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Is once enough?

There is a restaurant here in my town that generally gets good reviews here on CH and is often recommended to posters from out of town looking for good chow. There was one post a few weeks ago from someone local who was really disappointed. The restaurant read the post, figured out who the customer was and contacted them to try and convince them to give it another go. BTW the poster has said that they have decided to try again based on this encounter.

Later I read another post by someone who had gotten stale bakery product and while a refund was issued no questions asked, the poster said they would never go back. Someone else suggested that they give the bakery one more chance and only not to go back if the product was consistently bad.

I understand about life being too short for bad food. And I'm not talking about chain food but small independent restaurants that might have had an off night. Do you assume one bad experience only leads to more? Does this relate only to food or does service only get one shot as well?

So, how many chances does a restaurant get to win you over?

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  1. For me, it depends on the overall experience, what went wrong and how it was handled if it was addressed with the staff/management. Also price point is a factor. I'm much less forgiving of a $25+ entree than an $8 one.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Janet from Richmond

      Is it also true that in addition to being much less forgiving of a $25+ entree that you also have higher expectations to begin with?

      I think that is true for me anyway. If a restaurant is at a higher price point and has been recommended by several people I trust I have higher expectations. Sometimes if the restaurant has been hyped enough it is very difficult for them to meet my elevated expectations.

      And of course on the price point issue, do I really want to put out more money when I did not like the food the first time?

    2. So funny, I was going to ask this question today as well! There is a local restaurant here that gets rave reviews from EVERYONE and wins a lot of top awards and recognition. The one time we went, we were extremely disappointed- there were a couple of top notch dishes, but overall our three course meal (both of us with different three courses) was nothing to write home about. This same restaurant is very expensive. I would like to give it another shot because most times I will give a restaurant two or three chances, but I just can't bring myself to pay out that much again. Especially when I've had much better food for half the price at an equally nice restaurant.

      In general, I think it depends on how bad the situation was. I think I will usually give, like I said, two or three chances.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Katie Nell

        ITA on "how bad the situation was." Bad service/bad food can often be a one-off.

        I once had such terrible service at a restaurant (we waited over an hour and still our food wasn't served) that I won't ever go back. I emailed the restaurant and they never got back to me.

        Another restaurant contacted me after I mentioned the slow/unattentive service; they asked that I give them another shot. I did and they've won me over as a repeat customer.

        1. re: Katie Nell

          Katie Nell, I think this was the problem with our local restaurant. The place is very well received locally but they were not at all impressed by their dishes and could see no reason to go back. But now has decided to give the place a second try. Like you I very rarely will write off a restaurant after one visit and that prompted me to ask the question.

        2. I think it also depends on what I'm getting at a restaurant. I've been known to visit a steakhouse and get something other than steak. If I go outside of a restaurant's specialty, I tend to give a little more leeway than I would otherwise. A good restaurant should only provide quality items, but I also realize they may be providing these items in an attempt to accomodate situations where not everyone wants the same thing.

          That said, if I go into a burger joint and the burger is bad, I never go back.

          1. i'm very impressed by the pro-active management that tracked down the chowhounder for another chance. wow.

            if a meal is a complete disaster, i won't go back. if it's limited to one sphere, like *just* bad service, i'll give another go.

            based on recommendations from here, i've been to a few places that i thought were just so-so. not that i won't return, but they have moved way down the rotation. i also live in a fairly large city, so am not surrounded by chains. i have far too many options to eat a crummy meal or be served poorly

            1 Reply
            1. re: hotoynoodle

              While I knew that the owner/chef of this restaurant read the reviews of this restaurant on this site, to take someone's CH handle, the date of the post and your reservation book and make it all work was impressive to me as well.

              I think your point about options is very valid. While we do have many people here who do appreciate a good meal, this town is not a foodie town. That is one of the reasons why they said they were going back, to encourage a local independent restaurant that really cares in a city that needs more like it.

            2. Very good question. For me I put a lot of weight into how much I care about a restaurant succeeding. If I encounter a place with an interesting menu, fair prices, convenient location I won't just "give a second chance" I'll actually seek out the owner and let them know what they have to do better.
              OTOH if I'm hustling to get someplace in a hurry and happen upon a spot that seems interesting but is a disappointment I'll probably just write it off.

              Now for a MINOR thing like a less-than-fresh roll or soup that is only warm instead of warm I MIGHT just let the wait staff know and see how they react -- if the place is not a dive I would expect SOME effort to correct this on the spot.

              Something that is so 'un-fresh' as to be unhealthy might be enough to keep from going back...

