I knew it was bad out there, but in the restaurant world, it seems to have gotten ridiculous.

Exhibit A: Kenneth Henderson of Springfield, who went out for a birthday dinner a few days ago to a well-known, widely-advertised chain seafood restaurant near his home.

The restaurant shall go nameless out of fairness, because the manager on duty on the night in question no longer works there, and because every restaurant has an off night once in a while. Still, did it have to be this far off?

The Henderson party arrived at 7 p.m., the time for which they had made a reservation. Sorry, said the receptionist, but the table has been given to someone else.

I'd have done a quick reverse pivot right out the door at that point. But Kenneth and Co. had their eyeteeth set on lobster. So they waited.

For 45 minutes.

Without an apology.

Finally, a table came open. The by-now-famished crew waited 20 minutes for a waiter. Finally, one materialized, and they ordered. Then they waited another 45 minutes or so, during which time "we watched plates stacked high with lobsters being served to everyone but us," according to Kenneth.

At last, the waiter reappeared, but empty-handed. Sorry, said he, but all the lobsters are gone.

Fresh out of patience at last, Kenneth asked to see the manager.

He tried to persuade the group to order something else.

When that didn't work, he insisted that they pay for the drinks they had consumed.

Exhibit B: Steve Aaronson of Northwest, a regular at a small neighborhood restaurant, who dropped in a couple of Friday nights ago for dinner.

This place, too, shall remain nameless out of fairness, because the manager on duty at the time is on vacation, and the stand-in manager refused to connect me with the owner. At least I tried. Which is more than the restaurant did for Steve the Regular.

On the night in question, Steve ordered barbecued spare ribs. "As I progressed in eating the ribs, a taste which I thought was odd at the beginning got progressively worse," he writes.

Steve alerted the waitress. She checked with the chef, and told Steve she had been assured that nothing was wrong.

Not wanting to risk food poisoning, Steve sent back the meal and ordered a hamburger instead. The waitress said fine, but she announced that the manager had told her to charge Steve for both the ribs and the burger.

Steve paid for both, although not happily. He is still wondering why the manager couldn't have delivered his pay-for-both decision himself. Did the cat get his tongue?

In any case, "it will be a long time before my friends and I consider returning," Steve writes.

Receptionists who don't care? Waiters who don't appear? Managers without guts or grace? Who said the customer is always right?