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What do you do when you know a customer IS wrong....it happens

  • r

I am a GM in restaurant industry, so some may think i am biased. I am trying to think of delicate ways to let a customer know that something is not our fault, or other issues. Had a customer recently walk up to me and tell me that they did not like their meal, and would like their money back. Now, I spent 9 yrs in sales, and in my mind when someone's first sets of words include "I want my money back", there is usually something else there. Since she sat so close to the front of my counters, I could see that she ate all but the last bite. I politely asked her what she did not like about her meal. She replied "It didn't taste right". I asked what she thought didn't taste right, and VERY politely and with a smile, told her that she must have like something about it, since she almost finished it. Her only reply was "Do I get my money back or not?" I wish customers could hear themselves talk sometimes, they would be shocked. People on both sides of the counter can get so much more accomplished if you just smiled! Anyone have any experiences to relay on this, or any thoughts on the matter?

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  1. Rob83
    Interesting Post... I think it must be an extremely difficult scenario. We all know there some (I'll be polite) Con Artists out there that make it a policy to 'Dine and Dodge'
    If I were in that position, as you did, I think I'd have to inquire of the patron if he/she mentioned their displeasure to any of the Wait Staff? If the customer said No, I think I'd be inclined to ask why not? If the explanation was even remotely plausible, EG: "I tried to get the Server's attention but he/she never came back to the table" or "I asked to speak to the Mgr but he/she never appeared", I think I would be inclined to offer some sort of modest discount, or a g/c for a future discounted meal . Since the person to whom you refer, apparently paid for the meal and then requested a refund, she couldn't have been all that displeased. Usually, when people do that, it's because they are angry/frustrated with the service, not the food. The longer they think about it, the more annoyed they become and thus, they request a refund. That doesn't seem to be the case with your customer.
    So now I'm curious: Did she get the refund? Inquiring minds and your fellow CH'ers want to know:-}

    4 Replies
    1. re: Tay

      I gave her a g/c the equivalent of her meal. ( I told her it is not policy to give back cash without first sending paperwork into the corporate office...plus I wanted her or whoever she gives the card to, to come in and use it of course.) Don't think she like my solution though. Also I have no servers...this is a QSR concept. This also happens with people that order one thing, receive it, it's not what they expected, so call or come back and say it is our fault. On the phone when it has been people saying that to me and I was the person to take their order, I do politely tell them that. I took your order, I do remember you stating this, I am sorry it is not what you intended to get, and can I ring you up for what you really want. Not every occasion is like this though.

        1. re: dolores

          I believe it stands for "Quick Service Restaurant"

        2. re: Rob83

          I think that was very generous of you. Under the same circumstances, in that sort of restaurant environment, I don't know that I would have been as accommodating. As you've probably surmised, I'm not in thefood industry business, so that having been said, I think you chose the professional road.

      1. I think you and the company needs to stand firm in these types of situation. I know that's easier said than done. But personally it bugs the heck out of me when I see these things at places I like to patronize. I know the cost has to come out somewhere and I'll have to pay higher prices.

        If it's a legitimate complaint by all means, the person should be compensated and make them feel welcome to return. But unreasonable requests should be given the polite brushoff.

        I feel so strong about this, I've been known to give my name and contact info to servers, managers, cashiers, etc, when I witness a customer making completely ridiculous demands and/or be rude about it while the service person is completely polite and trying to find a reasonable solution. I tell the management that I am available to give a separate accounting of what happened and how hard the server tried to correct things.

        It's one of those personal pet peeves and I feel it's my karmic duty to speak up for servers who just have to take the abuse that is being dished out. If a company gives away everything on these unreasonable complaints then prices will rise or quality will drop and good servers will leave. I don't want that to happen to places I like to support.

        9 Replies
        1. re: Jase

          Bravo!... You are the rare White Knight in what I believe is offen a very under appreciated industry

          1. re: Tay

            I can't say DITTO enough!!!!

          2. re: Jase

            Thank you for speaking up.

            People who try to take advantage of the foodservice industry's desire to please customers take advantage of *all* other customers. To compensate for all their unreasonable and unfair requests, restaurants have no choice to inch their prices up and up. In the end, *we* pay for the meals of these so-called customers.

            1. re: Jase

              "It's one of those personal pet peeves and I feel it's my karmic duty to speak up for servers who just have to take the abuse that is being dished out. If a company gives away everything on these unreasonable complaints then prices will rise or quality will drop and good servers will leave. I don't want that to happen to places I like to support."

              I do understand your dilemma. The other side of the coin is how much is it going to cost you (the restaurant) when other diners see/overhear a disgruntled patron being "politely brushed off"? The problem is that other diners assume the client has a legitimate complaint simply because they would not make a false complaint.

              Don't know where it originated, if I ever knew, but there is an old saying, "The customer is always right." It's a way to cut your losses and run.

              Now... If your restaurant would go broke because you adopted such a policy, that would bring up a heavy question regarding how many complaints are legitimate.

              1. re: Caroline1

                God, the customer is SO not always right.

                1. re: invinotheresverde

                  That's absolutely true. The question is what the restaurant gains in business by arguing with the customer? And that is what, "The customer is always right" is all about. The business not loosing.

                  1. re: Caroline1

                    The business can just as easily lose by bending to a customer's unreasonable requests.

                    If a customer is flat out wrong, I say tell 'em and hope they never darken your door again. It's really not worth the headache dealing with those who are never satisfied a/o looking for something free.

                    If the complaint is legit it's a completely different situation, of course.

              2. re: Jase

                Can't help but wonder...
                Do you also speak up (unsolicited) if you see other patrons receiving bad service or otherwise being poorly treated? Seems like two sides of the same coin.