              1. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. I think this goes well for restaurant visits. However, I'd say that it can also depend on how bad the 1st experience was. If it was incredibly awful, I might not want to go back even if I knew it would be spot on and perfect the second time around. Simply being in the same location might taint the 2nd experience based on the bad memories it would bring back. (On another note, I live in NYC and don't go out to eat very often, so if I don't like a restuarant, I generally won't go back since I have so many other choices. Therefore, I guess it's also a matter of the number of restaurant choices you have in your area.)

                1 Reply
                1. re: Melanie

                  You are lucky that you live somewhere with so many choices. While we do have many good restaurants this is not a foodie town. I think does effect me. I want independents to succeed and I want to like them so I might give them another try.

                2. I'd definitely go back if it was a matter of bad service. If the food is great I'm generally not bothered by bad service at all. If I was disappointed in the food I wouldn't go back. I live in LA, a city jam-packed with great restaurants and new ones popping up every second. I have neither the time, money nor patience for bad/boring food, but I'm happy to suffer less-than-perfect service for a dish I love.

                  1. I think Janet from Richmond nails it. If it's a matter of bad food from a place that gets rave reviews, I generally try to stumble in once or twice more before I give up. Case in point: I ate at Telepan a little while back on my sister's glowing recommendation. I trust her tastebuds. (They're a lot like mine!) Chowhounders also seem to like Telepan a lot. I just didn't think it was all that great, though it could've been the late hour (post Met Opera show) and the fact that a slight cold was impeding the full olfactory experience.

                    For service... if it's really, really terrible--i.e. horribly rude and unbelievably slow--I don't come back. And I tell everyone why. Hopefully this doesn't sound too petty, but having a good dinner ruined by bad service really, really upsets me. And then I have bad associations with the place. And then I can't focus on the food. Etc...

                    Oh, and some places really grow. I didn't like Spiga nearly as much when I tried it for the first time, but for various reasons (mainly b/c it's close), I ended up back there and had a wonderful meal. New places, especially, sometimes need time to iron themselves out.

                    8 Replies
                    1. re: cimui

                      I think having multiple choices matters as well.

                      I just tried a restaurant in my area that Chowhounds rave about. The service wasn't that great (a trait also noted by several other 'hounds.) To be honest, although the food was really good, it wasn't anything better than several other quality restaurants I frequent in the area, so I don't think I will be back. If the food completely knocked my socks off, I would probably give them one more chance. Now I will just go to one of my favorites instead.

                      That being said, one of my favorites has slipped downhill recently, both in food and service. It makes me very sad. My husband and I went back two times after the first bad experience, just in case it was an off night. Those two experiences were just as disappointing. We've now taken them off of our list.

                      1. re: katiepie

                        I hate when that happens. We had that happen several years ago.

                      2. re: cimui

                        Your reply is interesting because I think I look at it differently. I don't want to write off an entire restaurant because of one person. If the food is good but my waiter and I didn't get along, I can go back and get another waiter but I may not be able to get that food somewhere else.

                        1. re: bonmann

                          Yeah, I know. If service is just inept, I go back; I'm talking about the instances when it's horrible. Really, really horrible. (I have a specific incident in mind.) My SO tells me it's irrational, too. I'll also--maybe irrationally--go back to places where the food isn't that good, just because I love the wait staff.

                          I guess I do have the luxury of being in a place that has lots more restaurants to choose from that DO do everything perfectly.

                          1. re: cimui

                            I definitely understand about going back to restaurants with good staff and good but not great food. They become people you know and like and enjoy being with.

                            I don't think you are irrational on the bad service but I am odd in that I am extremely patient with bad service. I think it is because I am business consultant and it is like a little puzzle I am trying to solve during dinner. (imagine how annoying that can be!)

                            1. re: bonmann

                              *laugh* -- okay maybe i should try that. i'd enjoy bad service more if i thought of it as a puzzling case study. that's an admirable approach! (maybe for a really and truly fascinating case study--gordon ramsay and the soup nazi come to mind--I'd go back. ;)

                          2. re: bonmann

                            I guess we're different because I have other choices... I can think of three other quality bistros in the area that serve the same kind of food, so one poor experience can easily turn me off to a new place. Also, since other 'hounds have complained about the service in this one particular restaruant, it makes me think that this is an ongoing problem and I might encounter the same poor service if I gave them another chance.

                            If I didn't have other choices, however, I would probably give the place another chance. And my experience didn't have anything to do with the waiter's personality... it was inattentiveness, which was particularly annoying when there were only three other tables full during our whole meal.

