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When should a restaurant NOT comp a meal?

monkeyrotica Jul 28, 2009 04:26 AM

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?

  1. Nostimo Jul 28, 2009 05:57 AM

    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. monku Jul 28, 2009 06:23 AM

      "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
        monkeyrotica Jul 28, 2009 07:09 AM

        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. m
        mojoeater Jul 28, 2009 06:39 AM

        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!

        2 Replies
        1. re: mojoeater
          monkeyrotica Jul 28, 2009 07:03 AM

          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: mojoeater
            Karl S Jul 28, 2009 07:35 AM

            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.

          2. jgg13 Jul 28, 2009 08:40 AM

            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. b
              bnemes3343 Jul 28, 2009 08:57 AM

              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.

              1. n
                nkeane Jul 28, 2009 01:08 PM

                I have never "asked" for a comp! I just wouldnt know how to vocalize that!? but I do recall one time eating about 80% of a dish and finding a 5/8" fine thread, hex-head nut in the bottom of the bowl(also found the cotter pin that apparently was in charge of keeping said nut on its respective bolt.....is that a cotterFAIL?). After pointing this out to the server with my only intention being to let someone know that a piece of equipment was obviously needing some attention, they took the dish off my bill. I did not insist on paying.

                That being said, I have been back numerous times and do not hold such an obviously accidental incident against them. Nor would I have asked for the meal to be comp'd. My fellow diners never cease to baffle me........

                1. a
                  adventuresinbaking Jul 28, 2009 01:47 PM

                  I do remember finding half a tomato sticker in my burger at the local brew pub, and my waiter didn't even comp my drink. I mean I'll still go back to the restaurant, i like it and the experience was rather a fluke. However, I thought he might be a little sensitive when I told him. He also was new, and I don't think the thought even occurred to him.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: adventuresinbaking
                    merrymc Sep 22, 2009 09:44 AM

                    Stray items in food that definitely should not be there (bugs, body parts, once I had a broken-up toothpick -- not the one meant to hold the sandwich together -- embedded in my burger, and I think that counts) should merit a comped meal. Stray items like a random shrimp in your chicken dish or a piece of green pepper in your mushroom omelette shouldn't, I think, unless the diner has an allergy to the food in question.

                  2. alanbarnes Jul 28, 2009 01:50 PM

                    You order a meal, you get a meal, you pay for a meal. If you don't like the food, don't go back to the restaurant. What's so hard about that?

                    There are times when a comp is an appropriate goodwill gesture. If a server spills a drink down the back of my neck, or if a valet pulls the car into traffic without looking and gets into a fender-bender, or if there's a paver missing from the patio and my wife steps in the hole and takes a tumble, then I expect the restaurant to make it right - not just the cost of dry cleaning, body work, or a doctor's visit, but something for the hassle and the negative impact on the evening's enjoyment. But to expect a comp because you aren't blown away by the food? Sheesh.

                    1. shaogo Jul 28, 2009 02:10 PM

                      I'm a restaurateur. Thank goodness there are folks around like you! All of the above posts made my day.

                      The only people I like less than those who connive to get a comp are people who "beg" for more liquor ("make it a strong one!") when I'm pouring a drink.

                      I will absolutely not comp a meal that's been more than 40% consumed. And sadly, over the years, there were three customers who got their meal and drinks comped, because I just felt so bad about their experiences. And what happened? Did they come back and give me another chance? Nope.

                      Instead, these three plastered their bad experience all over the internet. I mean, Yelp!, CitySearch and Menuism to name a few. When one goes to these sites and reads the nice preponderance of kind reviews, to see the skewering I get (and blatant lies told) should let people that there's something up with the posters -- not the restaurant.

                      Like so many other Chowhounders, if there's just no hope for a restaurant, I'll vote with my feet and go elsewhere. Life's hard enough without having to re-play all of my less-than-pleasant restaurant experiences on the inter-web.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: shaogo
                        monku Jul 28, 2009 02:41 PM

                        Damned if you do damned if you don't.

                        Customers have an expectation to be comped for every minor problem. Good example is the above poster complaining about the tomatoe label in his burger is that customer.

                        1. re: shaogo
                          Karl S Jul 29, 2009 11:24 AM

                          This reminds me of the classic bad experience story (anyone who can recollect the source for this is very welcome to chime in - I don't believe its apocryphal but I don't remember the source). A woman went to a restaurant (I don't recall if she was a previous regular or not) and experienced absolutely awful service. She gave a great tip to the server. The next time she went, she had the same server, who treated her like gold. This time, as she left, she called the server over and gave a penny tip, with roughly the following politely delivered admonition: this is for my last experience here - the tip you received the last time was for today's service - just so you know that you should never let what happened the last time ever happen to any of your customers again.

                        2. h
                          Harters Jul 28, 2009 02:47 PM

                          A few months back, I went to a local bistro. Loved the starter. Cleared the plate on my main. Loved my dessert.

                          When I'd finished my main, I was asked how it was. I said it was fine but had found the sauce rather too sweet and suggested the chef might like to review that. When the bill came, I found that the whole of my meal had been comp'd . Ludicrous and such a stupid loss of profit - which is exactly what I told the manager who replied "You didnt like it, you don't pay".

                          They're not going to be in business to long with daft attitudes like that.

                          6 Replies
                          1. re: Harters
                            shaogo Jul 28, 2009 02:51 PM

                            No, actually they're building goodwill. If a business runs a "tight ship," then a generous gift like the one the owner gave to you usually results in good word-of-mouth buzz about the place.

