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responding to the question " Is everthing ok?"

Last night we were having dinner with another couple at white tablecloth restaurant and I had ordered a pasta dish with smoked duck breast and creamy mushroom sauce. Another member of the of the party ordered the same thing and we agreed It was not particularly flavorful. When the waiter came by with the usual question we replied with an "okay". Then the owner came by later and asked if we enjoyed the food. I replied with rather vague neutral answer and he asked me again very pointedly to which I replied the dish was rather bland.
He seemed taken a back.. He did offer another dish which I declined; every one else was finished by then. The other dinning companion had finished his entree, however I did not ( I do consider that Hi carb and fat dishes have to be worthy to be eaten) . But planned to take the leftovers and have a couple of meals after making some additions. The owner also offered a complimentary dessert, which I declined. We did subsequently ordered a dessert to share. This provoked much discussion among us that shouldn't the owner/ manager want to know and was entitled to a truthful answer. I am not a big complainer by nature. This was single owner independent restaurant, we had previously had an excellent meal there with the same chef. Should this have be handled differently by me and/or the owner? I might add the chef did come by all the tables later and we did not mention the bland dish to him as I assumed the owner would take care of that.

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  1. I think you handled it quite correctly. And the owner, by pursuing a more detailed answer, handled it correctly. I've done it rarely and always at a place where I would expect better. I don't want to be comped; it wasn't bad; it could use improvement. They'll never know if you don't speak up. You were polite. What's there to question?

    1. always an honest answer is best.

      1. I had a humerous experience the other night when eating at a famous Boston seafood restaurant. The server put down our appetizers and turned around to reach for the water jug. Then, automatically, she asked "how are the aps?" before any of us even had time to lift a fork. Everyone got a kick out that, including the server.

        1. Sounds perfect to me. Owner sought feedback (however insincerely), you gave it professionally and he took it professionally. An offer for a comp should be declined in this situation, just as you did - that ritual is appropriate to the level of the issue that prompted it.

          1. FWIW, I think you did just fine, as others here have said. I'm heartened that the owner wanted to offer you another choice, and it's equally nice to hear about a fair, honest customer who wouldn't take another, complimentary entree since your plan was to take the duck home, give it a little TLC and eat it.

            My philosophy is that I will always tell a server, manager or proprietor, when they ask, if something is edible, essentially, but not ideal in some way--e.g., if it were tough, missing an ingredient that was listed on the menu, bland, as yours was, or overseasoned. Every earnest business owner or manager should have every opportunity to put the best product out he or she can, in order to be given a fair chance to compete in the marketplace, and that's only possible when they get honest, diplomatic, thorough feedback from their customers. I think especially in the case of independent restaurants, people get into that business because they love food, they love to express themselves creatively through food, and they intend to please, so I think it's kind in the long run to be honest, as a patron.

            But...good customers who hope to see best quality product and service continue will also go out of their way to compliment the chef, servers and ownership on things done especially well, so I try to be conscientious about praising, too.

            4 Replies
            1. re: Steady Habits

              ABSOLUTELY! I describe it as some people are quick to criticize but slow to praise.

              1. re: c oliver

                Yes, c...and the thing is, most of us as human beings feel uplifted from *sincere* praise, but it also serves a practical purpose, too, in situations like these. I bet most CHers on here know of cases in which a restaurant was excellent for the first few years after it opened, then somehow it began mysteriously to go downhill. Is it all due to proprietors resting on their laurels--I mean, in arrogance--or did they stop some practices or menu items because customers never took the time to let the establishment know how successful those were, from the patron's POV? Maybe a little of both with some restaurants?

                1. re: Steady Habits

                  Thank you all for the replies and "Yes" in response to Steady Habits we were quick to praise the Benne Seed Shrimp Appetizer and the Lamb Chop Lollipops.

                  In a somewhat related experience, this past year a bistro/bakery opened within a few blocks of our house and we were delighted to have a place nearby. However we became friendly with the couple - this was their third restaurant - and felt that the hot food lunch buffet left something to be desired. They had different presentation at night with a chef, table cloths and bistro type meals. It seemed awkward to express how unattractive the layout of the lunch menu was in addition to other needed improvements. Unfortunately, they were forced to close after a few months. They were crushed. It seemed to us they were trying to do too many things- a bakery, lunch and dinner 7 days a week. They did have consultant in but did not heed his suggestions. I really want to support independently owned restaurants ( and bookstores) but they do have to please the customer.

