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Returning food in ethnic restaurants...

I went to a Chinese restaurant that I've been to a few times and I do like the food served there.

Today, I decided to try their noodles. Not knowing if they were made to my liking, I decided to have DAN DAN noodle, which is a common dish in many Chinese restaurants and I am very familiar with it. I figured there's no way it could taste bad.

I got something that had absolutely no resemblance to others I've had. First off, it's supposed to be spicy, which was mentioned in the menu, it was not. And it's supposed to have a peanut taste, which it also did not.

I told the waitress that this doesn't taste like dandan noodle and she told me that's how they make it and slipped away before I could say another word. This went on for the next few attempts, with me asking for the boss (she wasn't there) and them telling me no one else complained. So I finally got another girl and I was angry and told her this doesn't taste right, I don't care if another customer ordered it and didn't complain, and I wanted it off my order.

The final angry statements were made in English (I think they weren't good at it) so she snatched it away. I was not charged for it.

Was I wrong to complain? Did it have to go to the point where I was pissed off? Do ethnic restaurants not abide by the same idea of customer satisfaction?

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  1. Dan Dan Mien should not taste of peanuts. Sesame paste is traditional. Just because you didn't like it doesn't give you the right to not have to pay for the item. Caveat Emptor.

    3 Replies
      1. re: paulj

        You're right. I've seen another Dunlop recipe that does include the sesame paste but I realize it's not always the case.

        1. re: KTinNYC

          In Dunlop's book, there are two recipes for dan dan noodles. One contains sesame paste, the other does not. I've had dan dan noodles in different places, and they're all different. There's no uniform version. I think the OP should realize that there are variations of a certain dish. Just because this version was not to his or her liking doesn't mean that it exempts him/her from paying.

    1. Authentic Dan Dan does not contain peanuts at all. Look it up on Wikipedia. The version you described as having known is the Americanized, bastardized version of this dish. It should, however, taste spicy, which I'm sure could have been remedied by the kitchen had you allowed that option. I would have paid for the dish and just not ordered that dish again, considering that you had other dishes there that you did enjoy.

      1 Reply
      1. re: diablo

        I normally would have just done that. I was hoping they would give ME the option of returning with more spices.

        I realize that it might not taste exactly the way I expected it to, but I did expect more flavor.
        I forgot to mention that it had mushrooms (which was not stated in the menu).
        I also meant sesame, not peanut. But either way, I did not realize some were not made without those.

        Ultimately, I was upset at their services more than anything. I feel that no matter what happens, you shouldn't just disregard your customers and the things they want to say.

      2. I would venture to say that MOST non-Anglo-European cultures (and thus their ethnic restaurants) DO NOT have the "send it back" customer satisfaction syndrome that seems to be an overwhelming part of the Euro-centric culinary milieu.

        Did you *have* to escalate things to the shouting stage? No. You could simply have paid up and left; with or without a negative comment. Were you "wrong" to complain? Maybe...maybe not. Who are you, foreigner, to rate Chinese or Thai or whatever cuisine? You can't even do it in the appropriate language! You don't have their cultural background, how can you have any means of comparing their food?

        5 Replies
        1. re: KiltedCook

          I am chinese, I was first complaining in Chinese and they pretty much just ignored what I had to say, so I felt the need to express my frustration in English. I never went to a shouting match, but rather me turning very stern in English.

          So ultimately, I've had a LOT of chinese food. This is why I was upset, it didn't taste like other chinese food I ALWAYS eat. I've eaten there often because it's an authentic spicy restaurant that I actually really love.

          1. re: jadeyaya

            I have several questions.

            Is this a restaurant the caters to predominately to a Chinese clientele? If so is it a Sichuanese restaurant or does it make "Pan Chinese" food.

            1. re: jadeyaya

              Fascinating! Why did you switch to English? Was the server fluent in both languages? How did the conversation go in English? How is it that you a Chinese person who speaks Chinese asks a bunch of lo fan about ethnic rather than Chinese restaurants? Is it that the Chinese staff treat other Chinese different (better or worse) than they do others?

              1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                I'm afraid you'll never get your answers. jadeyaya has not posted on this (or any other thread) thread in 3 days. S/he has gone the way of the dodo.

                1. re: KTinNYC

                  Hilarious! Now I'm starting to understand you!

          2. I think you are right to return it. Anytime I have bought a prepared food and it did not meet my expectations I have returned it. Here in Florida I go to a chinese restaurant often that is called JinJin and all of them made the Hot and Sour soup I love until a new JinJin came to my town and I got it thinking that if all the rest were alike and made to how I like it then this place should be prepared and taste the same, but I was really disappointed and returned it and asked if they were associated with all the other JinJins and they said yes, but make the food here in their own way. Bottom line is that I don't want to pay for what is not enjoyable to me. That's why I like mall restaurants that give out samples or Sam's club at end of isles so I know what it tastes like before I buy.

            1. I am thinking you are *really* asking a different question than the topic/subject you stated.

              It sounds like you are asking should you have been treat like this at this restaurant but instead you asked if ALL ethinic restaurants abide ( or not) by some treatment standard you seem to think non-ethnic restaurants somehow do abide by in customer satisfaction. And since this is an international site, we will not even attempt to have you define what you meant by ethnic.

