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I've noticed in the several years of reading these boards and talking with people offline that people here in the US really do seem to have an expectation that if anything at all goes wrong with a restaurant meal, they'll have part or all of their meal comped.

Posters to this board, in particular, often gripe when they receive an apology rather than free food, which I find kind of stunning, especially after several years of living abroad, where no such expectation exists at all.

I'm interested in hearing how people feel about this sense of diner entitlement to free food: where it comes from, what consequences it has, and whether it's a good thing.

Personally, I'm torn. I like that we have high expectations for service and quality, but I worry that we've created a greedy monster in the process.


NYCnosh: http://nycnosh.com

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  1. It's part of the culture of over inflated egos/senses of entitlement that has developed in recent generations. I don't think people who worked hard, scratching out a living in the 19th century, or in the 20th century, especially after the start of the depression, or people who lived through either of the World Wars had that need for ego gratification. They were happy to be alive, to have a roof over their heads, and at least two square meals a day. Nor would I expect that American service people returning from duty overseas, in any generation, would be as cluelessly self absorbed.

    In other words, maybe we have had it way too easy for too long.

    1. We had someone at my work get extremely indignant because we didn't bring out a free dessert for someone's birthday. Granted, it is normally something we do, but still... dang.

      1. As a long time server/manager I've become very familiar with this phenonenon. This is how I see it.

        If it is a minor problem and I (or the chef or manager)can correct it immediately we will. You know, under-cooked steak, oversalted veggies, etc. You'll get a new or re-cooked meal and an apology. I might offer dessert on me just because I can,

        If it happens that your meal goes horribly wrong on a number of levels (eggregiously bad service, un-redeemingly bad food or even (god forbid) a mouse runs through the dining room) then it's likely that I'll comp your meal or even the entire check. I may even give you a gift certificate good for a return visit.

        I want you to return to my restaurant and I will do everything in my power to see that you do.

        About the mouse thing...I worked in a place that in the summer opened onto a patio and those little devils always tried to sneak inside. It was not a sanitation issue.

        1 Reply
        1. re: kimmer1850

          And I would certainly return to give your restaurant another try. If I have a truly awful experience at a restaurant, and management does not respond to my satisfaction, I simply won't go back. Why send good money after bad?

        2. I don't ever expect to be comped, but if a restaurant messes up and has an attitude about it, I'll never go back. An apology and some civility will go a long way to soothing ruffled diners.

          2 Replies
          1. re: cheryl_h

            Right, Cheryl. My incident involved a coupon I got as a bonus for ordering more than $50 in Gift Certificates. The coupond was for "one free pizza" ..well we ordered the $10 pizza and then $9 salad and beverages and they took off the price of the salad (the only pizza that was $9 was plain cheese).

            I sent off an email to the website the next day, noting our receipt number and what we had eaten and told them they should change the wording on the coupon, not that $1 mattered that much, but it seemed wrong.

            I got an email back immediately, with a short "so sorry"asking for my address and phone number...and I responded right away. Within 30 minutes THE owner of the local chain (I don't think it is anywhere not in San Diego; but there are 5 different restaurants) called me; noting my email address (it is obvious I prepare taxes) and apologized. I said it was "ok" and jsut kind of griped me that teh wording was not clear. He asked me if I would allow any of my clients to be 'off' by "only $1" and I, of course, laughed and said "absolutely not"...we chated for a while and anyhow, the next day, I got a $25 gift certificate in the mail.

            ...and every client I told the story to said they will go to that restaurant instead of others that are in that mall from now on.

            SO, that little bit of PR gave him much more business, and I was happy also.


            1. re: Cathy

              Now that is service! I would have been happy just with a nice email or note but the certificate is a bonus.

          2. We had dinner several weeks ago at a new place (for us, not a new restaurant) in SF. The server messed up the entrees a little bit but it was certainly no disaster and all worked out very well. There were 4 of us (w couples) and after apps and the entree we ordered just one dessert to split between us. However, he brought out another dessert also to make up for his error with the entree. It was "on the house" of course. This wasn't requested or even expected but it was a very nice jesture and will certainly get us back to that place soon.

