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When should a restaurant NOT comp a meal?

I've noticed a few "worst experience ever" threads that share a few similar characteristics:

1. Expectations for the restaurant were set extremely high by other posters ("Best meal ever!").
2. The diner goes on a busy night (usually Friday or Saturday) and complains about crowds OR attentiveness of servers.
3. The diner goes on to complain about how the soup was over/underseasoned or that the salad didn't "knock my socks off." (Is any salad capable of this? We're talking about leaves and dressing, right?)
4. They're either indifferent to the main course (excessively high expectations maybe) OR they order something for which the restaurant isn't well known for (steak usually, or some food at an ethnic restaurant for which that ethnicity isn't really well known for cooking well).
5. Instead of telling the servers immediately, they say they got tired of waiting for the server to show up, then proceed to eat the entire meal because they were hungry.
6. Diner tries to get the meal comped. Sometimes the manager does this grudgingly; sometimes they offer a dessert or drink.
7. Diner claims this as their "worst meal ever."

I'm not doubting the diner had a bad time. I think everyone has had meals that didn't meet expectations. But I have to wonder how much of this is the fault of the restaurant and how much is because of unreasonable expectations perpetuated by other Hounds? Check any thread discussing "Best Restaurant in (insert any city)" and amid all the glowing reviews, there are always a handful of "Worst Meal Ever" or "Most Overrated" posts. Comping meals isn't "free;" the cost of those meals comes out of the restaurant's bottom line and that cost is passed on to every person who dines there. I guess my point is "is the customer really always right?" and if not, should the restaurant comp the meal anyway, even though the diner probably still won't be happy with the experience?

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  1. Years ago I worked as a waitress in a restaurant and diners baffled me with their creative ways of trying to get their meals comped. I personally feel they should be comped if they took a couple bites of the meal and really didn't like it. Or, if the meal took so long to prepare that by the time it arrived they couldn't eat it because they had to leave. You shouldn't have to pay for what you don't consume.

    If a customer consumes an entire meal and then tries to say it was terrible and they want their money back, I don't think that is appropriate. I wouldn't give them anything except a customer appreciation card!(Since they ate all their food, they surely must come back for more!)
    If the service really was so bad that the diner got their food delivered late or condiments delivered so late they couldn't eat their burger, surely they should be comped. But restaurants can't afford to constantly comp a meal. This is where good managierial decision making is important.

    1. "is the customer really always right?" .... No
      Comping a meal is a last resort.
      No restaurant wants to do it no matter how expensive or inexpensive the place might be.

      When I managed restaurants the policy was for the server and management to check on the customers throughout their meal to make sure everything was "alright". If someone said they didn't like something we'd offer to make them something else. They didn't think their order was prepared properly, we'd re-make it to correct the problem.

      You are never going to please everyone who walks into your establishment.

      Some reason I'm thinking this thread is going to be removed.

      1 Reply
      1. re: monku

        I think a lot of "worst experience ever" threads could have been remedied had the servers did what you noted: check with the diner throughout the meal (after apps/wine is served, main course, dessert). This gets to be difficult if the server is handling a lot of tables and it's a busy night. Then again, this kind of attentiveness could just as easily be misred by the customer as being intrusive, so a lot of it comes down the server being able to read his/her customer.

      2. Restaurants should only comp meals if there was a big mistake made on their part. If a diner simply doesn't like their dish or it didn't "wow" them, that is the risk of dining out. If people expect a comp every time they got a less than stellar meal, restaurants would go out of business fast.

        This reminds me of a poster who asked about offerings in my town. Numerous people, including myself, recommended a local favorite. The poster went and ordered the only non-fish, non-meat meal on the menu - something that nobody suggested - and then said the food was way over rated and over priced. Um, why not order what people raved about? If you wanted vegetarian, nobody would have suggested that place!

        3 Replies
        1. re: mojoeater

          This seems to happen a lot with steakhouses. A group or couple go to a steakhouse, but one person doesn't like steak or is a vegetarian. So they go to the steakhouse and the non-steak person orders something like a crab cake or a couple appetizers or the spaghetti or a bowl of tofu, and they're inevitably disappointed. Yet almost every restaurant, regardless of speciality or ethnicity, offers a burger dish or a grilled chicken caesar salad for the people who don't want whatever that speciality/ethnicity is. Bewildering.

          1. re: monkeyrotica

            Yep, and never happens the other way round. I have managed restaurants from fine dining to steakhouses, and no matter what, we always had options for vegetarians, vegans, pescatarians etc etc.
            We are fully aware that in a group of diners, there may be a dietary requirement. We always aim to fulfil a decent meal for that guest.

            Anyone ever been to a vegetarian restaurant and ordered a blue steak? Thought not.

          2. re: mojoeater

            Correct. Comping arises not from Restaurant Meh! but Restaurant Fail! (and not just fail subjectively but objectively: and comping only applies to the specific failed meals, not necessarily the entire table unless the fail was table-wide in nature, which is much rarer still).

            Customers who expect comping when it's not appropriate fall into the Customer Fail! category.

          3. Those people really grind my gears. You know what I do if I don't like the food I get at a place? I don't go back. (not entirely true, I'm usually willing to give a second chance)

            1. To expect a meal that you have eaten to be comped is ridiculous. If I get something really bad or cooked totally incorrectly (usually an overdone steak), I just send it back. If I eat the meal and think it was terrible, I will happily tell them that their food is horrible, but certainly not expect it to be free. I just don't go back.