                1. re: broncosaurus

                  Nope, not the same coin at all. Patrons have the power to speak up and get the situation corrected or leave without my help.

                  Servers on the other hand have to shup up and take it. More often than not, they might not get the benefit of the doubt. They might lose their jobs if the customer lies or exaggerates about the poor quality of service.

              3. I'm sorry you have to put up with this Rob from some of your customers and I have witnessed it myself. I used to have a friend who took pride in all the free meals she could get by complaining after the fact about the food. I guess you have to learn to figure out who has a valid complaint and who is out to abuse the system like my ex-friend but I'm sure it is easier said than done.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Hooda_Guest

                  "I used to have a friend who took pride in all the free meals she could get by complaining after the fact about the food"
                  You reminded me that people like that actually take pride in pulling low class moves like trolling for free meals.
                  I'm really happy for you that she is now an EX friend...

                2. I commend you on a job well handled. It's not always easy to deal with the public.
                  This is an extreme example, it has only ever happened once, and I will admit it wasn't the best way to deal with it, but sometimes you just reach that point, and well, things just happen sometimes quickly.

                  A gentleman (Generous term) comes in and wants to place an order to go. I hand him a menu to look over. He refuses to look at the menu, and would rather have me recite it. As I begin to tell him what is available, he appears to want to ask questions rather than listen to what we can offer. Again I suggest he might be better off looking at the menu.
                  Again he rejects the idea, and asks how much a pork sandwich is.

                  I tell him the price and also let him know two sides of his choosing will accompany his sandwich. The next thing out of his mouth is an exclamation concerning our price and asks if we will lower the price if he chooses not to have any sides. Trying to work with the guy, I offer him a lower price (which isn't policy) but as I said I was trying to work with him. He agreed on the price and shoved his money at me. I told him I would collect when I had his food ready to go, but he insisted on paying right then.

                  I rang him him up, gave him his change, and he then again started complaining about price. I asked him if he wanted his sandwich or not. He said he did, and wanted it "All the way up"
                  Not being familiar with the term, I figured he wanted everything that could possibly come with a sandwich. So I gave him extra onions, pickles and sauce.
                  As I was making his sandwich my wife came from the kitchen( she heard the whole thing), greeted him with a smile and offered a glass of water while he waited. He looked in the case and decided on a Heineken instead. My wife rang the beer up, and he started whining about the prices here again.

                  I put the order up, and she sat the sandwich in front of him. He immediately opened it and complained that he was going to have to put the onion on himself. He then complained that the sauce was on the side and that he told me he wanted it "All the wayup" All the while still telling her how expensive everything was.

                  It was at that point the deal was over. He was not going to be happy no matter what was done.
                  My wife took his sandwich and threw it in the trash, she then grabbed his beer and poured it out. The next maneuver was opening the cash drawer and giving him his money back.
                  As expected he turned walking for the door shouting, I'll never come back here!!!!
                  I almost chased him down to get it in writing.

                  14 Replies
                  1. re: Barbecue Joe

                    While the customer was clearly a problem, I'm not sure what purpose was served by throwing his sandwich away and pouring out his beer. If other customers didn't witness the circumstances leading up to his departure, but did witness your wife's actions, they might be put off of eating at your establishment. Why not just let him grumble about the prices and ignore it? Other people can see the prices and know what they are so they can judge his behavior for what it is (petty and poor). It seems what your wife did was sink closer to his level and make your business look bad.

                    1. re: Orchid64

                      On the other hand, if I was there, I would have given her a standing ovation. If I came upon the incident near the end, I would have assumed that the guy was probably the problem and still given her a word of encouragement.

                        1. re: rednyellow

                          I'm curious about how you decide to apply your bias in these cases. Given an absence of information either way, and only witnessing the end of the incident, I'd assume the opposite.

                          At any rate, I believe that lowering yourself to the level of a poorly-behaved person rather reacting in a civilized and professional manner doesn't reflect well on you. It's better to take the high road and respect yourself enough not to act out on your anger.

                          1. re: Orchid64

                            Having been in the service industry, both retail and restaurant, I can empathize with the employee. Having observed many an incident in which the employee is not allowed to react and must take abuse, I often make a comment to the employee to give them encouragement and am ALWAYS thanked for my acknowledgment of the situation. So if giving regard to the employee is 'lowering myself' to poor behavior, I think that ALL responses that I have received have been otherwise. Plus, I am not angry, I am empathetic to those that are being abused. Is there a problem with that?

                            1. re: justagthing

                              The high road is the best choice, but it only goes so far. Sometimes, when all else fails, it feels good to really "express yourself"

                    2. re: Barbecue Joe

                      "He refuses to look at the menu, and would rather have me recite it. As I begin to tell him what is available, he appears to want to ask questions rather than listen to what we can offer. Again I suggest he might be better off looking at the menu.
                      Again he rejects the idea, and asks how much a pork sandwich is."

                      Sounds like the guy can't read. But that is no excuse for his behavior.

                      1. re: Withnail42

                        maybe, but lots of guests who can read don't/won't read menus for themselves. It's not uncommon. You greet a table and they start asking if you have specific dishes (despite the presence of a menu, a list of the dishes the restaurant serves). They'll ask for descriptions that are clearly printed in front of them. They'll order things you don't have--"I'll have shrimp cocktaill." "I'm sorry sir, we don't have shrimp cocktail." "What do you mean?"--and have never had and are not printed on the menu.

                        People are odd.

                        1. re: nc213

                          How do you KNOW they can read??? Maybe they can read and they forgot their glasses. Trust me, I'm a (eye business, not restaurant business..) professional telling you this: a person without needed reading glasses in a darkened restaurant might as well be illiterate. That person might well ask you questions...and because they are embarrassed to tell you the REAL reason they are asking they might well act a little beligerent as well...its been my experience that those who have something to hide often act out to mask their insufficiencies....