            But, I've see the screaming and yelling and expectations for basically nothing. Too many people in this country looking for a free meal. I agree with kimmer, it has to be pretty darn bad to comp something.

            1. I wonder if maybe chains have something to do with it. Two years ago, I worked as a server at a large chain restaurant and I was shocked at how much food managers would comp (it really annoyed me because it detracted from the final bill and would therefore usually not be tipped on, even though I had to tip out on comped food...but I digress). Basically, if a guest of the restaurant made any sort of complaint or asked to speak with the manager, there was usually some sort of food or drinks comped. A lot of the time, managers would comp food if a party was left waiting for a table longer than the hostess had guestimated (I mean, if you have to wait 40 min instead of 30 mins, should you really get your appetizers comped??). Anyway, I guess what I'm saying is, if you want comped food, go to a chain and complain to the manager about something, anything!! Just kidding. I have a hard time even returning food when it's not hot/cooked properly etc.

              1. I definitely think it's a bad precedent that's been set, for a number of reasons. First, as christinea said, diners don't understand that even if they get a dish comped, they need to tip on the amount their bill would have been so their waiter doesn't get screwed. Comping meals just feeds the already rampant "disease" of entitlement a lot of people feel. By having meals comped left and right, those people think they can go anywhere and whine a bit and get a free dinner.

                Where did it come from...I don't know. Maybe it's a byproduct of "the customer is always right" mentality run amok. With the economy not doing so well, perhaps restaurants think they need to make sure the customer is satisfied no matter what so they will continue coming back.

                1. My desires or expectations would depend on what the problem was. If it's a food problem (inedible, or near inedible) and it's too late to get something in its place, I would tend to expect it to be comped. Ten minutes of extra waiting for a table doesn't seem to me sufficient reason for anything more than a sincere "We've got your table ready, so sorry for the wait." If it's a service problem (e.g., looooooong wait for food, orders messed up, server rudeness) I would expect an apology from the manager if I brought it to his/her attention. A comped dessert or the like would be welcome, but I wouldn't feel slighted if I only got the apology. Of course, if the whole experience is horrible, it's not likely that I would return to the restaurant even if I did get an apology and/or something comped. Even if I were promised a free meal! Some things just ain't worth the trouble....

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: LT from LF

                    LT-- I don't see returning inedible food and not being charged for it as comping. That's more like returning defective merchandise. Comping, at least the way I see it, entails paying nothing for something you did (or could) consume.

                    I agree with you on the likelihood of returning to a place with bad food or service, even with the entire meal comped though.


                    NYCnosh: http://nycnosh.com

                  2. I am interested in opinions on the following scenario that happended the other night.

                    My DW and I had a very stressful day in our respective offices and wanted a relaxing dinner to take the edge off (a mid-week night). A restaurant in town has a nice terrace, has been open for three months and we have become pretty regular patrons and have a good relationship with the manager/owner. Price range is teens for apps and mid-$20's to low $30's for entrees. We sit outside, DW orders two apps and I order the special fish dish. My wife's first ap is served and she is 75% finished. Scene set.

                    Busboy knocks into the tray holder, knocking over an empty bottle of water, which falls to the stone terrace and shatters. The glass flies and my wife gets two cuts on her leg from the flying glass, one a scrape and the other a small piece embedded. She goes inside and takes their first aid kit to the ladies room. Fifteen minutes later she is all spruced up with two band-aids on her leg and the small glass out.

                    During all of this the glass is cleaned up, the waiter apologizes profusely, the manager-owner comes over once to apologize. We resume the delayed dinner, with an obvious change to the relaxing atmosphere.

                    Dinner complete and looking at the dessert menu when the waiter brings over two glasses of grappa on the house. Very nice touch. Neither DW nor I drink and thanked him, tell him we do not drink and he takes the drinks away. All a very pleasant scene. We decided against dessert.

