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Jan 16, 2009 06:41 AM

When a waiter asks: "How is everything?" do you ever tell him "not good?"

If the food is cold or underdone, I ask him to fix it, but if it's just bad, should you tell the waiter or just make a note to never eat there again? I'm never sure if they really want to know the truth and view any criticism as constructive. So--complain or let it go?

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  1. "complain or let it go?"
    neither. offer an observation or suggestion, which is different than a complaint.

    i had this experience just last week. food arrived at the table with repeated warnings that the plates would be extremely hot...which they were. *however* all the food on the plates was room temp. so when our server came back to see how everything was, i told her that although the plates may have been hot, the food was lukewarm, as though it had been left sitting on the pass for a while after cooking, before it finally made its way to our table. i suggested that she let the kitchen know they needed to get the food out to tables more quickly. she was very apologetic and offered to send the dishes back to be re-fired, which i declined, as we were eating steaks & seared tuna which would have ended up too well done for our tastes.

    9 Replies
    1. re: goodhealthgourmet

      As a person who has worked in restaurants for quite some time, I can tell you that it is not the kitchen who needs to get the food out to the tables more quickly. Servers, in my experience, habitually leave food sitting in the window far too long, especially if it is not for their table.

      1. re: ktb615

        when i worked in a restaurant it was a combination of both...but there were 2 issues at play here - 1) i figured i'd be less likely to offend her if i didn't flat-out place the blame on her, and 2) i do believe the kitchen was at least partly to blame, because the plate WAS extremely hot - which makes me think they fired the food, let it sit, and then dumped it onto a hot plate before sending it out to the table.

        1. re: goodhealthgourmet

          1) Good point, as they say, "Never mess with people who can mess with your food." Although thankfully, I've never seen anyone's food messed with in my career.

          2) Quite possible. Where I work we do our absolute best to get all the food for a table out of the oven/pan at the same time so it can all go out hot together. It is of course possible that one dish might take longer than you think (hanger steak is notorious for this) and the other dishes might need to be rewarmed, or in this case, slapped onto a hot plate hoping that it will make up for it.

          1. re: ktb615

            re: your point #2, i always like to give the kitchen AND the servers the benefit of the doubt. but in this case there really was no good excuse - none of the dishes we ordered required extensive cooking time - a rare seared tuna steak, and 2 petit filets, one rare-plus and one med-rare. now obviously with rare & med-rare proteins you're not expecting warm *centers* :) but the exteriors of all three were cool to the touch, as were all the sides, which included steamed spinach, onion rings & fries.

            1. re: goodhealthgourmet

              This does not apply to the tuna, but many folk do like to rest the beef (and other meats), before serving. A pre-warmed plate can help here. The resting time can certainly be mis-judged. I've done it at home, and I don't have that many diners to accommodate. Just a thought there, and maybe not relevant to your cited situation.

              Still fish should most often be served right out of/off the cooking device. If I am doing some sort of surf-n-turf, the beef comes off first (resting for a bit) and the fish is finished, just before it's plated and delivered. Farily easy on the home grill, but easy to mis-judge on a busy line.

              In your case, all were lukewarm, at best. I'd say that someone missed it, regardless of what their motivations might have been.


            2. re: ktb615

              On #2, I agree. I have had several instances, where one diner ordered something that would take longer than the rest. I most appreciate the choice, when the server tells me (usually the host) of this, and asks how I wish the service to go - all other diners served, but one waits, or all served at the same time. I think I've always chosen the latter. The kitchen then starts this dish first, estimates its time of completetion and then puts the other dishes on at the appropriate time. Yes, there have been a few times, where all other dishes were cool, and the time-consuming one was piping hot, but stuff happens. A good and caring BOH can usually adjust the time that they start and get it really close. I appreciate that.

              To #1, I try to make my comments as constructive, as is possible. Besides what the folk "back there" can do to your food, they also have big sharp knives, and I have most often left my gun in the car!

              Criticism can be offered in many ways. I feel that it should always be done in a constructive and respectful manner. The object is to correct errors and help everyone to do it better. Several times, I've offered opinions, but the chef has felt otherwise. Fine - just so long as they know how I felt.


          2. re: ktb615

            Sometimes the kitchen has timing issues too. One plate may be completed by one chef too early and may sit under the lamp and glop up while the rest of the order is being prepared. Very stressful for servers.

            1. re: Sal Vanilla

              Yes! Watching the kitchen from many "chef's tables" and counters, one sees "the dance." Sometimes, someone will miss a step, or land on another's foot.


          3. re: goodhealthgourmet

            I have observed locations that heat the plates, separately from the food. The dinnerware is hot, as it's being plated. This is often done to offset time in the window. Sometimes, this is just not enough. The plate sears a ring on the tablecloth, but the food is still lukewarm - maybe sitting in an underheated steam table, or similar?

