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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.


                    2. Once a friend and I were at a chain and when the waiter asked I was surprised when my friend said that his dish was a little too salty. The waiter immediately offered to replace it with the same or any other item on the menu. When my friend demurred, the waiter - gently - insisted, and went to get another order of the same item, it was there within 3 minutes, and much better. Later the manager came over, apologized, told us that he had taken the item off our bill (even though it had been replaced) and gave us each a gift certificate for a free appetizer. I was impressed.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: KaimukiMan

                        That IS impressive! What chain was it? :)

                        1. re: Morganna

                          it was the Macaroni Grill at Ala Moana center in Honolulu. The place had only been open a few weeks, I think they wanted to be sure they were not getting the same reputation as a nearby eatery that opened the same week.

                        2. re: KaimukiMan

                          Though a "dreaded chain," this showed that both the FOH & BOH really cared about their food and the satisfaction level of their patrons. This is a very good sign. They are to be commended. Chain, or not, I'd definitely be back - they care!

                          It is too bad that many establishments do not share these sentiments.


                        3. One thing that really ticked me off when I was waiting tables was couples who were clearly not happy with their food (based on the large amount left on their plates) despite repeated inquiries as to whether things were OK. Then, they'd stiff me - as if I had cooked it improperly, or hadn't tried to make it right.

                          So, now that I'm on the other end of the cheque, I always mention it if there's a problem. Sometimes, if I'm in a hurry, I'll demur when the waiter suggests replacing the item. Other times, it's relatively minor - like over salting - and I'll just mention to the waiter to tell the cooks.

                          Whether I go back or not depends entirely on the response; if my waiter or the manager seems genuinely concerned, and tries to make things right, I'll give it another chance. If they seem bored or uninterested in fixing things, hasta la vista, baby!

                          9 Replies
                          1. re: KevinB

                            That's the hard part. I'm never sure if the restaurant really wants to know if the food isn't good.

                            1. re: malvern girl

                              of course they do. why wouldn't they? they want to put out a product that brings you back again.

                              1. re: malvern girl

                                Some do. Some do not. KaimukiMan offered an instance of a restaurant that did.

                                I've had the server actually bring the chef out to discuss my observations. I've had servers, who could care less.

                                My answer is, it depends...


                                1. re: Bill Hunt

                                  i don't think the server brought the chef out. I think that they actually tasted the offending dish and realized how bad it was. They both said that it was much too salty and apologized. And yes, I have been back a couple of times (sorry applehome).

                              2. re: KevinB

                                Since my husband and I have had our surgery to cure our diabetes, normal restaurant portions are just too much food for us. :) I always feel like I need to explain to the waiters that it's not the food (when it isn't) it's just that we have tiny stomachs and can't eat that much at one sitting. Though probably it'd be clear we liked it because we always take home the leftovers. :) Sometimes we don't, though, if whatever it is wouldn't be good the next day or later in the evening.

                                1. re: Morganna

                                  We were in Kansas City to be with my Father-in-Law as he spent his last days in the hospital. Clearly we were not in the best of spirits - we made a mistake and went to a resto for dinner, but due to the circumstances, we were not hungry and just picked at the food - was it good or bad? Darned if we knew, we really weren't in the mood to eat. Since we were staying in a motel without a fridge or micro we couldn't take the leftovers with us - the manager was so upset, we tried to explain that it was us, not his food but he was upset.

                                2. re: KevinB


                                  You make a good, and very valid point. I have never stiffed my server, if things from the back were off, whether I shared my displeasure, or not.

                                  Only when the service was really bad have I left less than my usual tip.

                                  If it was both the food AND the service, that were off, then a letter would be forthcoming.

                                  Had a meal (on Kaua`i), where the food was just OK, and the service was really poor. However, our busser was 100% and did all in his power to insure that our experience was a good one. The tip on the AMEX card was less, than I would normally leave, but the busser got a $20 slipped into his hand for his efforts.


                                  1. re: Bill Hunt

                                    "but the busser got a $20 slipped into his hand for his efforts."

                                    Bless you. May God look kindly on your children!

                                    1. re: KevinB

                                      Ditto-- good FOH staff will want to weep reading this.

                                3. Only once and only reluctantly when I got a piece of fish (cod) that was so tough I couldn't saw it w/a knife. The server told me there had been another complaint about the cod that night and immediately offered a replacement dish.