                    Waiter brings over bill and nothing comped.

                    Do you think we should have taken a "fake sip" of the grappa and left it on the table?
                    Do you think something should have been comped?
                    Do you think the waiter or manager, seeing we did not drink, might have offered a dessert instead?

                    IMHO, I would have thought the third choice above would have been a good decision.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: jfood

                      I think the manager should have offered you something. What, I don't know. An offer of dessert would have been civil. The establishment should know that you could sue them for damages. Are you likely to go back?

                      Michael Ruhlman who was a guest blogger on megnut wrote about his experience in a NY restaurant where he split a tooth biting into a piece of oyster shell which was floating around underneath the oyster on the half shell. This caused him considerable pain plus a dentist bill in the $3000 range (tooth was split below the gumline, so gum surgery was needed). The restaurant was very apologetic but pointed out that they were not liable. And they charged Ruhlman and his wife the full cost of their meal, including the oysters. That's chutzpah.

                      1. re: jfood

                        Yes, you should have been comped since your wife sustained bodily injury! Whether or not you are drinkers, I find it odd that they assumed you would want grappa of all things. I mean, I love it, but I don't know that many people who do.

                        1. re: Atomica

                          No doubt for its medicinal qualities....

                      2. I was working in the kitchen of a vey nice bistro...a lady had ordered the eggs benedict "to go". She picked it up...left, and then returned a few minutes later complaining that the eggs were not poached correctly. She then went on a rant about how poached eggs should be cooked. The chef asked her if she'd like another order...the lady continued to rant. The chef asked her if she'd like a refund. The lady continued to rant. The chef gave her another order and returned her money. The lady was still ranting when she left.

                        I loved the woman who ordered the chopped salad and then wanted all of the ingredients "on the side". Think Meg Ryan in "When Harry Met Sally".

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: melly

                          Sounds like she was mentally disturbed. That, or an overly dramatic, shameless scamster.

                        2. The _vast_ majority of customers do not demand -- or even expect -- to be comped for meals, regardless of how bad an experience might be. This huge population will simply not return to a restaurant, or will join the masses at one of the superchains where expectations are low to begin with.

                          You are basing your opinion upon an insignificant -- very vocal -- minority.

                          5 Replies
                          1. re: The Ranger

                            As much as I'd like this to be true, I don't buy it. I don't think everyone assumes they'll be comped food or drinks for any slight irregularity, but in my experience, a very large number of people do. It's hardly an 'insignificant' number of people.


                            NYCnosh: http://nycnosh.com

                            1. re: Nosher

                              We have a difference of opinion; mine is based on direct experience working in the business.

                              I have run into a single-digit group that tried working the Game but they were the minority. If your observations lead you to believe there is a significant increase in the numbers, that would be too bad.

                              1. re: The Ranger

                                Glad to hear that your experience is not one of entitled diners-- that's always good to hear. Of course, extrapolating from a sample size of one (whether it's my experience or yours) is unwise, which is why I made the original posting.


                                NYCnosh: http://nycnosh.com

                                1. re: Nosher

                                  Not to put too fine a point on it, I find the sense of entitlement in New York (and parts of LA) to be greater than just about anywhere else.

                                  1. re: Nosher

                                    I totally agree with Das Ubergeek!

                            2. had a great comping experience in manhattan a few months ago. went with my fiance to a very upscale restaurant for our anniversary. during the appetizers we noticed a roach climbing by our table. we alerted the waitress and she asked if we wanted to move but we just stayed. then during the entrees we noticed a couple more, this time closer to the table. we decided to move. the restaurant ended up sending us every dessert on the menu and paid for our bottle of wine (which was about $50). i thought that was very very very classy and i've told everyone how well the restaurant had treated us.

                              1. You have to remember that there is some segment of the population who just LOVE to complain, LOVE to cause issues and EXPECT something from EVERYONE.

                                I have a friend who we will never dine out with again. She is the type who will eat and entire steak then call the server over to explain that it was not cooked properly and she will not pay for it.