                            1. re: katiepie

                              I certainly understand if the restaurant has a reputation for bad service then if you get bad service as well there is no reason to expect the next trip to be any different.

                              But if it is the first time I have been to a place and the service is inattentive, I might go back to see if a different server on a different day will make a difference.

                              Of course I am a business consultant by trade and sometimes bad service turns into an instant case study and I become fascinated by the workings of that particular restaurant on that night in spite of the bad service. When business colleagues are with me they tend to join in but with friends and family there is some eye rolling.

                        2. I am really torn by this because I fully understand why a place may have dropped the ball the night I was there or the chef was sick and the assistant filled in with less than flattering results.

                          But often, my gut reaction is to simply write the place off and search for greener pastures, probably because Phoenix has many other options.

                          I do find it interesting that we seem to cut restaurants a lot more slack in bad performance than we do other service industries. I don't think I would ever hear the following out of anyone's mouth:

                          "The lawn service mowed down my begonias and botched the sodding. Maybe it was just an off day for them."

                          6 Replies
                          1. re: Seth Chadwick

                            That is a great observation, Seth, and I think you're deadly accurate. Wonder why this is the case???

                            1. re: Sherri

                              I think that many of us (myself included) are willing to cut restaurants more slack (are willing to try a place more than once, after a disappointing experience) because we realize that taste and service (the two issues most often listed as contributing to a disappointing experience) are subjective.

                              For me, I prefer foods that are lightly salted - others prefer more salt (so while I'll complain about something being too salty, others will complain that they had to add salt). Or I might prefer a thick crust pizza and therefore not be happy with one that's thin crust, whereas someone else will have the exact opposite preference.

                              In terms of service, I prefer a more hand's-off approach - if I need assistance, I'll signal that to the server, but someone else might want a server who checks back with them several times during their meal (and will be upset if they have to look around the restaurant for their server).

                              Of course, other factors (as offered by others on this thread) are expectations and cost - if someone tells me "go to _____ pizzaria for the best pizza in the world!" and I go there and get a thin crust pizza, I might well be let-down because "best" to me means something else. In terms of cost, I'm much more willing to accept mediocre food and service if I'm not paying a lot for the meal. If I'm shelling out anything more than $30 (that's a rounded-off number - fluctuates based on several factors) for an entree, then I have a much lower acceptance threshold for "not good" food and lousy service.

                              Just my two-cents.

                              1. re: Sherri

                                I think it's because each meal is a one-off event, and a bit of a throwaway. You go, you eat the food, and it's over. With the lawn service example, as with many other services, you have to live with the consequences for longer.

                                Plus, there's so much variety in restaurants: The fish may have been so-so, but the steak might be divine. And if the prices are low, you might think it's worthwhile to experiment.

                                And one other thought: with a lot of services, we have in mind exactly what we want (lawn, haircut, dry cleaning), and so it's easier to draw the line between "good" and "bad." But a lot of us go to new restaurants hoping for something great but not really expecting anything specific. I think the line between "good" and "bad" is blurrier, except for the obvious extremes. There are so many factors that determine our judgment, and there's more room for subjective impressions.

                              2. re: Seth Chadwick

                                I think there is a difference between property damage and rude waitstaff?

                                I think we give slack to many other service industries if the service is the only issue, i.e., rude dry cleaner that always gets the stains out and presses well. I think most of us draw the line at damage i.e. mowing over begonias.

                                Does this relate to restaurants in the sense that we are buying the food and therefore will not repatronize if the food is bad but not service because a rude waiter is like a rude dry cleaner?

                                1. re: bonmann

                                  I think that depends on the personality of the consumer. I have my tipping point where even if the food is great, an incident of exceptionally bad service will remove a restaurant from my list of places to patronize. Despite how gifted someone is in the kitchen, bad service does play a big part in my enjoyment of the meal.

                                  1. re: Seth Chadwick

                                    Thank you for sharing your opinion. That is why I asked the question.