                          I agree, its not an excuse for their behavior, but it happens. Its a lot easier to act a little obnoxious and get people to do what you wish through intimidation than it is to say "I'm sorry, I can't read....can you help me with the menu?" And there are a heck of a lot of people out there in denial about their vision.

                          The best promotion item I ever saw for MY type of business was a pair of disposable paper reading glasses (with a very cheap type of plastic lens in them). They were really just something you would hold up to your eyes and read a menu through. And they had someone's optical business info. printed right on them. The optical business would pass them out by the hundreds to restaurants. The restaurants loved offering them to people who were clearly struggling to read the menu, and the optical place got all the PR!

                          1. re: janetofreno

                            I"ve reached the needing reading glasses age and try to keep one of those cheap little credit card sized magnifiers in my wallet for dark rooms and small print. It I couldn't read the menu, I'd do my best and ask for clarification or even say what I'm hungry for and what can they do, but what ever, I'd be polite and explain that I cant see a damn thing.

                            1. re: janetofreno

                              first, I fully get that there are plenty of illiterate and semi-literate adults in the world. I've tutored them. I'm sure that some people who have difficulty reading have asked what's on the menu.
                              I also get that menus can be difficult for people with bad and/or aging eyes (my eyesight is terrible and I'm only 31!) and that dark restaurants don't help. I have loved when I worked in places that kept reading glasses and small flashlights on hand for the guests.

                              I'm talking about people who

                              1) read me a menu description and then ask what the item is
                              2) refuse to open their menus and then order things. Once an older couple came into one place where I worked and ordered shrimp cocktail and strip steaks for lunch. We had no shrimp on the menu (and hence no shrimp in the house) and no strips prepped b/c we didn't serve them for lunch. The couple grew flustered and angry that they had driven to the restaurant. (and no, we hadn't recently removed the items from teh menu and yes, we did have an accurate menu online)
                              3) they keep their menus closed and ask what you have, then they argue with you or mention that you've left something out.
                              4) they don't read what comes with items and then complain when they come, or they assume that their food comes with x or y even though it's clearly stated on the menu that it doesn;t (and they read the menu to choose their order). My husband does this often as well.

                              1. re: janetofreno

                                I've seen whole tables do this, and then proceed to, later on in the meal, quote ingredients or prices from the mneu. Did they all forget their glasses? I've also seen people absolutely refuse give their own phone numbers when ordering takeout or delivery, and refuse to empty their own grocery carts. I have a lot of faith in humanity, but it is shocking to see what some are capable of. It's hard to know unless you work in a service industry and see these things regularly.

                                That said, I have also seen people politely say, I'm so embarrassed, but I"ve forgotten my glasses. Will you please read me the menu? I'm ALWAYS happy to do that.

                          2. re: Barbecue Joe

                            a relatively small point in a long and sad story, perhaps, but I can't help but wonder why you just didn't ask him what he meant by 'all the way up' since you weren't familiar with the term, particularly since you must have had an inkling by then that he wasn't going to be the easiest guy to deal with...

                            1. re: Barbecue Joe

                              O.K. So I skimmed thru all the posts-Does anyone actually know what "All the way up"
                              means? I am in Chicago & have never heard that one..Very curious now. Where are you located?

                            2. Here is another situation that happened in a restaurant I was running 2 years ago. I had an employee that had only been working for about 3 weeks (part-time no less), so she was not the fastest taking orders. I am usually attached to a new employee at the hip...I want someone trained my way, the exact way the company wants. I had to step away from her momentarily, but from her very first day, as every employee of mine, I tell them-- do NOT be afraid to tell a customer that you are new, and you want to get some some help to ensure we get your order correct. Even if customer is in a hurry, they will appreciate honesty, as they have been new at a job somewhere in their life. Anyway, my employee comes to me crying. She tells me she did exactly as I taught her, and this woman chastised her...telling her that anyone with half a brain can take these orders, why can't she. She was also cursing at her. I tried to be professional...even apologizing, since sometimes that is all a customer needs to hear.i again explained her newness. The customer then told me that i must not be training her right, which means I don't know my job. She then started cursing through her tirade again, and in front of the rest of the customer line, I told her that I would appreciate if she would leave the line since we will not be serving her today, and I would request that she not return. She eventually called my hq and I was verbally reprimanded, but I even stressed to my superiors, that I would do it again. Anyone ever see anything like this before?

                              10 Replies
                              1. re: Rob83

                                Your corporate office should have backed you up if she was cursing. That's where the line should be drawn--you should NEVER have to put up with that.

                                I used to be a service writer in a garage, and believe me--you get to deal with a lot of angry customers in that situation. I'd put up with a lot of abuse, but the second the cursing started, the conversation was over, and management would back us up.

                                1. re: Rob83

                                  I have heard of a few situations where the customer was out of line and when they were finally reprimanded the other customers cheered. I don't think you have to worry about other customers perceptions being negative, they are often on the side of the server or manager. My friend was once at a steak house sitting at the counter and a woman sent her steak back several times claiming it was not cooked correctly. A woman sitting next to her finally told her that it was exactly as she had ordered it and to just eat it. I think businesses worry too much about losing business, there are some people that are not worth having as customers.

                                  1. re: Rob83

                                    yes i've seen situations like that quite a bit in the biz. some people have been taught or have learned that if they just make a big enough stink, they get whatever they want, for free/very cheap, and they do take pride in it. it ticks the other customers off when they see mgmt cave to these bullies, because not only is it an unpleasant spectacle and waste of everyone's time, they realize that it does increase losses to the restaurant and that all the customers must pay more as a result.