                                  1. I recall responding "not good". But mostly, I recall saying "too salty". And when I do that, I haven't eaten more than 2 bites. I want to make sure they know that I'm not just a complainer. I have family in the business and I've heard all the stories about people eating 3/4 and more and then complaining and asking for the check to be adjusted. The standard family answer to that is "NO", you've eaten almost the entire dinner. I might be biased, but I think that's fair.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: bucksguy14

                                      Those "adjustments" probably happen more often than most of us would care to contemplate. The diner eats most of the dish, asks for "doggie bags," and then complains vociferously about how bad it all was, in hopes that something gets comp'ed.

                                      I never anticipate anything being comp'ed, only replaced, if possible, should it be off. My critiques are meant to help the restaurant do better, but are also based on my palate.


                                    2. I just finished up a cruise on a new ship that had a lot of issues in the main dining room, while the food in the surcharge dining rooms always got rave reviews. While I am fine with the surcharge dining rooms having a higher quality of cuisine, I at least expect the food in the main dining room to be prepared correctly. Invariably, fish was well done to the point of being inedible, fried food was plated too early so it was always soggy, and the frozen desserts were often melted. This was not a situation anyone at my table chose to let go and boy did we complain. The server and MD did their best to make the situation better and I can only hope that other people complained as well so they either replace the kitchen staff or at least give them more training so they learn how to cook and plate properly.

                                      1. If you are unhappy, servers want to know. If you are not thrilled, they won't be later come tip time. Better to say. If they do not come up with the solution, help them out.

                                        1. The other night I was in a local restaurant which I really like and the waiter, who is always super nice to us, asked me if everything was alright. I replied honestly, and said that although my main course of pan-fried tiger prawns with salsa verde was tasty, I expected more than five on my plate for a main course, especially as my friend had three in his seafood risotto. They weren't particularly big prawns and I did feel that they were being a little mean for £9. Luckily I'd ordered a couple of sides but otherwise I would have been really hungry!

                                          He was very nice about it, and comped me a dessert and a cup of tea as I wasn't drinking. My friends got free limoncellos! I got teased about this, but figured it was better to say something than feel annoyed all evening - I was very polite too!

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: greedygirl

                                            You were polite and correct in your appraisal of the situation. Nice of the server to be proactive. Some are so empowered, while other might not be. Some care (as in your case), and some are just killing time, until their screenplay gets picked up. I'd wager that the BOH got some feedback, and that the prawn quota went up, even if only by a few.

                                            Nice when the restaurant really gets it, and cares about you, the diner. These are the places to which I will gladly return They just get better, and better.


                                          2. It really depends on the place; I'm more likely to let them know if the service is rude and the food unacceptable if I'm spending a lot on the meal, but if it's a quick stop and the service is nice and the food correct but not to my liking? Then I'll let it go.

                                            1. Well, let's assume it's not a "chain". I think in most topics/posts that goes without saying.

                                              If it is really bad I say something up front. I brought a soup to the owner's attention, in a not-so-subtle way, and they came back, agreeing with me!
                                              If they ask, I tell them if I think it is a significant problem, in my mind. I am usually the outspoken one. I have been called "Honest Abe". If they don't want to know, they shouldn't ask. If they ask "How WAS everything?", I'm not looking for anything in return; not when I am ready to head out the door and I hadn't complained before then.

                                              1. I answer the question honestly. Sometimes, I want to send the food back and other times i do not.

                                                1. It depends. I am more inclined to discuss the dishes, if it is just the two of us dining. If I'm hosting a group - less so.

                                                  Some also depends on my perception of the waitperson and their degree of genuine interest. Many ask, because they have been taught to, while others actually care and can relay the info to the chef.

                                                  As we dine, we'll often play "guess the ingredients." When we get stumped, or get into a quiet argument, we'll ask the server for info. We're not looking for recipes, but just a question of spices, or similar. If they blow off the request for info, I'll not usually bother with anything, except, "OK," and leave it at that. If they have taken an interest, I'll give them a blow-by-blow description of my reaction to the dishes. I've had several instances, were some of these "suggestions" made their way into a dish, later on. Now, it could be that the chef came to the same conclusion, that some highly published writer said the same thing, or that there were so many comments from the dining room, that the broth was too salty, etc.. Do not know how many were based on my comments. In the end, it doesn't matter where the idea came from, so long as the dish is better.