                  1. re: memphischix

                    It's sad to see something like that happen, isn't it, when you think about how much an owner or owners have to put into opening and running an establishment. You want to see all the heart, money (whether theirs or investors'), effort and devotion come to fruition for their sake, and, especially in the cases of small towns, for the community. You're right, though...they need to please the customer, or at least, *enough* customers to make a run of it. They need to be judicious about how they apportion and apply their resources, but, then, so do we consumers. One doesn't like to see friends get hurt, but if it was their third venture, and they weren't neophytes, it's curious that they wouldn't at least *try* some of the suggestions a consultant they're paying might offer to improve or sustain business. I wonder at and admire some of the successful restaurateurs I've encountered or patronized--it's a hard business. Must feel great when it works, though.

            2. I think you and the owner both handled it well. I've had similar experiences and when asked I always give and honest and polite answer. I always try to point out what I really like first and I've found with a smile and a good tone, you can tell them pretty much anything and usually get a polite or helpful response. Sometimes I've ended up having really nice conversations with a manager or owner and find out we have very similar food ideas or we both learn something new. We remember each other and future visits are better. Conversations like that help restaurants steer their businesses in a good direction for all.

              1. I think that you have to decide whether you want to tell the "whole truth" or the "polite truth". Sometimes a dish isn't as good as we hope, but there isn't anything wrong with it and we don't feel like sending it back and/or ordering a replacement. Then the "polite truth" makes the most sense (Q: "Are you enjoying the food?" A:"Yes, thank you."). On the other hand, if you want to tell the "whole truth" you have to anticipate that any owner (or hopefully server) worth his or her salt will try to fix it. If you don't let them fix it, it can be an uncomfortable situation for everyone - the owner is worried that you won't come back and will tell everyone that you didn't enjoy the food and you want the owner to just go away and quit pestering you.

                What you wrote sounded a little passive aggressive to me - you told the waiter everything was fine (polite truth), but then gave the owner a "vague neutral answer" which requires the owner to inquire further (I mean, who is going to just let a vague neutral answer go unclarified unless he doesn't care at all?), rather than to just cut it off and tell him the polite truth or get it out and tell the owner the whole truth in the first place.

                I think that if you go the "whole truth" route you should let the owner do what he can to fix it - he wants you to leave with a good impression of the restaurant's food and service so that you have good things to say rather than bad or neutral. That's his business and he wants to protect it, so let him. Otherwise, I vote for the polite truth.

                1. I think you did right. Perfectly, in fact. You were truthful, yet polite. Personally, I think more people should speak up.

                  1. here in South Fl the jaded servers ask '' is ANYTHING ok?"

                    1. When someone asks " Is everthing ok?" I often respond: "Everything?" Wow, that's a *really* broad question. Well, my car needs work..."

                      It was good to see the higher ups respond so well. When I was in the business I took complaints seriously. Even when the customer is wrong they're still right. Does it mean I never expressed my , um, opinions in the BOH? Of course not. But when it's busy who has time for such distractions?

                      1. I think it's important for servers or even the owners to ask, and just as important for the customers to respond constructively if feedback needs to be given.
                        Wichita's such an over-saturated restaurant market that many new restaurants don't have time for a customer's second visit to give feedback. I've tried places out where you can just TELL that the place won't be there in 6 months, and I've WANTED to give some sort of input/encouragement, but I didn't want to seem forward.
                        We had a neighborhood pizza place open: 9" pan pizzas cooked on a countertop rotating pizza oven similar to those you can buy for home use to cook a frozen pizza. The operator had maybe 12 of these, which I'm sure was more economical than keeping a full-blown pizza oven hot for the 16 hours a day he was open., but it limited the number of customers he could serve, because it took 12-15 minutes for a pizza to cook. And the crust had no yeast, so it was chewy and flavorless, and he put apple slices on his sausage pizza, and there wasn't enough cheese, and to save on the costs of ice and cups he only offered canned pop from a huge trash can full of ice...everyone could see the almost instantaneous demise in the cards. Maybe he could have saved it if he had, at the very least, asked his carry-out customers if he could follow up regarding their opinions of his pizza, or attached a stamped comment card to the pizza pan lid. I love to fill out comment cards.