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Mention Problem to Waiter or Grin and Bear It?

Stemming off a Boston thread about an unhappy Restaurant Week experience...

Do you complain to your waiter if something is wrong with your dinner or do you suck it up, only to go home and write a negative review about the place you dined at?

In this case, it was super-under-cooked risotto, which, in my opinion, could've been rectified in mere minutes by mentioning it to the waiter. Isn't that what he's there for? Didn't he check back on you to make sure you were enjoying things? And, not that this is your responsibility, but I'm sure the kitchen would've wanted to know there was a major flaw in their product, rendering it inedible...even during Restaurant Week.

I try to be polite to everyone, not impose on people, and generally try not to step on toes or make people uncomfortable. However, if I'm not getting what I pay for, you can bet your bippy I'm speaking up. I'm in no way, shape or form frugal or cheap, but I hate getting ripped off. If something isn't up to par, I'm going to mention it (politely, of course).

I guess I just don't understand why someone would just sit there and be unhappy with basically their whole meal (except dessert, in the case of the OP), but mention nothing. Most dining problems are a breeze to fix. Now, he's obviously upset enough to post about it, which has left a bad taste in his mouth regarding the restaurant (and perhaps to others, due to the post), when a simple, "Excuse me, I think this risotto is very undercooked" would've nipped the problem in the bud. I'd wager the rest of the dinner would've been flawless after a major kitchen blunder like that, to boot.

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    On this topic you and jfood agree. It's expensive to eat out and jfood normally tries to maximize his experience (one experience in Chicago a few weeks ago he was just too darned tired when the server was not around and those that were, were not masters of the English language but that's a different thread).

    Carve-outs:

    1 - A business meeting dinner. When jfood is with clients, there is no way he is sending anything back. He was taught a long time ago that the food is secondary at a buisness meeting meal. Suck it up, move it around, feign lack of hunger, anything other than appear to be a whiner with clients.
    2 - Large group of friends - 50/50 chance jfood will not send the food back if it will interphere with the mojo at the table. As jfood has stated in numerous posts, eating with friends has friends first and foremost and the food is secondary.

    But if the opportunity is there, and the food is not, jfood will definitely say something to the server, and likewise this has happened on several occasions, usually with the "doneness" factor. But for this to occur, the server needs to perform his job of checking in. Twice, once with a $55 porterhouse and second two weeks ago in Chicago, jfood couldn't find his server and just sat there for 5-10 minutes while his meal went cold. And the bussers were not English majors.

    But jfood has also found that the return engagement of the food is rarely as originally intended. Send back a raw steak, comes back incinerated, undercooked fish, dryer than the Sahara and overcooked. Then what the diner has is inedible and a much more dicey situation. Unfortunately that is about 75% of the times the case. Now people are completely done with dinner and you are sitting there looking at blech.

    So it really depends on the situation, but most times jfood is with you on sending back so he can receive what he is paying for.

    2 Replies
    1. re: jfood

      Jfood, greatly appreciate your thoughts on this and other subjects!

      "When jfood is with clients, there is no way he is sending anything back. He was taught a long time ago that the food is secondary at a buisness meeting meal. Suck it up, move it around, feign lack of hunger, anything other than appear to be a whiner with clients."

      This is sage advice, but I do have a question. Could you foresee a situation where you have ordered a meal, and your client has ordered the same thing, and you realize there is something wrong with both dishes and the client is unhappy with the food? Hypothetically speaking, this might be an instance where as the host it might be worth saying something to the client and trying to rectify the situation. They might appreciate your intervention in this situation, and it might help establish a nice business relationship (they get the sense that you are really looking out for their welfare and care about details). Or is it, as you say, not about the food? Would love your perspective on this situation.

      1. re: moh

        Depends again. You have to read the client's face and hear his verbiage. Then a casual, "how is you meal?" or "mine's a little XXX, how is yours?" can get a dialogue going. If a discussions needs to occur wih the server then as you mention you should lead the charge. Always help the client in case they are not comfortable with telling the server. And if the client says, "It's OK" that means s/he does not want to make a fuss and wants to get back to business.

        The potential business is worth waaaaaay more than a $50 steak or a $10 pasta.

    2. "I try to be polite to everyone, not impose on people, and generally try not to step on toes or make people uncomfortable"

      Good for you. What does this have to do with your question?

      I will be eager to see how many people will say they do not note bad food when they are served it.

      1 Reply
      1. re: FrankJBN

        Just saying that I don't go out of my way to cause problems (especially when there isn't one) and I'm definitely not one of "those" customers.