              It did not taste as you expected it to taste, was it bad, wrong or wrongly prepared?
              I think since you stated quite clearly "Not knowing if they were made to my liking, I decided to have DAN DAN noodle, " You tried, they didn't, not your fault, not theirs. Don't order again. Simple. That is what a foodie does, they try; they explore they get some hits, they get some misses.
              Escalating the issue of the dish being different than what you expected in your limited experience to a angry statement debacle was something only you can take credit for. I think you behaved badly.

              3 Replies
              1. re: Quine

                it does cater predominately to Chinese clients. It is a sichuan restaurant. It mostly prepares spicy food.

                The issue has changed now. What I was sort of getting at in the beginning was that in the US, most restaurants will be fine with a client asking for replacement food when it's not prepared to taste, ie. too salty, too well done, etc. QUESTION: is it not customary to ask for the same in an ethnic restaurant IN the US?

                But I am now more interested in the question of - if you don't like something, should you just take it as it is and not complain, make a fuss, and go with the flow?

                1. re: jadeyaya

                  You can't return food just because you don't like it, in my opinion.


                  1. re: KTinNYC

                    Agreed. There's a difference between "they screwed this up" and "i don't like how they make it", IMO.The former is their fault, the latter is my fault.

              2. You do realize that the supposed policy of "Satisfaction Guaranteed" is usually an option of the restaurant to adopt.

                Most restaurants -- ethnic or otherwise -- do adopt such a policy as a way to engender goodwill and customer satisfaction.

                Now, if a restaurant chooses not to have such a policy, the restaurant certainly isn't wrong in its decision. It might be bad marketing or customer service, but certainly not wrong.

                1. I think it is ok to return food if there is something really off, such as rotting ingredients, bugs in the sauce, etc. I would not pay for food that is seriously off. Also, if I asked for chicken and they bring me pork, well, I think it is reasonable to ask for what I asked for. If something is overly salty, I might also return it and ask for a less salty version, but this is tricky, as it might be the style of the dish to be salty.

                  But if you asked for dan dan noodles, and they bring you dan dan noodles, then they have fulfilled their portion of the contract. You should pay. You may not like their version, you may not finish the food, you may not order that item again, you may never eat there again, but they gave you what you ordered, and you should have paid. If they are gracious enough to notice that the dish is not to your liking, great, bonus marks. You can also always ask for condiments to season it to your liking, I'm sure they have chile sauce or oil that could have been added to make it spicier.

                  It is not their fault that their version of dan dan noodles is not what you think they should be. There are plenty of times I order items in restaurants, and they are not as I expect them to be. How many times have I ordered a hamburger, and gotten kaiser rolls instead of traditional hamburger buns? Mayonnaise instead of ketchup? Pizza, yet another variable item, so many different types. I think it is wrong to assume that all dan dan noodles should be the same as well.

                  I do sympathize that the noodles were not to your taste. It is very disappointing when you are expecting one thing, and get something completely different and not to your taste. And I also agree that it would have been nice if they had listened to your complaints and not blown you off. But I do not think this is an issue about ethnic restaurants not abiding by the same idea of customer satisfaction. I think this is a service issue, an issue that could come up in any restaurant, ethnic or Western. I think it was reasonable for you to complain, and see if they would do anything about it. But I don't think it was reasonable to take the situation as far as you did. I would probably have paid for the dish and never ordered it again, and chalked it up to "Well, this isn't the place for dan dan noodles".

                  It is too bad you like the rest of their food. I'm not sure I would feel comfortable going back after this incident. But maybe you have more guts than I do.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: moh

                    "It is too bad you like the rest of their food. I'm not sure I would feel comfortable going back after this incident. But maybe you have more guts than I do."

                    That was exactly what I was thinking!

                  2. Let jfood answer your posed questions.

                    Was I wrong to complain?
                    - You have the right to make your displeasure known. The restaurant has the right to do as they see fit once you express your displeasure.

                    Did it have to go to the point where I was pissed off?
                    - Nope, but that was your decision as well. Once you were told what appears to be numerous times of the resturant's decision, then you have to accept that decision. "This went on for the next few attempts" Were you trying to browbeat them into submission? And then when the manager was not there you continued. Then the end result..."I wanted it off my order." That is not your right. You ordered it and if you did not like it, too bad. Then you changed languages. Wow, almost sounds like a call to the local precinct might have been in order.

                    Do ethnic restaurants not abide by the same idea of customer satisfaction?
                    - A little xenophobic, don'cha think. The idea of customer satisfaction does not necessarily mean each customer gets to test dishes and if they do not like then they can unilaterally return them, whether ethnic or not. jfood does not even understand the distinction.

                    Jfood gotta tell you, this is a study in the customer not acting appropriately.

                    1. I agree with the others. Not liking something or not having it prepared "the way you're used to it" doesn't mean you shouldn't pay for it. Unless something had gone bad in the dish or it was inedible due to being overly salty or something (in which case, you give them a chance to make it again), you still have to pay for food you "don't like." It's also been pointed out that it's not "supposed" to have a peanut taste, so it seems you were completely in the wrong.