            Given your entrées, that is a very tough call. I've had to make it and have always wondered, do I reject the entire dish, and hope that the next version is better, or do I go with it, and hope that the plate heats it up a bit? Not sure that there is a definitive answer. Also, consider that your theater tickets are in your pocket, or that you dining companions' baby-sitter leaves at 10:00PM, regardless.

            I do agree that you were correct to bring the situation to the attention of the server. If it was the server's fault (as has been ventured below), maybe she'll learn something worthwhile. If it's a kitchen practice, then they can possibly learn something from the report.


          4. Last time this happened to me was at my favorite Spanish restaurant. We had ordered several tapas-type dishes, all of which were fine except the house-made pate which was incredibly salty. When the owner stopped by to ask us how things were I told her about it, and she told us she'd take it off the bill - which she did.

            Though I was a bit surprised that when I told her about it, she said that yes, she'd been concerned herself that this batch came out too salty. I guess she decided that maybe it would still be acceptable to some of her customers so she didn't just throw it out and make a new batch.

            3 Replies
            1. re: BobB

              Im with goodhealth - ussually unless its really bad. Constructive critism is good
              In your case bob...I'd be pissed. The owner is serving food she thinks is substandard. What else does she make that close call with. I would forgive the error, but not them knowing about the error and continuing to serve.

              1. re: coastie

                Yeah, that was a bit weird, but most everything there is SO good I decided to give her a pass on this. And nothing like that has happened since that one time.

                1. re: BobB

                  Let's hope that the level of salt was just past the tolerance level (or necessary level) for fewer. I'd have rather heard that she'd not tasted it that night, instead.

                  I've done dishes where half of the house thought the seasoning was just perfect, while the other half was gasping and reaching for the water, not the wine. Salt levels are a bit different, but can still be personal. I'm a bit more tolerant, than my wife is. Usually, these levels are part of the cooking process, and are seldom from salt being added later. Matter of fact, I cannot remember using salt (except for some “gourmet” salts) on any dish, once on the plate. Still, my wife will comment on a salt level, which I think is almost perfect.

                  Still, if a batch goes off, for whatever reason, it *should* be discarded and re-done, not served in the hopes that too many will just not complain.

                  Maybe “Kitchen Nighmares” has made me more critical of restaurants’ serving items about which they have a question, but they need to taste and be critical, before serving to their patrons.


            2. If the dish is really bad or totally cooked incorrectly (e.g. an overcooked steak), yes, complain. I don't wait for them to ask. If it just isn't that good, I won't say anything unless it is really terrible. Then I will tell them their food is horrible, I don't understand how then expect to stay in business and never go back (this is pretty rare).

              1. Like you, if there's something actually wrong with my order, I won't wait for the wait staff to check in. I ask for it to be fixed right away. But in the sort of situation you describe above, it really depends on the kind of place it is, what my expectations for the meal were in the first place, and if I think the management would even listen (or be permitted to improve).

                For instance, when I go to a chain like Applebee's, my expectations are already set to "this will be adequate, maybe a little good, probably just mediocre and will fill my tummy." If what I got was edible but not very good, and it was something that I'd had before that actually met my expectation in the past, then I might say something when asked. "This was too salty but not enough for me to send back" or whatever it was. Just so they can talk with the cook on duty. But I wouldn't expect to say "you should really add onions to this recipe, that would improve it a lot" and think that they'd have any control over being able to do that. They're a chain, they make things according to the manual.

                However, when I went to a new local BBQ place, I asked a lot of questions about how they prepare things, and what was in things. And I offered constructive comments to our waitress in the hope that they might listen and improve on a few things as they tweaked their service. Nothing was actually bad, just could have used a little tweaking. :) I was pleased at how well they listened (I haven't been able to get back to see if they've implemented suggestions, though). :)

                1. I was going to say that I would tell them gently what i didn't like about the dish...Then, I realized I was at a restaurant last night where some things were underseasoned and others were very salty, but I sat and did nothing. So I suppose what i would 'theoretically do' and what i would actually do are not the same. I do feel like a doormat today, though.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: soypower

                    I suppose another factor for me would be how I'm feeling and how much energy I have. :)

                    1. re: soypower

                      It can, and does, differ with the restaurant, how your night is going otherwise, and many additional factors. There have been many times that I have just walked, when I know that I should have sat the server, the sous-chef and the owner down and explained all of the problems. It happens. Few of us are restaurant inspectors, or have a TV show on restaurants. While more might be, I'd say that the majority are also not professional restaurant reviewers. [non-paid blogging does not count.]

                      Do not be too hard on yourself, as we have all done it, and will probably continue to do so, depending on the exact circumstances.