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Frustrated? Sometimes the best action is actually no action at all

May 06, 2014 // By Marcus Brotherton

“About five, ten minutes tops,” the hostess assures us. “We’ll get you right in.”

We are suckers for this particular eatery, my wife and I, and they don’t take reservations for breakfast, so we agree to wait. Still, I remember that Seinfeld episode where Jerry, Elaine, and George hear the same thing only to spend the next thirty minutes waiting for a table.

Fifteen minutes tick by. Twenty. Our two older kids are getting crabby, their stomachs growling. Twenty-five. Thirty. Our third child, the baby, needs to eat and begins to give kitten-like yelps of angst.

At the thirty-five minute mark we sigh and head for home and cold cereal. We’ve already reached our car when the hostess runs outside and shouts across the street—“Your table is ready!”

The situation has become laughable, but this place serves up the best cinnamon rolls in town. So we trudge inside, get shown to our table, and sit. Our waitress takes our order. After that we wait some more. And wait. And wait. There’s no casual swing-by from the waitress to say, “Your order will be right up.”

Finally, a whopping fifty minutes after our order is taken, our food arrives.

This has become a bad morning. I wanted this day to be special for my family, but no one’s in a good mood anymore.

When the check arrives, there’s no apology from the waitress, no plausible explanation of being shorthanded today, no murmured account of a new cook being broken in, no visit from the restaurant’s manager to comp us a free meal.

Only the check.

Typically I am a generous and affirming restaurant patron. Years ago I worked as a waiter, so I understand how slowdowns can occur.

But I am fuming. I want to say something to the management, only I don’t trust what might come out of my mouth.

What would you do?

It’s healthy to be assertive.

It’s good to speak up and say what you need to say. To do what you need to do.

In this particular case I considered confronting the waitress or manager after our meal was eaten, (never confront before—you never know who might spit in your soup). But neither of them were around when we wanted to leave, so I didn’t bother.

I simply paid the bill and didn’t leave a tip with the thought that the message would filter up through the ranks.

Then I talked over the situation with my wife on the way home.

And here’s where this story takes a twist—

Both of us acknowledged to each other the disappointment we felt on a morning we’d hoped would be special. We purposely named our feelings of anger to each other.

We discussed the merits of taking further action.

• We could phone the restaurant, talk to the manager, and demand our money back.

• We could leave a scathing review online.

But in the end decided in this case we wouldn’t do either.

We would do nothing.


Because the effort didn’t seem worth our time.

Instead, we wanted to do other activities with our family throughout the weekend. We wanted to put the event behind us and move forward.

In the end, you could call our response a lament of sorts. Not a lament with any deep mourning attached to it, or a grin-and-bear lament that shrugged off the experience completely, or a lament where we went around sad-faced the rest of the day.

Just a simple recognition that life is imperfect.

We’d eaten at this restaurant before and the experience had been great. Lots of people in town liked this restaurant. So there must have been some extenuating circumstances around this day to make our seating and service so slow.

Our conclusion was that sometimes a day doesn’t go as planned. That’s what we acknowledged to ourselves.

We didn’t stuff our anger deep inside our guts. And we didn’t hold vow revenge or hold a grudge against the restaurant.

On this occasion we simply acknowledged the imperfection of the moment, and then moved forward with our day.

Sometimes that’s the best answer.
Question: Have you ever experienced an angering situation where “doing nothing” proved beneficial in the long run? Explain.


  • Danl Hall

    Healthy response. Thank you for sharing.

    • MB

      Thanks Danl.

  • Ike

    I worked at one time as a supervisor/dispatcher for approximately 50 local truck drivers. My supervisor and I didn’t see eye to eye, so he would tell me to run my shift in ways that he knew would annoy the drivers, hoping to cause me grief. One day my supervisor had me give a driver with low seniority a special run that should have gone to a driver with higher seniority. I had to stand there and take the verbal abuse from the driver who should have taken the run ( he was better qualified for the run beyond seniority as well). I wanted to march this driver into my supervisor’s office and have them fight it out, but I knew that would only exacerbate the situation. I looked at the driver and said, “I understand.” Later that day, the same driver that berated me in front of others apologized to me in front of those same people, saying that after cooling down and thinking about it he realized that I was smarter than my actions appeared and that I must be getting my marching orders from higher up. I simply said thank you and turned around to see that my supervisor had witnessed the entire apology. I simply turned back to my work without a word. From then on, all the drivers sought to work within the quirky instructions given me by my supervisor without causing me extra grief for his decisions.

    • MB

      Good story, well handled. Thanks.