                                    treat all complaints professionally and in a concerned manner, exactly as you did, Rob83: if someone has a legitimate complaint, they calm down quickly when they are treated nicely and someone does everything reasonable to fix the situation. someone who escalates the situation, becoming verbally or physically abusive or threatening, is a scammer and they should be shown the door asap, with security/police called, & your real, paying customers will be happy to see it.

                                    1. re: Rob83

                                      Yes, those people are always with us. I ran into a few such customers waiting tables, but I had the good fortune to work at a non-corporate place where the owners had long-standing relationships with the managers and trusted them implicitly. That trust meant that management could back up the servers and tell the occasional impossible case to get out and never come back without any of us worrying about accusations of poor customer service.

                                      1. re: Rob83

                                        Yeah the line is always at cursing, in my experience

                                        1. re: alysonlaurel

                                          I find the "line" confusing. Not the cursing, but why orders are being taken from people standing in line? Was this a take-out-only place, or were customers seated for their meal? If so, why take orders when people are on a wait-list when you have no idea when their table will be ready.

                                          I've got to read Rob83 again. Maybe I misread him. Nope. Apparently not. He asked the cursing woman to "leave the line." Strange.

                                          1. re: Caroline1

                                            I believe that this was a "fast food" type of place in which you place your order, pay and then go find an open table and they then bring you your food (or maybe call you back to pick it up) when it's ready, based on a number you get when you have paid.

                                            1. re: Servorg

                                              I thought about that, then decided probably not because the new employee seems to be going to people in line to take orders as opposed to working a register. Doesn't really matter. The woman was turned out and apparently Rob83 no longer works there. But thanks for your thoughs!

                                              1. re: Caroline1

                                                I just assumed that the "Cursing Customer" had reached the front of the order/pay line, had "gone off" on the new employee and was still standing there at the head of the line, (holding up everyone behind her) when Rob came over to try and smooth things over, and got more of the same from the "CC".

                                                1. re: Servorg

                                                  You're probably right. Originally, fast food never occurred to me.

                                      2. "Do I get my money back or not?"

                                        "Uh ... no. No you don't. Any other questions?"

                                        1. I've never worked in the restaurant business, but I have family members who have. I cannot believe some of the stories I've heard.

                                          The customer is not always right. While I realize restaurants don't want to lose customers and they want to satisfy their patrons, there are some people who will never be satisfied, and there are others who are so demanding that their business is not worth it.

                                          For a customer to eat almost an entire meal and then complain, wanting her money back, that is just wrong and the restaurant should only apologize that the customer wasn't happy and suggest that next time they say something before eating the meal.

                                          I once saw the same thing in a bookstore. A customer brought back a tattered paperback, saying she was returning it for a full refund because she read the whole book and hated it! Of course the bookstore did not give her a refund or a store credit. Instead, they politely explained why she could not return the book. It should be no different at a restaurant. If the customer was able to eat the entire meal, then they should not be entitled to a refund.

                                          7 Replies
                                          1. re: brandygirl

                                            I'd go a bit further and say that simply not liking what one orders is not a reason to get their money back. *Liking* something is so subjective -- that, in my opinion, disqualifies it from being a legitimate reason to complain.

                                            Just a sidebar: where would you draw the line?

                                            (1) I don't like this dish.
                                            (2) I don't like this dish because it's not cooked properly.
                                            (3) I don't like this dish ecause it has an ingredient that I'm averse to.
                                            (4) I don't like this dish because I don't like the flavours.
                                            . . .

                                            Other distinctions?

                                            A more general question from this thread: when is the customer not right?

                                            1. re: jayes

                                              I think there can be legitimate reasons for not 'liking' a dish:EG: too salty, too spicy (and spicy is not indicated on the menu) , too greasy, over/undercooked
                                              but I also think, to some degree, that it's a customer's responsibility to inform the server if he/she has special instructions or food allergies. Not long ago, while dining out at a restaurant, I ordered sauteed broccoli . It arrived loaded with red pepper flakes. I tasted it, but it was much too spicy for my tastes. I spoke with the server who informed me: "That's the way we make it here" I politley responded that there was no mention of red pepper flakes in the dish's description, just that it was sauteed in olive oil. He sent over the Mgr who repeated the same thing: "That's the way we make it, "Italain style'". I politely explained I was unaware of that and that it wasn't mentioned on the menu and asked if I could have plain sauteed broccoli without the pepper. The Mgr stood there a second,looked at me, and actually sighed, but agreed. His body language and tone was designed to make me feel as though I was being unreasonable when I know I wasn't.All this over 50 cents worth of broccol! If he had refused my very reasonable request, I would have had no problem cancelling the rest of the food order, paying for the appetizers and drinks, and leaving.

                                              1. re: Tay

                                                There are legitimate reasons for not *liking* a dish and not paying for it. In your case, the red pepper flakes were not advertised: had they been, you probably wouldn't have ordered it. You were within reason to request a replacement and the manager should have not given you a hard time about it.

                                                I'm just wary of the inherent subjectivity of taste-sensations: too salty, too spicy, too sweet and its ilk. It's easier to tell when the dish crosses the line to inedibility (e.g. the cook poured half a cup of salt and it's too salty for anyone to eat), but in most cases we are dealing with gradations of taste. What might be salty for one customer might be just right for another customer. Would the first customer have a legitimate reason to send the dish back?

                                                In the republic of taste and the democracy of dining, how far do we cede control to the chef/cook/restaurant entity? For instance, if I order the tasting menu and there is one course that is yucky to me, do I have recourse to ask for my money back?

                                                1. re: jayes

                                                  The remedy for subjective dislike of a dish is for the customer to immediately bring the problem to the server's attention and for the restaurant to immediately and unquestioningly replace the dish.