                                We were at her home for dinner once -- she'd made a roast. Halfway through the meal, she declared it was tough. Threw the roast in a bag and off to the store to return it. Seriously, folks, we were STILL sitting at the table.

                                I've never been out with her without her sending something back and making the declaration that she WILL NOT pay for it.

                                It's such an unfortunate situation, we were friends with the husband before the witch came into the picture. Needless to say we don't dine out with them EVER.

                                But, she has the mentality all the time of, "How can I get something for nothing." It's embarrassing. Not to mention, causes issues when there actually IS an issue.

                                I'd rather die than dine with them ever again.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: geg5150

                                  Oh I feel your pain GEG. We have a couple-friend, the husband of which abuses everyone at the restaurant, major scorched earth and i want my meal served under the table. NO ONE wants to go out with them because of his attitude (10+ years since we have, but the Mommy Underground still has him pegged as an wait-abuser).

                                  So we run into the wife at the store and as we're leaving she says "Oh we have to get together for dinner sometime." My DW, the nicest person in the world says "Absolutely, I'll give you a call." Walking to the car I say "Are you crazy?" to which she replies "Don't worry, she's so caught up in herself she's already forgotten." Big wet one on her lips.

                                2. Gosh, I know this is not the effect you meant to have, but now I'm thinking I deserve more "comping" than I get. I NEVER get comped when things go wrong.

                                  Example #1- waitress asks if food is "wonderful". "no, I say actually it's just fair" She argues with me, has the chef come out (against my specific request) to argue with me. I see her conferring w/ the manager...then brings a full-priced bill.

                                  Example #2 - we order a big meal at a sushi restaurant. Beer comes, sashimi comes...it's foul, we call the waitress and tell her to cancel the rest of the meal, as the fish is turned. She brings us a bill for the beer and sashimi.

                                  Example #3 - We sit and order brunch. We get tea. We wait 50 minutes. We ask several times if our order is lost (very casual bakery) and are assured "it's coming right up". When we tell the server we are leaving, she charges us for the tea.

                                  Maybe I'll start speaking up ;-)

                                  5 Replies
                                  1. re: danna

                                    I wouldn't think #1 deserved a comp (at least not for your comment), but the behaviour is pretty remarkable.

                                    1. re: Missmoo

                                      Yes, it was the most remarkable episode I can remember in a restaurant. I left out a few parts of the story because i fear it's a repeat. The waitress was faking a posh English accent for some unfathomable reason. Her breathless exclamation of "is everything WONderful" was what drove me to the truth, rather than the normal "it's fine" , I really wasn't trying to be obnoxious. Not only did she ignore me when I asked her to PLEASE not send out the chef, we could overhear her making fun of us to a nearby table. It was surreal, and one of those experiences that later you're almost glad happened, because it was so interesting. My husband and I still laugh when we drive past that restaurant.

                                      1. re: danna

                                        Please tell me you did not tip :-)

                                    2. re: danna

                                      Example #1, no comp needed.

                                      Example #2, I'd have paid for the beer and refused to pay for the sashimi... and their response would have determined the tip.

                                      Example #3, to be honest, if it took an hour to get the order, I'd just have left.

                                      1. re: danna

                                        Hm. I think I'd expect not to pay for the sashimi in your #2, but that's the only example where the case seems obvious for comping.


                                        NYCnosh* http://nycnosh.com

                                      2. Eating out as much as I do, I suppose I come across my fair share of bad food and service, or other "complainable" incidents. And yes, I do tend to speak up, but only because if I don't bring the issue to somebody's attention, then there's no way it will ever be addressed.

                                        Management, chefs, and owners need to know what's coming out of the kitchen, as well as what's going on out front. If food is not up to scratch, or service people aren't competant, or there's NEVER any soap in the bathroom, I always just make a point of telling them! I'm not looking for anything for free. (If I'm on expense, it doesn't do me any good anyway!)