  • David Tindell

    While there can be extenuating circumstances that delay service, there can be no excuse for poor service. At the very least the waitress should’ve stopped by your table a couple or three times during your wait for the meal, to reassure you that you hadn’t been forgotten and perhaps to explain the delay, and of course to apologize for it. Your refusal to leave a tip surely sent that message; then again, these days you never know. If you have poor service next time, that would be the time to talk to the manager.
    Some years ago I worked for a company where the manager was terminated (his attempt to buy the company had fallen through). Being a mid-level manager myself, I applied for the job. The company VP interviewed me and I thought it went well, although he told me later they’d selected someone with more experience for the job. He praised my work, though, and rewarded me with a nice raise. The new manager came in and almost immediately started looking for my replacement, even while maintaining to me and the staff that he liked my work. When 2+2 finally added up to 4, I confronted him privately and he admitted that in spite of what he’d been saying for the past several weeks, he was indeed dissatisfied. When I asked what specifically he was concerned with, he dodged the question. This was very disconcerting because his predecessor had been one of those guys who gave regular feedback on your performance; you knew where you stood all the time.
    Having small kids and a mortgage, I couldn’t afford to resign on the spot, so I spent the next year-plus looking for another job, enduring a humiliating demotion and pay cut from this character along the way. I finally got a new position in another town, which in turn led to my current town and a situation that has ultimately proven to be far better than if I’d gotten that manager’s job in the first place.
    I was gratified to learn a few years later that this clown had managed the company to the verge of bankruptcy and was himself fired. I think back on it now and know that if I’d raised hell at the time, as I surely felt like doing, the backlash would’ve been immediate and painful. Things worked out for the best. I did, however, learn to be a little more cautious about accepting what turned out to be faint praise, and from then on made sure to keep honest lines of communication open with superiors. As Reagan said so wisely, “Trust, but verify.”

    • MB

      Tough situation for you, indeed. Sounds like you handled it with a lot of tact and wisdom. thanks for sharing. –MB

  • George Lawson

    Great read, I am so with you on this. I have found for me being right doesn’t mean vocalizing it, trying to wrap my head around certain situations, isn’t worth the effort. There are times we have to take a deep breath and just move on with life.

    The next time you’re down in our area, and you need some cinnamon rolls, give us the day & time and no waiting. Vicki makes Amazing homemade cinnamon rolls and I’ll throw in farm fresh eggs and sausage gravy…..

    You know all thing do work together…..

    • MB

      George–sounds good. Thanks much! –MB

  • Great story Marcus, thanks for sharing. A couple of years ago, my girlfriend and I went back to the Netherlands to visit our family for Christmas and the New Year’s celebrations. There was a lot of snowfall that year, and on the day we needed to fly back to Denmark, the weather was pretty terrible with all the wind and snow. So, we first had a delay of about 5 hours, which is a long time considering the flight from Amsterdam to Copenhagen only takes 1 hour. But, we waited. Then we had to wait another 2 extra hours. It was becoming a very tiring day. Then, they announced that we would be taken to Brussels by bus, since a flight to Copenhagen would depart from there. This would mean another bus journey of about 4 hours! Funny, we arrived from Maastricht in the morning, only an hour from Brussels! So, we waited for another 1,5 hour, then 2 buses came. All the people rushed to the front, “me first!” ” I was here first” “take me!” etc. My girlfriend and I are not like that, and we were both really angry about the situation as well. If they would have told us it would take all day, or we needed to leave from Brussels, we would have been able to prepare for it, or take action. Then…both buses were full! Together with one other couple we were left.. no transportation for us.
    We both had to go back to work the next day. We were both really tired of the day. Annoyed by the delays, we did not ate any proper food for a whole day..we were just tired. The other couple started to shout at the Airport people. Threatening them, naming them all the bad words, demanding to see managers…I just said to my girlfriend: “OK, we won’t get home today. Let’s find out what they can find out about any possible flights”. We went to the information stand, and were told to wait. Then a manager came to us after 10 minutes, and told us to follow him. He asked if it would suit us to fly the next day at 11:00 in the morning. No problem for us. Then he handed us an envelope. In it were our new tickets, paid and ready to go by the airline company. Also, we were offered a Hotel Room in a 4 star hotel, including dinner, free drinks, we could use the minibar for free, and breakfast included! WOW! So, we went to the very nice hotel, had a lovely dinner, drank some wine, watched a movie in a really nice hotel room, had breakfast the next morning, got on the flight, and had a very relaxed day! We did not see the complaining couple
    Sorry…LONG story!
    anywhere. I was happy we just went along with everything, and kept our anger to ourselves. 🙂

    • Marcus

      Yuri, always great to hear from you. Sounds like you handled a very frustrating situation well. A good example, too, of how you kept your cool and received what you needed in the way of hotel reimbursement, etc. while the other couple who lost their cool didn’t. Thanks.

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the bestselling author or coauthor of more than 25 books. Welcome to my blog. Thoreau pointed out how too many people lead lives of quiet desperation. Their lives are bland and meaningless, or they make choices that trap them in despair and darkness. By contrast, I want to help people lead lives of excellence. Meet here regularly for powerful stories and insight into how to live and lead well.