The survey by research group Opinion Research Corp. found 25 percent of respondents cited bad service as having the most negative impact on both their dining experience and on a restaurant's reputation.
Following rude waiting staffs were hosts and maitre d's who underestimated the waiting time for a table, with 20 percent of respondents listing this as their biggest complaint with a restaurant, while 15 percent cited slow service.
Issues related to the food, however, were considered much less bothersome, with only 12 percent of respondents listing ill-prepared meals and 10 percent identifying cold food as their greatest dining out dissatisfaction.
"The smart restaurateur will make certain that great service is part of the customer experience. It will win loyalty and build profits," President of Opinion Research USA President Jeffrey Resnick said in a statement.
The study of 1,025 people found a gap in tolerance thresholds between older and younger age groups and between higher- and lower-income earners.
About 55 percent of people aged between 18 and 24 cited rude waiters as their chief complaint compared with only 32 percent of respondents aged over 65.
"Perhaps patience comes with age, but it's no excuse for poor service," said Resnick.
The survey found that 29 percent of respondents with an annual household income of over $75,000 took issue with rude waiters while only 24 percent of those earning $25,000 or less cited this as a major problem.