                                        My thought is that my duty is "discharged" once I've brought it to their attention. Let them figure out the best course of action.


                                        8 Replies
                                        1. re: TexasToast

                                          I am with you... when I bring something to the servers or managers attention, I am not looking for comps... When I politely let someone know (out of earshot of others) that the bathroom needs attending to, they are usually very thankful and I do not need or get a freebie. I do however, guarantee in most cases, that the next time I go to the bathroom in that restaurant, it will be in better shape and that is my goal.

                                          My hubby and I sometimes end up getting some comp...I think it has to do with who we are, meaning we are very nice to servers and staff always and it goes both ways. We chat about wine or the food, etc... even when we do not want a dessert, we sometimes get one... My hubby was also raised to be a big tipper as was I...though they have no way of knowing in advance but like I said, this treatment goes both ways.

                                          I have sent food back, I am bit fussy, especially now that I am pregnant, but I am gracious and kind about it. I ALWAYS ask in advance about ingredients I am unsure of (pasteurized cheese in that salad?) so a return is understandable or if it is not cooked enough or overcooked. I generally get a replacement and not a comp anyway...

                                          I think it has to more to do with "It's not what you say, but how you say it" as the old adage goes...

                                          1. re: Michele4466

                                            Yeah, pregnancy does that. Incidently, I tend to OVERtip (even my own money) so yeah, I think there's definately something to say about that. Especially if you're a frequent diner at a place, as next time, you might find things comp'd or just not appear on the bill, and you know it's down to the server from last time.



                                            1. re: TexasToast


                                              Funny little story... Came home to NY for family reasons almost two years ago... Moved back to the city with my soon to be hubby at that time (saint that he is). Well...

                                              The first time we ate at a Pizzabolla on the UWS we became fast friends with one of the waiters (they are all nice there but...) as we were discussing our recent move back and into the nabe, etc. Before that dinner was over, we had extra treats on the table, an extra glass of wine each and a phenomenal tiramisu. Needless to say, it was all comped and we tipped MUCH bigger than our regular OVERtipping. Now, everytime we went there, we were treated like family, my fussy little niece was ALWAYS made a special pasta or pizza and served immediately without asking. Yes, tipping does help but treating people kindly also goes a long way. We walked by recently and our waiter came running out to hug us and say hi...so sweet! We do not get to go there very much, suburbs and pregnant, ya know :-)

                                              I have seen and I despise people who treat their servers, coffee barristas, delivery people, etc. terribly. They may even tip decently but still get nowhere...

                                              1. re: Michele4466

                                                My parents always tip at least 20% but are horribly rude to servers. I remember one Christmastime family breakfast at O'Hana at the Polynesian in Disney World, with them, my husband and daughter. I was actually embarrassed at the way they were barking orders at the server, so that whenever they demanded something, I'd follow with a sheepish look and say "please." They rarely send things back, though, unless it's undercooked steak or REALLY cold food (lukewarm is usually tolerated).

                                                1. re: Michele4466


                                                  Did you ever say anything to your parents about their behavior? I think sometimes people just don't "see it"... Others I know do not care, but some truly don't see it...

                                                  1. re: Michele4466

                                                    Being a Tri-State Area native I usually disagree with my Florida-native husband's assessment that all New Yorkers are horribly rude, but my parents do perpetuate their stereotype. And they're a bit sensitive (or old and set in their ways) to take etiquette direction, especially from their child. My solution is to try to take the lead when they all dine together, and teach by example. (As if they were paying attention. . .) My mom's also the one who can complain her way into getting anything comped (though this is usually with hotel rooms and airline flights -- rarely with food).

                                                2. re: Michele4466

                                                  Random question -- why would you order something (dessert) that you didn't want?

                                                  1. re: Covert Ops


                                                    If you mean from my first post, I just meant that the first time we ate there, we were sooo full (they also have awesome foccacia pizza bread in their bread basket) we weren't going to order a dessert and lo and behold, the waiter brings out the biggest plate of tiramisu for us... We HAD to eat it :-)

                                                    He was being hospitable and kind. Made us regulars immediately.