                                                  Note the word "replace." Not "comp." While there's a range of tastes out there, a customer is never entitled to a comp for food he or she has eaten. While I'm sure that there are good intentions behind so many restaurants' willingness to offer comps any time a complaint is heard, routinely giving away dishes or entire meals to people with bogus complaints just encourages bogus complaints.

                                                  1. re: jayes

                                                    I understand what you are saying, RE: The subjectivity factor in terms of dish preparation. I was referring to,( As you put it so well), dishes that 'cross the line'. I think the restaurant industry could really help itself by accurately disclosing the more potentially problematic dish ingerdients that might cause a patron be disatisfied with his/her meal, EG: Too salty/spicy/sweet or contaiing nuts/fruits.Using my earlier example, had the menu mentioned that the sauteed broccoli dish contained red pepper flakes, I would never have ordered it. As it was, I tried it with the thought that I would eat it if it was not too spicy, but it was incendiary. Since I have recently noticed a tendency for local restaurant kitchen staff to over salt food, I have taken to specifying that I do not want any salt added to my order. I state it before I order and politely remind the Server after I give my order. Of course I'm aware that the Server has no actual contol over the Chef or his prep staff, but he/she does have an obligation to relay my request, and the Chef and staff have an obligation to adhere to my request to the best of their abilities. It has, for the most part, worked really well.I'm happier, therfore the staff is happier. Good for the customer. Good for the business.
                                                    I think common sense has to rule.
                                                    I consider myself a very reasonably person with great respect for the restaurant service industry. If something is a little too salty/spicy, etc, I will eat it. If, however, I deem it as unreasonably over seasoned, and/or overcooked, I feel very comfortable telling the Server and requesting a 'do over' or a different dish.
                                                    As for your Tasting Menu example, you are trying to hammer home a point by using an extreme, and unrealistic example. It takes away from your otherwise, thoughtful post.

                                                    1. re: Tay

                                                      Thank you, Tay.

                                                      "I think common sense has to rule." -- Yes, yes, yes!

                                                      Unfortunately, it seems that common sense is severely in retreat. Going back to the original thread, the whole mentality of "the customer is always right" has only served to embolden those who routinely want to take advantage of the industry's desire to please each and every customer.

                                                      For better or for worse, the industry has decided/has edged towards the total satisfaction of the customer as the objective of the eating/dining experience.

                                                      Personally, I think this is an unattainable goal -- and an unreasonable one. (How can one experience leave you totally satisfied?) Customers have come to expect and demand that their every desire and whim to be catered to and satisfied, down to a 99 cent burger. Some customers expect to be pampered, even when they're in a quick-service restaurant!

                                                      Interestingly enough, I think on the other side of the spectrum -- the more expensive the food -- the less likely it is for the customer to have the unreasonable demand of being totally satisfied. With the tasting menu example, I was recently served a liquified version of a Caesar salad (the lettuce was liquified) that I found disgusting. I didn't complain. I took a few sips and then decided I could not finish it.

                                                      Yet, there are other diners too who will keep sending a dish back, even on a tasting menu. I've heard one incident of a diner in Rob Feenie's Lumiere who kept sending dishes back, causing the chef to explode in expletives in the kitchen, expletives which were overheard throughout the restaurant and the diner. The diner supposedly cried.

                                                      These are extreme examples, admittedly. But your call for reason and common sense is well-heard. Let's take back the night, so to speak. =) I wish we can just all have reasonable expectations and a sense of fairness (not a sense of self-importance) when we dine out.

                                                      1. re: jayes

                                                        Yes. I agree with you. I think the industry has, to some extent, created the monster that now they have to feed. The whole, "Have it your way" mentality has probably, no make that, definitely, caused some unrealistic expectations amongst restaurant patrons. You're correct: There is a far lesser chance of a patron getting unreasonably ridiculous at Per Se or Masa.than there is of someone doing so at Applebees, or McDonald's. A little ironic, don't you think? (Where is Alanis when we need her?:-} ) In truth, there is no such animal as being "totally satisfied" in the restaurant business or in anything else in life. Nor should there be. That would kill incentive and the world would become a very boring, uninspired place .
                                                        As for the Tasting Menu ... Well, we've brought that little affectation on ourselves, so I suppose we'll just have to ride it out. I recall being served a soup "course" (and I use those quotes justifiably) on a Spoon. A teaspoon at that!. I think it was at Morimoto's in Phily, although I've tried to block that dining 'experience'. from my memory.
                                                        But I agree. No one would have made a fuss. A little eye rolling amongst ourselves, of course, but a scene in the restaurant?.
                                                        Not a chance.
                                                        I think both the customers and the restaurant staff have to play nice.
                                                        I'd like to think I fit your description of someone who has reasonable expectations and a sense of fairness. I'd add to that, a sincere respect for those working in one of the hardest and most stressful industries in the world.
                                                        BTW...Any one who would repeatedly return dishes to a kitchen, 4 star or 0 star, either has no idea what she wants, is totally obnoxoius, or is just plain whacky. If she cried, she'd fall into the whacky category .The Chef needs a course in Anger Management :-}

                                            2. Just curious, what do you think the total percentage of pikers/unreasonables wanting something for nothing is at the average restaurant? 5 out of 100? 1 or 2 per day? I have no idea. I guess I'm curious in a big picture sort of way. Handing out a gift certificate seems like a reasonable thing to do, just to make them go away...but I don't know.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: ML8000

                                                Interesting point. I was thinking of this because of the discussion above, about the industry creating a monster because of the "have it your way/customer is always right" philosophy. Frankly, I think it's worth remembering that a certain percentage of people (including restaurant patrons) are loony. I would characterize a lot of the behavior described here as borderline sociopathic. Ordinary, decent people just don't act that way. Fortunately, I think it's a pretty small percentage, but it's something we all have to deal with, in all walks of life.

