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Jan 4, 2009 11:23 AM

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.