                              3. It Depends, but you always have to give the resto a second chance.

                                - I have returned up to five times to resto in my town before writing them off. I even have a letter from the owner of one in my office to please return, and it's been there for 7 months. We'll probably use when it gets nice out.
                                - We also try to visit in the first two weeks. You have the opportunity to meet the management and get a feel for what they are trying to bring to the town. It's fun to watch them grow and succeed or disappointing to see them realize how hard a business it is and just give up.
                                - It's also important to know the chef's so when they leave or move you have an idea why there was a change at the resto and hopefully the good chef stays in the neighborhood.
                                - Servers should never stop you from going back. Just speak with the manager on the way out and ask the name or catch it on the check. When you make a reso the next time ask the host(ess) to write that you prefer not to be seated in Tom's area.
                                - Host(ess) should never stop you from returning. Think of them as a new boss that you need to break in. If they're nasty, take the ultra-pleasant route and try to engage them. They have a lousy job dealing with self-important people so when a humanoid shows up, it's a relief and they usually loosen up
                                - The one time I did not return to the resto, it was an incredible story of bad food, fair service and an eviction from the table. Owner tracked me down and offered a return on him. We did and our initial gut was right, no on the return list.
                                - Stale bread is just that stale bread. Just send it back and ask for fresh bread. No biggie.
                                - Bad food - believe me, one or two trips to a resto you'll know if you like the chef. If you do not like the food, then what's the point in returning.

                                Bottom line, give them a break, they might be having a bad day, not have a full staff, have the wrong staff currently emplyed or any of numerous reasons for the one bad visit. If it happens a second time, put the name on the "do not call" list.

                                5 Replies
                                1. re: jfood

                                  My guidelines are pretty much like yours, jfood.
                                  Any restaurant or small business that welcomes us and treats us like they want us our business is going to get another chance if things aren't perfect. We can cut them some slack if that new waiter doesn't live up to our expectations because he probably isn't living up to theirs either. The hostess can't seat us when she promised because the table didn't turn - hey, she can't kick those people out. Sometime the chef is at the mercy of his suppliers and runs out of something. Or they're just busy, busy, busy.

                                  Restaurants where we should feel lucky to even be allowed to eat and spend our hard earned money are another matter. They aren't quite sure that we're going to understand the food, after all, and don't trust us with salt and pepper shakers on the tables. I'm a lot less forgiving of self-obsessed, over-designed expense account places. I find it hard to care why there's glitches - just fix them or I won't be back.

                                  1. re: jfood

                                    I have repeatedly gone back to a place I have had bad experiences at. Both restaurants I am referring to are in KC and have had rave reviews. I don't understand it but kept going back. My rule of thumb is I'll give you 3 tries, by then if it's awful I won't return. I consider all the issues, such as staffing, an off night and my mood that night. I will always try a restaurant again.

                                    1. re: jfood

                                      For me, its entirely about the sense of the place. Has the restaurant been open long? Do I know other places the same owner, chef or manager has worked or run? How expensive is it? Was the food awful, a little off, or simply not something I liked? Was the service slow and rude or a bit cluttered and learning the ropes? All kinds of senses and feelings throughout the meal will determine whether we go back. While there is no one "break point" where we say "we're never coming back here" one good moment will get us back in. That could be some unexpected but welcome action on the part of the server, a terrific dish, a good interaction with a sommelier, etc. I don't feel any need to give places a second chance if things click such that we're thinking "why would we want to come back here?"

                                      1. re: jfood

                                        Jfood, thanks for your rely very thoughtful reply. That is very close to my thoughts as well and was trying to gauge my ideas against some others that I have read here at CH.

                                        MakingSense, your point about the places that are so self-important that you find it harder to forgive the errors is something that I find myself doing as well. Of course, I am sure that most of these places also don't care if I come back.

                                        1. re: bonmann

                                          Yeah, bonmann, they don't care if we come back. I think they're marketing enterprises more than restaurants. The chef and his backers hope for branding spin-offs - maybe cookbooks, other locations, TV appearances, licensing arrangements, etc. - and they're more interested in building empires than loyal customer bases.

                                          I threw out a file last year of local restaurant reviews. I was amazed at the number of top places that weren't here any longer after just a few years. Ceased to exist. Yet some of the solid places in town that are considered "boring" on our local CH board keep pulling in crowds year after year, decade after decade, because they change with the times and have loyal followings.

                                          We still love to go to the new hot places but it is startling to see how many don't survive. After a while, it's easy to see why. As you say, they don't care if you and jfood and I come back. It's all about them, not us.

                                      2. I have to agree price point is a factor. But humans run restaurants and –it’s going to happen sometimes regardless of what one is paying.

                                        For me the real determining factor is what the establishment will do to correct the situation. If they aren’t that concerned about your experience then why should you give them another chance?

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: Withnail42

                                          Excellent point, both about being human and about caring for the customer. I think it is true of any business if they don't seem to care about my patronage then I won't return.

                                          Is this also a two-way street? If I don't care for the food but eat most of what is on my plate, don't care for the service but still tip in excess of 18% and don't tell anyone we were unhappy, how will the restaurant know?