                                                  Also, as personal tastes differ, what I feel is bland might actually be sending other diners to the ER.

                                                  In retrospect, I probably should speak up more often, but just detect a lack of real interest from many servers. For them, "OK" suffices.


                                                  1. As a server, I'm actually really psyched about our new chef. He genuinely cares about peoples reactions to his food. He is always keeping his eye near the dish washing station for competly empty plates. The minute there is a little bit of food on a plate, he asks, "What's wrong?!" All concerned...usually it is nothing....a kids plate, or just too much food, or they didn't like one ingredient.
                                                    Also, if a guest sends back a dish and offers "opinions"...those are IGNORED and laughed at. If you want to be a critic...get the ol' resume built up. otherwise just say what you don't like dude. No one cares about how you think "pink peppercorns would be so much better..." Let's just work on fixing your dish. :)

                                                    2 Replies
                                                    1. re: brody08

                                                      "pink peppercorns would be so much better..."

                                                      is fixing the dish

                                                      1. re: thew

                                                        No, brody's right - getting served something that's burnt, or cold when it should be hot, or oversalted, or well done when you ordered rare - those are mistakes that can (and should) be fixed. Suggesting alternate ingredients is a matter of opinion. De gustibus non disputandum.

                                                    2. If there is something really wrong..overcooked steak or burger, etc. I will say something. If it's something minor (a bit too salty), I don't.

                                                      1. Years ago, I responded, "meh," and the server was really taken aback. I don't remember exactly what the issue was--nothing really horrible, I'm sure--but we ended up being comped coffee and dessert, which I thought was an incredibly generous response on the part of the restaurant.

                                                        1. I'm sure I've told this story before, but I can't resist...

                                                          Our waitress was imploying a fake British posh accent. Odd, but whatever. She was over-the-top effusive while she waited on us, and after i received my not-super-fresh-tasting shrimp on bland tomato sauced pasta, she danced over and exclaimed "Is everything WONDERUL?"

                                                          I replied "no, not really...it's just fair" and my husband said something similar. She insisted upon details, continued to insist when we demurred, send out the chef to the table after offering same and very specifically being told NOT to do that. I was prepared to crawl under the table and tried to be as nice as possible to the chef, saying it's fine, it's just not "WONDERFUL" . Then the waitress made fun of us with a nearby table, conferred w/ management at check-time, pointing our way, and then brought us the fully loaded check.

                                                          That's been about 10 years ago now, my husband still laughs when we drive by where that restaurant used to be, but really I still don't think it's funny and would commit violence on that waitress given the opportunity. But now, no matter how crappy the food, I always say "it's fine".

                                                          1. That's a tough call, for the most part if the meal is not to my liking, I'll say so. Yet there are times when it seems best to say nothing and refrain from eating there again, it's a judgment call... I know thats not much help.

                                                            I don't know if the server has been trained to ask, really wants to know or is in a habit of asking just like so many people today ask “How are you” as a greeting rather than saying hello.

                                                            After a near fatal motorcycle accident in 1991 that put me out of work for two years, I started telling people I was rotten. As time passed I got on with my life and back to work, but saying I was rotten stuck.

                                                            What I learned from a couple years of saying it, people stop, they look at you and think about what you said. If asked today why am I rotten, I'll tell them I was born that way. Mostly with women, it's good way to start a conversation and put people at ease. Luckily my wife has known I was a flirt since we met, and she doesn't mind, knowing I flirt without intention.

                                                            Next time a server ask “How is everything” and you doubt they give a hoot, tell them it's rotten and see what happens.

                                                            1. To append my other post, if a waiter asks, and I am not ready to have the food replaced, reheated or comped, then I usually give my opinion if I think it is ill-conceived or mediocre. I am only hoping that what I say gets to the back of house or management.
                                                              Is this ever likely to happen? Do chefs, cooks or managers/owners often want to "kill the messenger"? Do any restaurants get employees together and have discussions about customer feedback or what sold/didn't sell or got eaten or just picked at? Curious as to whether I'm wasting my breathe. Sometimes the waiter seems mature, knowledgeable and interested. This is usually when I might make an elaborate response.