Karens to whom the manager is an instant self-esteem button, there actually are a variety of good reasons to ask to speak to a manager. Here are the circumstances when you're totally right to ask to speak to a restaurant manager. 

Jason Hoffman/Thrillist

If someone is having a medical emergency

This is a pretty obvious and self-explanatory one. If someone is having a cardiac episode or going into anaphylactic shock, yeah, the manager should definitely be involved! Restaurant employees might sometimes say we want our customers to die, but we don’t. Usually. Except for that one guy who makes lewd comments to women servers, tips 5%, and smells like he thinks a shower is something that happens to other people.

If you’re dealing with extra long ticket times

A customer’s food taking too long is probably the single most common reason for a manager to be called in. Most of the time, it’s bullshit; customers think it’s been a half-hour when it’s actually been 10 minutes, because when you’re having to wait for a Bloomin’ Onion, you suddenly become a Time Lord. But the thing is, there are occasionally times where you should be calling the manager for a ticket time issue -- you just have to be careful to follow the rules.

1. Don’t do this when the restaurant is busy. It won’t help anything, and that's why your Moon Over My-Hammy is taking so long.

2. Don’t do it if the restaurant isn’t particularly busy, but your server is because the idiot host just triple-sat them (there’s always one idiot host at every restaurant, because there’s a quota). You can tell if this is the case based on whether they’re running back and forth like they’re doing wind sprints and wearing an expression most commonly associated with survivors of Iwo Jima.

3. Check the actual time that has passed since you’ve been waiting for your food, rather than the time your inner 5-year-old with ADHD thinks has gone by.

4. If your server has made sure to check back with you and apologize for the wait, it’s probably a result of the kitchen being backed up (and you know that has to be true, because I’m risking having cutlery hurled at me by irate chefs for mentioning it). You can still talk to the manager -- and if it’s been a really long time, you should, although if your server is worth their salt, they’ll probably go get the manager for you before you have to ask -- but make sure to clarify to the manager that the issue is not your server’s fault.

If your server hasn’t made sure to check in with you and neither they nor the Applebee’s is busy, chances are they done fucked up. Ninety percent of the time, food delays are the fault of the kitchen being backed up. The other 10% of the time, your server probably forgot to put something in or is just not doing their job. In either instance, asking for the manager isn’t as terrible an idea as a lot of restaurant employees would have you believe.

Jason Hoffman/Thrillist

If your server is engaging in clearly unsanitary behaviors

If you just watched your server cough into your food, get the manager. If your server clearly hasn’t bathed in several days and their uniform is covered in so many unidentifiable, unspeakable stains that they look like they’ve just come from the bad sort of adult film set, get the manager. If you just watched them drop someone’s food, then pick it up off the floor and put it right back on the plate, get the manager. If your server cannot stop loudly farting while you’re trying to tell them your order… maybe don’t get the manager because that is goddamned hilarious, but if they smell like burnt hair mixed with Dick Butkus’s jockstrap, yeah, go for it. You get the idea.

If your server is on heavy amounts of drugs

This is a very specialized instance, but it does happen. Look, the use of illicit substances is pretty common within the restaurant industry -- less nefarious ones like weed and alcohol, sure (and if your server is stoned, it’s more likely to be hilarious than anything), but also heavier stuff. This is most likely to be cocaine (in which case your server might honestly be more attentive and productive than usual), but if they’re clearly tweaking to the point where they might pose a danger to themselves or others, it’s time to get the manager involved!

Most likely, “I think my server might be on heavy drugs” isn’t going to get a shocked reaction -- the boss probably knew, but they had 100 covers and five servers all night, and no one else could make it in, so they just decided to roll the dice. The fact this happens is perhaps an indictment of the restaurant industry itself, but there are so many things to serve as indictments of restaurant industry practices at this point that it’s relatively low on the list.

If your server has been openly racist, creepy, and/or threatening

This is a very uncommon one in most places.  Our income depends on making customers like us, even the racist servers (and there’s no shortage of those) are good at hiding it, and most servers aren’t stupid enough to make a customer actually feel like we’re going to punch them even if we really, really want to. But it does occasionally happen. If at any point your server has made you feel unsafe or clearly crossed any lines, ask to speak to someone in charge immediately (maybe by asking another server if you’re worried your own might put an oyster fork through your kidneys if you bring it up with them). Bottom line: you should never have to feel uncomfortable or unsafe during your restaurant experience.

If your server was especially great and you want to give them a shout-out

This is the big one that doesn't happen nearly enough: if your server was particularly good, don’t hesitate to ask to speak to a manager in order to sing their praises. You’ll probably get an instant look of terror from the server when you ask, but keep going. If the manager is nice, you’ve just made your server look good. If (as is more likely) they’re a dick, then you’ve just handed your server a card to play against them if they ever try to step. Either way, your server wins.

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C.A. Pinkham is a guy who makes inappropriate jokes about Toblerones on the internet. Follow him on Twitter @EyePatchGuy.