                                          I think in the case of our local restaurant the food wasn't bad just disappointing and at that price point the diner couldn't see going again. It was only when they read the CH post that the restaurant knew there was an unsatisfied customer.

                                        2. I don't go out to eat real often. So even if I like a place, I might not go more than once a year. Plus I am learning that I have a ton of places to try here in Dallas. However I don't have nearly the high standards that some people here do. If the staff is rude and the food is mediocre, I will not go back, period (bye-bye, Doe's). If the food got good reviews but I didn't find it particularly good, I'll generally be curious enough to want to go back for a second chance. If the food was mediocre and overpriced, I generally won't go back but I might if there was a special or somebody recommends something I didn't try the first time.

                                          So I won't put a place on my "never again" list after one visit, but if I'm not impressed and the value isn't good, I might not be back for another year. I'd like to say "so you'd better get it right the first time" but most restaurants don't care about customers like me.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: luniz

                                            I don't know if it is entirely true that restaurants don't care about infrequent guests. I know that in my business many of my customers are one time only but if they tell others about how good my service was then I will thrive and grow even if I never hear from them again. I am sure the restaurant would rather have you never return and rave about them elsewhere then never return and tell others to avoid the place.

                                            Since they have no way of knowing if you are future regular or out-of-towner who will never return I think everyone should get the same level of service.

                                            1. There is a kebab place near me that I order from. What they make is delicious. The problem is that it is seemingly run by the Three Stooges. Every time I call in there is some issue going on. The delivery boy has disappeared, lost the key to his bike chain, lost the bike, no more lettuce, out of cabbage? No more hot sauce. (I didn’t ask for any) Only have hot sauce…Yet despite the on going adventures in ordering the food has always remained excellent and top quality. I remain a patient and amused customer.

                                              2 Replies
                                              1. re: Withnail42

                                                I love your attitude! I while I tend to be patient, I don't know if I can always be considered amused. I think that attitude makes for a better dining experience with or without the three stooges.

                                                1. re: bonmann

                                                  The food isn't expensive. And despite the trial by error issues at least I know roughly where I stand. And they're nice people.

                                              2. If it's a very expensive restaurant, they've got one chance. There are just too many good places to try here to ever return to a known loser--or even a place where I felt the value was just meh. If I'm paying top dollar, I want to hear the angels sing.

                                                I will go back to someplace with a great chef where I had less than stellar service ... but I will attempt not to get the same waitperson again.

                                                1. Usually two chances unless there is something about the dining room that makes me uncomfortable than only one chance.

                                                  If the restaurant has been open only a short time, I'll wait a year or so before returning.

                                                  1. Is it a buyer's or seller's market? Perhaps two major factors are proximity and the existance other alternatives. If it's the only thai restaurant in the vicinity or one of two any type of restaurant, then I'm much more likely to try it more than once. If there are other restos around, it will drop to the bottom of my list, and it takes a long time to percolate upward.

                                                    Another question is the scale of my bad experience. Forgetful waiter or dreadful food?

                                                    My grandparents went to a local highly regarded restaurant and had hidiously bad food after a long wait. They were mystified by why anyone had ever said something nice about the place. Two days later they found an advertisement in the paper for a new chef. They figured the chef had walked out that night and the owner might have been in the kitchen trying to patch things together. My grandmother laughed at the insight, but never returned to the place, while acknowledging her narrow-mindedness.

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: thinks too much

                                                      Love the story about your grandmother.

                                                      I agree with your point on alternatives. That seems to be a common theme, the more alternatives we have the less forgiving we need to be.

                                                      There does seem to be a secondary factor related to price. The more we pay the more we expect and the less forgiving we are likely to be.

                                                    2. The quality of a restaurant experience can vary so much that imho, once is never enough; trying to evaluate a restaurant is always a continual process. Even if the chef stays, line cooks and waitstaff come and go, dishes come and go. It would very hard to draw conclusions on a restaurant based on a meal or two. I might use my impression of the style and execution to guesstimate odds for whether I'll get a good meal the next time and whether it suits my taste. To me it's more a practical thing of trying to chowhound through a wide range of places rather than deciding a restaurant is good or bad and etching that in stone.

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: limster

                                                        I think I am very much the same way on believing the one visit is representative of only that visit. I hate the idea of judging someplace on one visit alone. It seems too much like stereotyping a person based on a first impression.

                                                        Many others have also mentioned that there are so many choices that it may be a matter of getting back to that restaurant again rather than giving up on it.