                                                So I guess the upshot is that there's a range of acceptable ways of dealing with difficult customers. A gift certificate works in one situation, in another, the proprietor is moved to throw out the sandwich. Neither is really wrong.

                                              2. I haven't worked the restaurant business, and have only ever cashiered at a cafeteria style cafe without real table service. In my experience, you were generous with this lady, and where I worked previously, the situation probably would've been handled similarly the first time it happened with that customer. I recall that we had customers who routinely tried to rip us off one way or another, and management would routinely have conversations with them. Eventually, those customers ended up changing the way we did business, and we got scales and started weighing some items, etc. If there's anything I learned working retail in my twenties, it's astounding the behavior some people exhibit. It's positively astounding how unethical and downright cheap some are. There were a few people who when they outright were running a scam, were trespassed from the business with the police present, but that was a rare instance. Then there are great customers out there, who appreciate your work and that your business is there for them. Focus on the good ones, that's what I tried to do. It's a shame when the nasty ones create policy for everyone, though.

                                                1. This lady is self-involved and tacky. I'd offer her a 5% discount the next time she comes in.

                                                  3 Replies
                                                  1. re: beevod

                                                    I own my own business and it's true that you can't make all the people happy all of the time. Just like k_d says, there are customers that are so unhappy that even if you do spend money to appease them, they'll still be mad at you. In those rare situations, I prefer to keep my money and let them be mad rather than spend my money and have them be mad.

                                                    1. re: Rick

                                                      You are so right, Rick. In our service (not food) business, it's often desirable to lose the bad customers than try to please them. They end up costing you money, and still are never happy. In the food business, I would guess they wind up costing you even more than any other business - the food they consume, the food you have to dispose of, plus the time tied up dealing with them.

                                                    2. re: beevod

                                                      That would be rewarding her for her behaviour. Better to let her go and discourage her from ever coming back.

                                                    3. One time, if someone is so desperate for a free meal, why not give her back the money just to get rid of the hassle. You won't serve her again of course.

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: PeterL

                                                        Waaay back when, in another thread, I said 'the customer is always right', I forget in response to what. I have come to realize that I was talking about me the customer. I would not have DREAMED that there were people like I have been reading about out there, people who are nasty and stingy towards servers, who make reservations and then don't call to cancel, who are cruel towards counter people who are forced to 'upwards sell' (now there's a term I never heard before), and now, the guy with the onions and the lady who ate the meal and THEN wanted her money back!?

                                                        Having read all this, it both erodes my faith in human nature and manners a little more, and yet gives me more resolve to be nicer and tip more to servers who treat me well. As well as stay away from restaurants that don't meet my criteria and patronize more frequently those that do.

                                                        Eye-opening, all of this, to say the least.

                                                        Still and all, I can't quite say what a restauranteur should do with people like the above two. If they engage them, yes the stress is on the owner and the patrons listening to them. If they ignore them and placate them, the 'bad patron' gets his/her way. In either case, the 'bad patron' will go on to other restaurants and do the same, I would imagine.

                                                        Rob83, you more than went out of your way to satisfy the customer.

                                                        I don't know, I just don't know. It's sad, that's for sure.

                                                      2. There are a number of situations raised on this thread
                                                        --Sometimes the food is bad/spoiled.
                                                        --Sometimes the customer orders the wrong thing.
                                                        --Sometimes the customer orders something and though properly executed,it's not what they expected.
                                                        --Sometimes the cook/waitstaff makes a mistake.
                                                        --Sometimes the customer is a scammer.

                                                        In a perfect world, a scammer would basically be told to get lost and never return. And if someone ordered something prepared perfectly well, but they just didn't like it, oh well, how is that the restaurant's fault and why should the restaurant have to "eat the loss?" (Pun intended.) Same for when the customer screws up and orders incorrectly.

                                                        But the harsh reality is that sometimes the restaurant may have little choice but to offer a replacement dish/meal or something else, to keep the patron from making a tremendous scene, even if the patron is a scammer. As others have said, sometimes you just have to cut your losses. Hopefully, over time, you can learn to size up your patrons and decide how firm a stance you can take before things get ugly.

                                                        The situation stinks, but unfortunately that is the way it is when you deal with the public. There are people with totally unrealistic expectations. I just had someone asking me if I would be in the office tomorrow, as she had to drop something off. Yeah, the Saturday of a holiday marathon weekend. Fortunately, the woman was understanding the minute she asked and we just made the appointment for another day. I can't tell you how often people say that they cannot get to the office until 7 p.m., swear they will come and then fail to show without so much as the courtesy of a call. Or they "forget" appointments, or decide they had something better to do, but they couldn't call on their cell phone to cancel and they are all hysterical that they cannot get a new appointment for exactly when they want. Sometimes you just have to bite your tongue and suck it up, unfair though it may be.

                                                        1. In my line of work I have to deal with customers, and sometimes they are wrong, but I still have to grin, and bear it and fix the problem. Its part of being in a positon that exposes you to customers. If you cannot accept trying to make the customer happy even though they are wrong, you may be in the wrong line of work.

                                                          8 Replies
                                                          1. re: swsidejim

                                                            Yes, but when someone is out of line it is not necessarily of benefit to "grin and bear it" in fact it may perpetuate the idea that the person can get away with their behavior or inane request. I once worked in a repair store where the owner spent more time with one "trouble" customer than any other and the man was still never happy. That is a drain on the company that has to be cut loose at some point. Also, there are certain people who are miserable and enjoy being so (though they wouldn't admit to it).

                                                            1. re: Missmoo

                                                              I think that's the whole point here swsidjim, sometimes people are wrong and it's not fair for the business to go along with their request and lose money.

