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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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  1. I

    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).


    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.

            1. I have been in the unenviable position of taking someone out with a group (special occasion) to a nice place and having their food having something wrong...They did not want to say anything, but the rest of us did cause we were taking this person out. The comedy act that followed from the waiter and manager almost made the problem worth it. I don't generally have business meetings over food, it is almost always for pleasure and I will always say something if I don't get something right.

              1. As a former waitress, I'm torn about this question. Sending something back can be a nightmare for the waiter, who in most cases has to take the dish into hostile territory (the kitchen) and tell the chef that someone in the dining room thinks his food is literally inedible. I've gotten into arguments with cooks who told me that the food was perfect, and the problem was a know-nothing guest who spent too much time eating in shopping malls, and I should go out and tell them why they should like what they just sent back. This experience scarred me enough so that I've eaten overcooked steak, tepid pasta, and fishy striped bass rather than subject my poor waiter to the hell I've endured. On the other hand, why pay for something you don't like? If you don't mind taking your chances with an insulted cook (who may treat your food as an opportunity for entertainment/revenge -- I've watched food be defiled in ways no one should have to see) and it isn't more trouble than it's worth, then stand up for yourself and at least try to get what you came for: a good meal.

                5 Replies
                1. re: rhm

                  "If you don't mind taking your chances with an insulted cook (who may treat your food as an opportunity for entertainment/revenge -- I've watched food be defiled in ways no one should have to see) "
                  And this troubles me more than anything. If staff brings back an obviously way underdone risotto, to have a chef do this to the patron's meal is just unconscionable.

                  1. re: LindaWhit

                    i don't know where rhm worked, but that type of stuff doesn't happen at places that are serious about the food, at any price point. now at a chain restaurant maybe i wouldn't send food back.

                    1. re: soupkitten

                      Thanks for the post, soupkitten. I was hoping that "good" restaurants wouldn't do something like that. Actually, I would hope that almost all restaurants wouldn't do something like that, but....

                      1. re: LindaWhit

                        Linda, the only time I've ever seen things like rhm mentioned were to extremely rude, degrading "guests". If the kitchen has made an error, dishes are usually graciously re-prepared, with apologies all around.

                        If a customer is just looking for attention and complaining about nothing, that's a different story. I've seen some really, REALLY foul things done to rude guests. Why someone would want to belittle the person bringing you your food is beyond me.

                        1. re: invinotheresverde

                          Why someone would want to belittle the person bringing you your food is beyond me.
                          On that, I completely 100% agree, invino.

                2. Unless it's egregious, I rarely send food back to the kitchen as I don't think it's that big of a deal. But it is your prerogative if you choose to do so. I do remember once sending back calamari because it wasn't fresh. The waiter apologized profusely and brought us a new delicious plate. My SIL (former waitress and a very nice, thoughtful person) told me that she once asked them to wrap up something that was terrible just so she wouldn't offend anyone as she only took a couple of bites.

                  1. "I don't like food, I love it...and if I don't love it, I don't swallow." - Anton Ego.

                    Ok, I'm not that bad, but I have no qualms about sending food back if the food is ill prepared. I won't send a dish back because I don't care for the recipe. I've found that the most frequent problem is over-cooked meat dishes, which primarily stems from the fact that the grill and saute stations are slammed and sometimes the cook just gets it wrong. I completely understand - it happens. This year I've sent back two dishes: the first a double bone in pork chop that was so overcooked it was dry and tough and the second was a steak frites at a bistro in Vegas. The chop was served at a new restaurant near my house that I love and I would continue to give the place a great review. I ordered the steak rare and it came out with a grey middle; the next one came out rare and everyone was happy.

                    Sometimes food gets too much heat in the kitchen and I've never thought it bad or wrong to send it back if that is the case. Frankly I don't think its that big of a deal.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Phil W

                      I would agree, if I am being adventurous ( I often am) and decide that I don't like the recipe, its my mistake - usually everything is pretty much spelled out. Its when it is their mistake that I am not happy and will talk to someone.

                    2. There is absolutely no situation where I will not send back my meal if it is not up to standards.

                      It isn't fair to me or to the restaurant. I always give the restaurant a chance to make it right.

                      I've been on both ends of business meetings and almost had to force a potential employee to send back an entree that was wrong. He was too embarrassed and didn't want to make a bad impression on me. I would have been mortified for him to eat the dish (it was grossly undercooked chicken).

                      On the flip side, if I'm being wined and dined, that person wants you to have a good experience not suck it up for the sake of politeness.

                      Management wants to make it right for you. Why not give them a chance?

                      1. In addition to jfood's comments, another major factor is the likelihood that they'll remake my meal from scratch. There was a thread on this a few weeks ago.


                        If it's going to upset the whole meal for everyone, I'll think long and hard about sending it back. I understand that the restaurant would like to know if they're sending out poorly prepared food (even as an anomaly), but I don't want to mess up the whole experience unless the meal is truly inedible.

                        As far as the waiter having to deal with an insulted chef... while I'm sympathetic to that, it's really not my problem. That's an issue between FoH and BoH, and as a paying customer in a (presumably) nice restaurant, that shouldn't factor into my decsion.

                        Heaven help the chef/cook who perpetrates any "malicious tampering" upon my meal as a result of any perceived insult. He'll wish he chose a different career. In fact, he may have to.

                        1. As a waiter, I obviously want to hear than everybody is LOVING their food, but mistakes happen and when then do, I want to fix them. The key is knowing how to complain. Getting angry at the server (usually) is not the answer - they are trying to work with you. I was always mortified when customers had legitimate complaints about their food and wanted to fix it as quickly as possible.

                          On the other hand, if you simply don't like what you ordered, you are out of luck. Exceptions should be made to this rule in the case that a) the server expressly recommended the meal or b) you are a very regular and good customer.

                          Also: if you don't want the meal replaced, don't complain. I hate nothing more than having a customer say "this is awful" and then refusing to let me do anything about it. not only does it negate my job, but i have to sit with the knowledge that they are silently fuming at their table...