                            Take a look at businesses which have a 100% "customer-is-always-right" satisfaction guarantee. They're all making a lot of money.

                            The only time a restaurant can't afford to be generous is if they're running a very small profit margin. However, places like that won't be in business long, for other reasons.

                            1. re: shaogo
                              monku Jul 28, 2009 06:52 PM

                              There's a reason restaurants don't offer a "100% satisfaction guarantee".

                              1. re: shaogo
                                Harters Jul 29, 2009 02:54 AM

                                Indeed. I've mentioned it to folk - who have promptly visited and then tried to complain in the hope of getting a comp'd meal.

                                A perfectly full and acceptable response would have been for the manager to acknowledge that I hadnt enjoyed it as much as I could have done and agree to raise the sweetness issue with the chef. Whether she did raise it or the chef had ignored it is another matter - their sauce is still too sweet on another main last time we visited and we won't be going back. Such a shame.

                                1. re: Harters
                                  monkeyrotica Jul 29, 2009 04:57 AM

                                  There seems to be a class of people for whom the meal itself is secondary to their need to make things difficult for servers and restaurant owners. This includes every possible attempt to get items comped, but also includes moving from table to table to get just the right combination of view/AC/ambience, or looking for an excuse to leave little or no tip. I used to think it was just frugal people trying to get something for nothing, but I've come to conclude that it's about them just being able to boss people around. They could probably care less about how the food tastes, just so long as they can complain about how it wasn't done right or they didn't get their water refilled fast enough or whatever. I avoid eating out with these people if at all possible.

                                  1. re: monkeyrotica
                                    shaogo Aug 11, 2009 04:34 AM

                                    You've hit the nail on the head. Oh, how I dread these people (particularly the "too hot/too cold" people in a crowded restaurant who think that their needs over-ride the needs of the dozens of people there who're comfortable).

                                    1. re: shaogo
                                      monkeyrotica Aug 17, 2009 03:55 AM

                                      Mrs. Monkey is one of the "too cold" people; for some reason, they always seat us directly under an AC vent that's blasting cold air. I make it a point to remind her to bring a sweater when we go to a restaurant. Looks pretty silly dragging a sweater around in the middle of August, but it's a lot less irritating than walking around in 98 degree heat, then going into a restaurant where the AC is set to "Arctic Tundra" and the sheen of sweat on your skin turns to ice. Still, we don't even consider telling them to turn the AC down and I certainly wouldn't want to be comped for it.

                            2. bagelman01 Jul 28, 2009 04:31 PM

                              A restaurant should NEVER comp a meal to silence a loud obnoxious patron who threatens to complain to the franchisor, owner, BBB or write complaint letters. Or worse threaten bad word of mouth.
                              Appeasement is not the answer.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: bagelman01
                                alanbarnes Jul 28, 2009 05:32 PM

                                Strychnine is.

                                1. re: bagelman01
                                  viperlush Jul 29, 2009 01:25 PM

                                  To add to that: Should never comp a patron who plays the "Yelp card".

                                2. Veggo Jul 28, 2009 06:24 PM

                                  I was at an El Chico mexican restaurant in Lufkin, Texas, having lunch with 3 golf buddies, 2 of them buying lunch for me and my partner for having lost the morning match. The waitress served our plates, mine was something smothered in a sea of red sauce, and refilled our water glasses. She slipped and dropped my water glass in such a way that it landed in the middle of the sea of red sauce, and sauce/water exploded in my direction only, like a shotgun blast. For a few moments I could not see for all the stuff all over me. I heard her shreik and burst into tears and she ran away and we never saw her again. Meanwhile, my golf buddies, including my own partner, cannot contain their laughter. They didn't get hit by a drop; I got all of it. A manager came over and said that my lunch would be comped, which re-doubled the laughter because my buddies were allready buying, and now the price for this great entertainment got cheaper. The manager gave me 5 bucks to dry clean my golf shirt, but as I recall it was nice Sea Island cotton that was permanently ruined. Stuff happens, you move on. I remained a customer; it couldn't happen again.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: Veggo
                                    monku Jul 28, 2009 06:48 PM

                                    Similar situation at a Las Vegas country club.
                                    Ramekin of ketchup slipped off a plate from a waitress delivering food onto my golf shirt. They told me to go to the pro shop and pick out a new one. Don't know why, but they kept my old golf shirt and I still paid for the lunch. But, it was a $50 golf shirt. I thought I was still ahead.

                                  2. j
                                    Jitterbug Jul 29, 2009 11:14 AM

                                    I agree with a lot of these posts - people should generally not get comped for a meal already eaten unless there is some extreme reason to do so. My experience as both a former waitress and as a frequent diner is that often people who actually deserved a comp didn't expect it, and were happy enough with a genuine apology/ replacement. But there is another kind of customer who will NEVER be happy and almost seems to relish an opportunity to complain loudly. And they will still complain even if you comp them. I once was dining at a small struggling restaurant and watched a woman send back a meal three times, and not because something was wrong, but because this red sauce isn't "doing it for her", so could she please try it with a different sauce? And she was also sending back wine after she tasted it, not because it was off, but because "hmmm, something sweeter might be nice, could I try X instead?"

                                    I think one down-side to the internet is that food becomes about "where is the absolute best Pho, which is the best chocolate malt etc." which can be fun, but also causes people to lose sight of other parts of the dining experience, and sets really high standards for restaurants to live up to.

                                    1. TroyTempest Sep 25, 2009 10:50 AM

                                      i have a problem with people who think that finding a hair in their food is so gross, that they deserve a comped meal. I'd give a free dessert at the most.

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