                                                              1. re: Rick

                                                                There are the other customers to consider too. Along with scammers who indirectly drive the cost of everything up, there are those who waste a lot of staff time and cause delays and inconvenience for everyone else. There are businesses where the employees are not allowed to say no to a customer, or ask a hesitating or time-wasting customer if they can wait on the next person, or similar. We once went to buy an appliance (garbage disposal or something) and walked out after listening to the guy in front of us shoot the breeze with the one available salesperson for about 15 minutes. It really looked like he had no intention of buying anything; just needed some human contact or whatever. I used to sell sporting goods and you can tell the habitual time wasters, just like you can often tell the people who scam for a hobby. Those people tend to have a short fuse too, but there's a point where you have to cut them off as politely as you can.

                                                                1. re: Rick

                                                                  I get the point, and a business can decide to refuse to do business in the future with such a customer if they would cause a company to continually lose money. . If a customer is repeatedly rude, or swears at me in my line of work, we cut them off, and we do not do business with them.

                                                                  I believe we are talking about a chicken place here, give the customer their couple of bucks, dont waste any of the managers time/salary(I imagine the manager makes a decent wage, so any time they spend debating this issue with the customer is wasting the company even more money) on them, and refuse to serve them in the future. Pretty simple.

                                                                  1. re: swsidejim

                                                                    While I agree with you from a business perspective, in the food service industry, especially in the QSR mode of service, I think what you recc is easier said than done. By refunding the money to someone who seems to be a scammer, perpetually disgruntled customer, or whatever, it may reinforce the 'bad behavoir' and the person will be encouraged to return, or attempt to repeat at another location or another restaurant. If that person returns to the same restaurant, and is even recognized by a rotating and ever changing staff, refusing service can be a slippery slope. Depending upon the specifics, the refused customer can and will, deny any previous incident. On a more serious note, he/she may be able to claim racial/ethnic/gender/age/disability, discrimination. Remember: This type of individual has no problem making a scene. I'd say, the best way to handle it would be to do a toned down version of what the OP did. I'd comp her a discounted meal coupon for future use. I'd write something on the back of the coupon that would identify this person to the Mgmt staff as a previously disatisfied customer so the Mgr on duty would be sure to check with the customer to identify any problems right away. Of course, if this happened more than once without the customer reporting any problems at a much sooner point in the meal, I'd politely let the customer know that no more future discounts would be offered.

                                                                    1. re: Tay

                                                                      good points tay,

                                                                      I just thank god I dont work in the restaurant industry anymore, and my dealings with customers in my current field is rare, and typically uneventfull.

                                                                      1. re: swsidejim

                                                                        I have never worked in the restaurant industry, but the more I dine out, the more respect I have for the vast majority of people who do.

                                                                        1. re: Tay

                                                                          Amen. As a customer standing next to the customer who ate ALL of their food and then was demanding their money back, it would be MY reaction to get involved on behalf of the restaurant owner.

                                                                          Not good, not safe.

                                                                          *shaking my head* I can't believe there are people like this out there and that servers and restaurant owners are expected to deal with them.

                                                            2. I wish more managers would stand up to the obvious scammers, at the very least for the sake of their employees who have to deal with these abusive people on a regular basis. I work in the service industry and can't stand listening to these people yell, curse, and lie to me on a daily basis only to watch the manager step in and give them exactly what they want and walk away. Just once I'd like to see them stand their ground and refuse to give in.

                                                              If you want to have any faith in the human race, stay away from the service industry. You would have never imagined that there were that many absolutely despicable people in the world. It's hard to think about the good experiences with customers when the horrible ones are so frequent and abusive.

                                                              4 Replies
                                                              1. re: coasterphil

                                                                Just to let you know, there are managers that do stick up for their employees. If a person curses, there is no reason why one has to stand there and take it. If that happens to an employee at the retail establishment that I use to work at, we were told that we didn't have to be abused by the 'customer' and that we can ask them to stop using vulgar language if they wanted us to assist them. But as we know, these people aren't really customers.

                                                                Also, if one does decided to give $$ out, you can always ask for the person's identification and say that whenever you have to give a cash refund, for accounting purposes, you need to record address and id info. This is not uncommon in many retail establishments and then you can keep records of those that like to come back and do it again and again.

                                                                1. re: justagthing

                                                                  And simply having someone identify themselves can also shut down some of the bad behavior. It's easier to act badly when one is anonymous.

                                                                  1. re: optimal forager

                                                                    The type of person who does this sort of thing, could care less if you know their name, their DOB, their ...Anything. They may even welcome the additional attention
                                                                    They are waaaaaaay past shameless.

                                                                    1. re: Tay

                                                                      I guess I meant the intermediate psychos, jerks tipped over the edge by a bad day, not the professional ones discussed above. Never witnessed one, thank goodness.

                                                              2. When I am faced with this I always ask myself one question:

                                                                "Do I want this person to be my customer?"
                                                                If the answer is yes I let them be right no matter how wrong they are. If the answer is no I tell them I don't need their business and ask them to leave and not come back.

                                                                I'll give two scenarios. Both actually happened in my restaurants.

                                                                1) Customer orders steak mid rare. Steak arrives mid rare. Customer says the steak is too rare. Fact is that guests have their own, non professional opinions about what "rare", "medium" and the like mean. I do NOT tell them they are wrong. I simply gage what they are looking for, apologize and replace it. Maybe even comp a very small something.

                                                                2)Guest orders tuna carpaccio and tells the waiter he wants it cooked. Waiter informs guest that the carpaccio is a raw dish and it is not served cooked. Guest insists. Waiter tries to get customer to order something else. Customer orders carpaccio. Waiter reminds that the carpaccio cannot and will not be cooked. Waiter places food on table.

