There's Only One Time It's OK to Leave a Handwritten Note for Your Server

That feedback make not have the effect that you think.

<p>Frazao Studio Latino / Getty Images</p>

Frazao Studio Latino / Getty Images

In these days of texting, emails and communicating via GIFs, the act of creating a handwritten letter is a lost art. Hardly anyone takes the time to put pen to paper anymore and some school curriculums don’t even bother teaching cursive to their students. For most people, it’s easier to type or voice text when they want to express something. Even so, there are times that the handwritten note still finds its place in our culture. A thank you card for a birthday gift? Perfectly acceptable. Scribbling out on a napkin that the service at a restaurant was too slow? Not so much.

Writing a note on a restaurant receipt complaining about an aspect of the meal is not the handwritten note anybody ever wants and it seems to be happening more than ever. Maybe it’s always been prevalent, but servers didn’t used to have cameras in their aprons to take photos of them to be posted on social media. Leaving a note to a server griping about something is a waste of ink and effort and there are better ways to get your point across.

Related: How to Handle Restaurant Screw-Ups Like a Grown-Up

If the note is a critique of the food or service, it’s better to have a conversation with someone. Waiting until the very end of the meal to say your food was too salty doesn’t give anyone the opportunity to make things right. Very often, these notes are written with the same pen that scribbled in a bad tip, so it almost makes the customer look as if they didn’t want to tip and they found a reason to excuse themselves from leaving one.

I’m not saying a complaint isn’t necessarily justified, but it just makes more sense to share that complaint verbally with a member of the restaurant staff. Reading chicken scratch about how horrible something was, but only seeing it after the customer is gone minimizes the complaint and adds a hint of cowardice. If it’s upsetting enough to write it down, it should be important enough to tell someone face to face.

Related: How to Complain at a Restaurant, According to Restaurant Owners

There are times it’s perfectly acceptable to leave a note for your server. If it’s a compliment, by all means, use your finest penmanship and let the compliments flow. A note like that can change the whole trajectory of a server’s shift and mood. There are servers who will hold onto those notes, keeping them in their server book for when they need a jolt of positivity. A rave review on Yelp is nice, but a piece of paper is tactile.

Positive notes are far and few between because so often people are more willing to put effort into a complaint rather than a compliment. Look at any suggestion box and it will definitely have more criticism than adulation. In New York City, we can dial 311 to complain about something, but there’s no phone number to call when we want to say, “Good job, city!” It’s easier to complain about things, but commending is so much more wonderful.

Related: Before You Write That Negative Restaurant Review, Know This

The best note anyone can leave a server is when things weren’t perfect, but someone takes the time to say it’s OK. Finding a note on the table that says, “Clearly you were understaffed and I know it’s not your fault that the food took forever. I hope your day gets better” is like finding a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. No server wants their customer to have a bad time and when a customer takes initiative like that, it can make their troubles melt away like lemon drops. Servers love it when their customers recognize they did their best.

If it feels essential to put your feelings down on paper, complaint or otherwise, do it. Just remember that the note has lasting effects on the server who reads it. A handwritten note is not that common these days and it can either bring someone down or lift someone up. It seems to me that if you’re going to go to the trouble of writing something with pen and paper, it would be more fulfilling to have someone feel good after reading what you wrote. 

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