Do you need to see the manager or do you want to see the manager? There's a big difference.
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A customer holds up a glass of water at a restaurant
Credit: Yiu Yu Hoi / Getty Images

Bob and Carol are enjoying dinner out at a favorite restaurant. When their server surreptitiously refills Carol's water glass and walks away from the table, Bob notices something out of the corner of his eye.

"Our waitress isn't smiling," he says to Carol. "I mean, she smiled when she took our order, but just now she wasn't."

Carol swallows a bite of her medium-to-medium-rare-but-not-too-red strip steak and replies, "Maybe we should tell a manager about this."

Bob proceeds to aggressively snap his fingers in the air at no one in particular, eager to complain.

Stop right there and take a moment to ponder this. If you even remotely consider it to be a perfectly reasonable scenario, there has never been a piece of written word more important than the one you're reading. When you go to a restaurant, an occasion may arise when you want to speak to a manager. Before you make that request, really consider if it's absolutely paramount. If it is, keep these things in mind. 

Language is important. 

You don't "need" to see a manager, you simply "want" to see a manager. The two words have vastly different meanings. One of them implies that if the manager doesn't appear at your table as summoned, life will cease to continue. The world will stop spinning and everything will come to a halt. The other word suggests that it would please you to see a manager, but their presence is not necessary for you to keep breathing. Humans need water, but we want cocktails. See the difference? When requesting a manager, make sure everyone understands you know the difference between needing something and wanting it. 

What is your endgame? 

Know what you hope to achieve from the interaction. Don't expect for the manager to present you with a list of gold-embossed calligraphed options on papyrus or vellum that you will scrutinize until you discover what shall please you. Before you ask to see a manager, decide what result you are looking for. A sympathetic ear? Do you want to make a suggestion? Are you expecting a remake on your food or a refund? Asking for the manager and not knowing why you're doing it is a huge waste of everyone's time. 

Be nice. 

A manager is not required to do whatever it is you ask of them. This is their kingdom and you are but a visitor in it. A customer might not always be right, but they are always important and the manager knows that. They can give you exactly what you ask for or they can choose to comp your bill entirely and ask you to please leave at once. Anyone in the world of customer service is more inclined to help nice, friendly people over screaming banshees wailing about an insect buzzing too close to them on the outdoor patio. You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, and seriously, if you're complaining to a manager about too many flies on the patio, you need to reevaluate what powers you think a restaurant manager actually has. 

Asking to see a manager's manager is an overreach. 

If a manager doesn't resolve your issue to your satisfaction, asking to see their manager is a classic case of, "If mom says no, go ask dad." It's just a meal we're talking about and there are 1095 of them per person each year. Unless there is some egregious behavior from one of the restaurant staff, you don't require the audience of the regional manager or need to call the corporate office. Accept whatever solution the manager offers you and hope that the other 1094 meals of your year are more to your liking. 

Don't underestimate what a server can do for you. 

Service professionals want your meal to be as pleasant as possible. Theoretically, the better your experience, the more you will tip for it so of course they want you to be happy. Any server worth their salt will want to help you solve any perceived problem. In fact, they can probably take care of it as efficiently as a manager. Your server is going to have the same access to the chef as a manager would and maybe even be able to provide you with a better result. Besides, your server is right there taking care of you already. Give them a chance to make things right before involving other people.

Managers aren't just for complaints. 

Every aforementioned situation is under the assumption that you want to see a manager so that you can complain about something. But, you know what? Managers also like to hear about great dining experiences. For every dissatisfied restaurant customer there are dozens and dozens of satisfied ones, yet hardly anyone bothers to call a manager over for a positive reason. You can ask to see the manager to tell them the food was great, or the service was superior, or maybe you even want an application to work there. Don't reserve the right to see a manager solely to complain. Every time a manager is told a customer wants to see them, they mentally prepare themselves for a battle. Imagine how refreshing it would be for them to go to a table to accept praise for a change. It's okay to ask to see a restaurant manager.

Dining out is expensive and of course you want the best possible experience. Just know that asking for a manager isn't a deus ex machina that will swoop in and solve all of your restaurant dilemmas. Restaurant managers are just like everyone else: humans who need water, but want cocktails.