      2. "However, if I'm not getting what I pay for, you can bet your bippy I'm speaking up. I'm in no way, shape or form frugal or cheap, but I hate getting ripped off. If something isn't up to par, I'm going to mention it (politely, of course)."
        ~~~~~~~~~
        Agree with you invino (but as you agreed with me on the other thread, you might have thought I would. <g>)

        This is the thread to which invino is referring: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/497946 The OP did say in a follow-up that the entree wasn't bad, but just not interesting. While I also agree with others who said a restaurant like Rialto shouldn't be making the amateur mistakes, without knowing if the executive chef is in the kitchen, you don't know if a junior newbie was on the line and whoever was expediting didn't check the risotto.

        Regardless, with woefully undercooked crunchy risotto, I would still make a mention of it to the waiter. As it was the starter in its entirety, being crunchy essentially made it inedible. Meaning the OP paid money and got nothing. Just doesn't make sense *not* to mention it. They don't have to replace it, should the OP's dining companion be near the end of their starter. But it makes the kitchen aware it was undercooked so it can be rectified for future diners. I know some people say "it's not my responsibility to tell the kitchen they've screwed up", but how about it's just polite to do so?

        1 Reply
        1. re: LindaWhit

          Sure, why not. Speak up, see where it gets you.

          Isn't it a crying shame, though, that there are people afraid of speaking up? That tells me more about the restaurant experience and the owners/managers than about the dining patron.

        2. To me, this situation is like being a manager or supervisor. You have to tell people what they're doing right and wrong in order for them to improve and grow in the job. The best employee in the world doesn't have ESP. It isn't fair to commit negative comments to a written eval before discussing it with them, explaining what they need to do to improve, and then giving them an opportunity to correct whatever's unsatisfactory.

          And on the employee (restaurant) side, if I'm not doing something well, I want to know about it so that I can work on it. I don't want a manager "dropping hints" like cutting back on my assignments, taking away responsibilities, etc.., in an effort to make me "see" or "guess" what I'm doing wrong or where I need to improve.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Erika L

            I agree, they cant fix the problem if they dont know, (they should be tasting the food before it goes out but that is not always possible). I just got a flyer in the mail for a new Chinese place and right on the bottom it says, "Love our food? Tell your friends! If not please tell us and we'll do our best to make it right". The restaurant wants to know if there is a problem with their food.....not liking something is one thing but a flaw in the cooking or something tasting, "off" they want to know.

            1. re: bubbles4me

              I think you should normally get a message to the kitchen re: obvious cooking problems. You've paid for the food and it should be edible. It's not something you owe to the restaurant, though. They are responsible for what they are sending out.

              There are times when it would be awkward (business meals) or you don't have time or you sense it would be fruitless or unpleasant (everyone has deer in headlights expressions, etc). It being Restaurant Week would already put the situation in somewhat dubious circumstances, for me.

              Should you post a negative review after you decided-- for whatever reason-- not to complain about the food? It does seem a little silly. I don't think it's immoral or anything. If I know (e.g.) that it's restaurant week I can evaluate the review accordingly. Maybe if the restaurant can't handle hearing negative reports of their Restaurant Week performance they will reevaluate the wisdom of participating. Restaurant Week may be a pain for them but the bottom line is they've chosen to do it.

          2. unless there are circumstances (client, 1st meal with bf's parents, large group, time limit for meal), always mention. the server is trying to make sure you have the best experience possible--s/he certainly did not taste your meal or cut into your steak/fish before it was brought to you, so there is no way for her/him to telepathically figure out there is a problem. if the kitchen is messing up, chances are the cooks and managers want to know as well. lots of little problems are easily fixed, and the staff would be happy to do so-- as opposed to reading a mortifying review about their place of employment a while later-- in addition to the embarrassment, if there is a drop in business, it can affect their livelihoods as well, remember. . .

            having an open dialog with the staff of the restaurant is rewarding for both sides and it helps to create happy dining experiences. otoh it is very frustrating to be the one serving an obviously unhappy diner-- you know something is amiss from their demeanor, but if they say nothing, you have no idea whether the problem is with the food or the diners' subject of conversation, and it's obviously totally improper for the server to pry. for the love of mike, clue the staff in verbally-- 9/10 times they will be relieved to be informed of a fixable problem, and happy to bend over backwards to please you! as Invino says in the op-- in a fine dining situation especially, pointing out a cooking error can actually make the rest of the meal more excellent, because everyone on staff wants to make sure nothing else goes wrong for your table.