                      1. It seems to me that most international American restaurants are family owned an operated, while more white American cuisine restaurants have multiple investors, managers, policy books, etc. When a place is a small business owned by one family, the money they make off of each dish is more important, which can sometimes lead to a chintz factor in the way they do things. They can be very tight fisted about allowing returned dishes and less interested in customer satiffaction. That is just my theory.

                        When I was in high school a group of friends went to a classmate's family's restaurant and one of us found a small roach in the food. Most of the diners in the group were the same ethnic group as the restaurant owner and spoke her language. Anyhow, no lie, she came out with a magnifying glass to confirm that we had really found a roach!!!

                        My best friend's family also owned a restaurant for many years, and we would also go to restaurants of her ethnic group with her mom pretty often. Her mom told me that in their culture, when one doesn't like the food, one won't finish it, but won't complain straight away either. When the server sees the uneaten food and asks what was wrong, she would say "Too much ginger," or "The prawns were very overcooked" or whatever. Then the owner would come out and apologize. It was a less direct way of initiating the complaint. If they didn't ask, she would just not eat their again. According to her, this is how such complaints worked in her culture. But obviously some people prefer to be more direct.

                        Anyhow, there are so many different ethnic groups within the US restaurant milieu, and it isn't white-Anglo versus "ethnic" (white people have ethnicity, too, that's why I don't like the term "ethnic restaurants") because El Salvadoreans are not like Vietnamese are not like Turks...so I would avoid such a generalization.

                        I think it is the mom and pop economic factor that leads to such experiences though, because as a generalization I have noticed a similar anti-return policy.

                        1. Hey , if you are absolutly at the end of your rope with these folks get up and walk out. If they are under no obligation, neither are you. Sounds like you tried all you could. Some of these joint's, they are just not nice.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: mrbigshotno.1

                            Please tell us that you are not advocating walking out without paying for a meal because you do not like it or it is not made like the other restaurants.

                            1. re: mrbigshotno.1

                              I don't find AT&T, Time Warner or the IRS to be so nice either but I use the services so I pay the bills.

                            2. I was at a Vietnamese place once and ordered bun. The standard for me for this dish includes some fresh herbs mixed in with the veg - I've learned some places include more than others, but I think this is the only place I've been where there were no herbs at all. So I asked the waiter, pointing at the plate of herbs and bean sprouts of some people near me who had ordered Pho. He said, "that does not come with the dish". I said "but I like it with the dish", smiling - and I was perfectly prepared to pay extra for it, whatever. Rather than clarify, he smiled and walked away, never to return to my table for any reason. I think I approached the cash to get my bill, but that isn't unheard of in these places anyway. After I travelled in Asia I became more familiar with this way of solving a conflict by smiling and ignoring it, but at the time I was confused.
                              The nice people with the herbs offered theirs to me since they didn't want them anyway. I didn't tip.

                              1. I have never had two egg rolls that were alike, nor have I had two Lo Mein, nor two egg foo young.

                                Unless you go to Olive Garden or chains, all restaurants have diversity in the line.

                                1. You were wrong to complain. There are many variations of dishes. Had this been a variant that you really loved, how would you have liked it if the restaurant had charged you double, since they introduced you to a new version that was more delicious than what you knew to be Dan Dan noodles?

                                  1. I don't think I've been in ANY ethnic restaurant (or non-ethnic for that matter) where menu items taste the same from restaurant to restaurant. It doesn't matter if I'm ordering pizza or lo mein or a hamburger -- my expectation is every place makes the same thing differently. That's why I don't eat at the same place every time - variety is the spice of life and whatnot.
                                    You don't mention how the dish tasted "Bad", only that it wasn't spicy and didn't have a sesame taste. I suppose you could have requested some chili sauce to mix in, but otherwise, I would say you're on the hook for the food ordered, and there's no reason to raise a ruckus just because their dish didn't meet your expectations.

                                    1. you've a right to your opinion on the food, but if there was otherwise nothing wrong with it, I'd think the most appropriate way to respond to "is everything ok with your meal" etc...would be with an "I" statement...as in "I usually like this dish (or food in general) a bit spicier" or like others have said, asking for some condiments to spice it up. I like a lot of heat in my schezuan dishes, and i've found that some places tone down the heat in response to people who seem to think the dishes shouldn't be spicy. So if I get dishes like this, I usually mention my love of heat when I order, or ask for more chili sauce or something after.

                                      I don't get why this incident should have initially inspired such ire within you.

                                      1. I am only commenting because I remember watching a travel show that mentioned dan dan noodles. Complaining about the taste or preparation of dan dan noodles is like going into a pizzeria and complaining about a plain slice because it didn't taste like the one you had at another pizzeria.

                                        Dan Dan Noodles is a very generic term named after the poles used by street vendors to carry their noodles, sauces and stoves. The sauces are different depending on vendor and while authentic is spicy, it does not have a peanut flavor.

                                        1. Did it not taste good or just not taste how you expected? If it was bad then by all means, complain. If you just didn't like it, then live and learn.