                                              2. I can think of two comp stories that illustrate the good and the bad expectations customers bring to the table:

                                                The bad: I was at P.F. Chang's (not my choice!) with a large group of coworkers. One particulary delicate member of our group noticed a minor chip in her water glass. There were no sharp edges, but she still thought the restaurant should have noticed and culled the glass. She mentioned the issue to our server, who promptly apologized and brought a new glass of water. In my mind, that was sufficient, but another member of our group then shamelessly requested that our entire party of nearly a dozen receive free dessert. The restaurant complied, and I nearly died of embarrassment.

                                                The good: My wife and I were dining in an independent, chef-owned restaurant near our house. We ordered a dessert that turned out to be entirely different than what was described. When we made a passing comment about our disappointment, the restaurant immediately took it off our bill.

                                                In both cases, the restaurants involved erred on the side of customer service, but to me P.F. Chang's went beyond its obligations. I don't cry for P.F. Chang's because I don't like their food and know that they have the funds to comp dessert for a dozen people. Still, I was mortified to be associated with such an outrageous request.

                                                The moral of the story is that it is reasonable for a restaurant to comp something for the members of a party directly affected by an error, but comping entire large parties is not a reasonable expectation unless everyone at the table was subject to the same mistake.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: silverbear

                                                  Your second friend was clearly wrong! The only time something similar has happened to us was one one person drank out of an opaque drink, and then took the half-inch thin glass sliver out of his MOUTH! In that scenario, they did comp all the drinks but not because we'd asked them.


                                                2. Some of the posts here shock me. The ones that I find most disturbing are the "it was our special occasion" and we didn't get X free. Everyone has birthday/anniversaries/special occasions and celebrating them require you to pay for what you wish to enjoy.

                                                  4 Replies
                                                  1. re: JudiAU

                                                    I can't say I'm shocked as much as I am perplexed. Then again I've never understood the mentality of thinking one deserves to get something just because it's your birthday, etc. I mean, I don't go to a bookstore and suggest that since today is my bday they should throw in a paperback with my purchase, just because.

                                                    1. re: JudiAU

                                                      When I've had "free" birthday stuff, the final bill has been 50 times what the comp was . . .. They know I'm a good customer, so they gave us a free dessert? Big deal? They more than made it up on the wine mark-up! That's the name of the game. I mean, they are after all running a business!


                                                      1. re: TexasToast

                                                        My family frequents a Chinese restaurant in Staten Island often, and they love us so much that the first round of drinks is almost always on the house, every time we come. But my parents go so often they're like family, and we bring as many people as we can, and recommend it, so they see that as good business too.

                                                        One or two times the drinks weren't comped -- but we didnt' say anything, because who says they're required to comp us? That's looking the gift horse in the mouth.

                                                        Re: Birthday celebrations, I tend NOT to tell restaurants about that, because I don't like being embarrassed. (Had a bad experience at a Mexican restaurant when I turned 18, involving a large sombrero, and my memory blocks out the rest.) Though when I was in college we would always go to a nearby ice cream place and say it was SOMEONE'S birthday (without their knowledge) just to embarrass them AND get the free dessert.

                                                        But unless it's a place whose policy it is to give free desserts on birthdays, I don't see why something should be comped because of it.

                                                        1. re: Covert Ops

                                                          You just reminded me of times in my twenties when we were a large group of friends (men and women) and we dined together a few mights a week. I do not know how we managed to spend so much on food back then, seems I had a lot more discretionary income when I made a lot less :-).

                                                          Anyway, we used to eat and drink our fair share, always a good time and once in a while (in a place that was over the top with this) we would tell the restaurant it was someone's birthday JUST TO EMBARRASS them! Not for any comps, but so they would be sung the birthday song and all the fanfare associated.

                                                          If the slice of cake or dessert was comped, I do not recall...but I can assure you, the money we spent on food and drink was plenty.