                                                                Guest says he wanted the carpaccio cooked. Take it back to the chef and tell them to cook it to medium. Waiter comes to chef. Chef says "I will be out to talk to the guest in a minute". Waiter informs guest the chef is coming to speak to them.

                                                                Customer calls waiter something I can't type here.
                                                                I have the busboys remove everything from the table.
                                                                I walk to the table and tell the guest that I will not tolerate abuse of my staff, his dinner is over and it is time for him to leave.

                                                                The customer is not always right.
                                                                But a customer you want to have remain your customer should never be made to feel wrong.

                                                                The ones you don't need are fair game.

                                                                4 Replies
                                                                1. re: lebelage

                                                                  The customers that are not always right, are really not customers. Abusers sounds better to me.

                                                                  1. re: lebelage

                                                                    Good for you to support your staff. You just can't make this stuff up...

                                                                      1. re: lebelage

                                                                        my god. i don't work in food service, but many of my friends do or did. i think that a small but vicious minority of people go out to eat specifically to exercise power and control and to pointedly be abusive and cruel.

                                                                        i however work in a bar, where it has been my pleasure and my duty to toss out these sorts of people. then again, in a bar, these sorts of people sometimes try to hit you.

                                                                      2. we haven't has those kind of problems in our restaurant. but we had problems such as someone wanting a free meal just because a fly landed on their food. i can't remember what we did to remedy the situation. but i do remember a time when a fly landed on my food and actually died in the food. me and my friend just laughed it off, that time and didn't dare order anything else then.

                                                                        but i think our worse problem ever was a customer that had come to order for his wife. because he specifically mentioned to us that he was ordering for his wife, we knew who his wife was and what she always ate. and we knew what he always ordered also. so we asked him many times over and over are you sure this is what your wife wants. that same afternoon, his wife comes back to return the food since this isn't what she ordered. we told her that her husband ordered this and we even asked him over and over again. it got to the point that her husband started calling us liars. and my mom always remember what everyone eats for more then 4/5 of our regular customers. eventually her husband did the same routine over and over. my mom banned him from our restaurant, only his wife comes in when she wants anything now.

                                                                        i think over the years, we had like 3 people that tried to scam our restaurant and now they never darken our doors since they are scared of what my mom would do. kind of a good thing that we know many of the police officers in town because they are our regulars.

                                                                        1. I think you handled the matter appropriately. However, the owner of the restaurant I have worked at for years is forever caving to this sort of thing and it bugs me to no end. But he's been in business for a very long time and I think it is his "bendability" that keeps him successful. I've always wanted me own restaurant, but I came to the realization that I likely wouldn't succeed b/c I'd probably tell annoying people like that to beat it and not return. It's a very fine line. But I think when someone eats the majority of their meal and then demands their money back... well, you have a strong case to refuse. Maybe could've offered dessert or to buy them an app when they return... just for the sake of peace & harmony.

                                                                          3 Replies
                                                                          1. re: lynnlato

                                                                            I would dine in an establishment owned /managed by you any time and I'm sure you'd do an outstanding job! :-}

                                                                            1. re: Tay

                                                                              Why, thanks Tay! I'm not sure what I did to deserve such an affirmation, but I'm rollin' with it! Particularly since I just re-read my post and I managed to butcher that one sentence... HA! Oops, my wine glass is empty...

                                                                              1. re: lynnlato

                                                                                Must be because your posts display such common sense.
                                                                                Or maybe because you manage to be sincere and funny at the same time

                                                                          2. Years ago I had a (crazy) girlfriend whose mother was quite simply a trouble maker. She was a little mousy woman, the eternal victim, who enjoyed bullying people. When dining out she would simply return things for the sake of returning them. This gave her an opportunity to push people around and the chance for her to express her opinion about things. She was a, self proclaimed, gourmet and a connoisseur like no other of the finer things in life. This seemed to happen every time regardless of the establishment or the occasion. I think there were even times when she returned other peoples dishes. You can imagine their surprise upon finding out that the food they were enjoying was not to their likening.

                                                                            I like to think that somewhere out there a manager has stood up to her and politely told her where to go.

                                                                            1. And this is why I will never work front of house in a restaurant... I'd tell all these people where to go.

                                                                              1 Reply
                                                                              1. re: NovoCuisine

                                                                                good point Novo. one of the main reasons I got out was that it was growing increasingly difficult for me not to tell them that. It takes a tremendous amount of patience to work FOH well, and I was running out of it.

                                                                              2. I am a CPA and assist close to 500 individual's with their tax and accounting needs. Over the years I have learned to weed out the bad apples, they are not worth the time and trouble. If someone starts yelling at one of my staff or wants to beat me down on my bill I simply don't work for them anymore. Leaves more time for the nice clients who appreciate us and the work we do for them. Don't have nasty people for customers or clients, you can not afford them.

                                                                                3 Replies
                                                                                1. re: duck833

                                                                                  Hear hear. Rewarding bad customers is a bad use of resources; focusing on serving the good customers will generate much better returns in the future.

                                                                                  1. re: dty

                                                                                    Some people are never happy until they have made someone else miserable. Some people also refuse to be reasonable and act as if mistakes should not happen. Sure sometimes a business does something bad or negligent and then the customer should be mad/expect compensation. But there are other times when it was an honest mistake and the customer just won't get past that and prefers to make a mountain out of a mole hill. The recent threat about a lady that returns her fish if she finds a single bone it comes to mind. Honest mistake on the restaurant's part yet she still sends the fish back. Now if she were served rotten fish and got sick from it that'd be another story. As a small business owner I'm actually impressed by how many people act professionally when an honest mistake or something beyond my control happens. The key is to not let those that are never happy ruin your mood or bleed you dry financially.