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Good Customer Relations

  • j

This is kind of an odd question but I just came from a lunch at a popular local restaurant and something happened that annoyed me a bit and I want other people's opinion.

My lunch companion ordered a sandwich that when it came was not what he thought it would be. He took one bite out of it and realized that it had meat which he did not see in the sandwich description on the menu. He then asked for another sandwich without meat. The owner came over to the table and said that because he had taken a bite out of the sandwich he will have to pay for it. My companion did not question this and agreed to pay for both sandwiches without any question.

While I realize that this was my companions fault, I do question if the restaurant made the right decision to charge for the second sandwich. It seems to me that if the customer was unhappy with something, it would be good for relations to just give him another sandwich. This restaurant is very popular and has no shortage of money and customers. the food is good but it is almost as if they do not care if they please the customer or not.

I was a regular there when it first opened ( a couple of times a week to the point where they knew my name) but stopped going after they significantly increased their prices when they became popular. They started to "nickel & dime" me on my orders so one day I told the owner that I was not coming back and I stopped going. After many years I recently went a couple of weeks ago and then again today. Now that this has happened I am thinking to never go back. Am I wrong? Jay

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  1. A) This will probably be moved to Not About Food.

    B) Did the menu actually list the mystery meat as one of the sandwich's ingredients or was it mistakenly put on?

    1. Tough call. If you read the menu and the sandwich contains meat that you don't want, you've just ordered the wrong thing. It's the customer's mistake so the restaurant shouldn't have to pay for it. They might offer to give it to you at cost as long as you order something else, but i don't think what they asked was unreasonable. He had the choice then to pay for another sandwich, or remove the meat and continue to eat what he had mistakenly ordered.

      2 Replies
      1. re: jackattack

        a few weeksd ago a friend of mine who owns a popular restaurant had a customer walk out on a bill after the server added a $1 charge to the bill for an extra serving of marinara sauce...trhe customer thrust the invoice oin the owners face and said "look how much this cost and I eat here often"...the bill was about $35 for two. I don't consider that an especially large amount oif money but the question becomes..."why do customers of a food establishment feel entitled to ask for extra sauce , or to take a bite out of a sandwich and think that the owner should absorb the cost?"

        This is an age old question ...with roots in the hospitality business...but if you went ot a clothing shop..bought a shirt...tore it by accident...and walked back in with damaged goods...would you feel entitled to a new shirt?"

        I know someone who has taken back a pair of moccasins to LLBean on a yearly basis after wearing them out...and LLBean replaces them for free...and I think the person doing this is taking advantage of the situation.

        In the food industry most people donlt understand the overhead, the raw product cost, the labor, and most of all...if it was just one person askingt it might be OK...but the number of people who steal from restaurants...or who ask and then waste the food...well...I empathize with the customer...but have to say...the owner is trying to make a living...and handing out freebies becausae a custoimer ordered wrong is a nice thing to do...but it does get overwhelming...

        It's abalancing act ...if it is a great customer...you do almost anything for them...but the ones who present an attitude...watch out for a server or an owner spurned...

        I am in KC...going to Bryants for ribs tonight...

        Many people think beacause a resraurant looks busy..id making lots of money...most customers donl;t have any concept of the finances in the food industry...

        1. re: sodagirl

          I meant to edit out that last sentence...

      2. What was the sandwich description on the menu?

        5 Replies
        1. re: Veggo

          That is the key question. If he ordered a "Rueben" and didn't want meat, it's on him!

          1. re: mojoeater

            Yes, a "rueben, hold the meat" would be a profitable sale!

            1. re: mojoeater

              Actually, this exact thing happened to Mr. Arkham. We were at an upscale place that had a "re-imagined reuben" on the menu, followed by a list of ingredients, NOT including meat. So we figured "re-imagined" meant that it only contained what was listed. When it came with meat, we immediately noticed and asked for something else...prepared to pay for both. Turns out they didn't charge us, and we left with a really good feeling about the place and returned several times (before it closed, but we're looking forward to the chef/owner's next venture).

              Oh, and it was Restaurant Week, so it's not like they were treating us well because we're big spenders.

              1. re: JoanArkham

                It is definitely possible for a menu description to omit ingredients that people might wish to avoid. We frequent a local Italian place that generally has a number of fish specials on its handwritten list of daily specials. A couple of years ago we ordered sole florentine only to find it garnished with mussels, which we do not eat. The waitress cheerfully took our plates back and brought us new entrees later. From the amount of time we waited, I do not believe that they simply scraped off the "offending" mussels, I am of the opinion they prepared our entrees a second time.

                On our subsequent visits we also noted that the daily specials menu now carries a notation that "many of our fish entrees are garnished with mussels. Please notify your server if you have any allergies or dietary restrictions." I believe this is the way such a situation should be handled. I suppose it helps that we are frequent customers and many of the servers recognize us.

            2. re: Veggo

              I think this is the key, what was the description on the menu.

              That said, what would the owner have done with the sandwich had the customer not taken a bite? He claims he wouldn't have charged for the second sandwich, but would he have re-served the first? Is it legal to serve a sandwich again that has already been served, bite or no bite? If he would not have served again (and I hope he wouldn't have, because, ew), then he's out $$ either way, isn't he?

            3. Oh dear gawd.
              The owner, not the manager, came over to the table and told you that?
              It's mind boggling in this economy how owners can be so careless and stupid.
              The cost of the sandwich, to him, is practically nothing. He apparently thinks it's more important than the return visit of you and your friends....He knew the risk he was taking (unless he's completely clueless) by responding the way he did.
              Restaurants and their owners who run them like this do not have my sympathy when business dies and they go out of business.

              1. I am certain that if there was a costly ingredient like meat in a combo sandwich, the menu says *something* about it. Wouldn't it be silly to serve, let's say, a cheese and vegetable combo sandwich -- and throw in some ham or prosciutto as a "surprise" for the customers' money?

                The last paragraph says it all to me. The OP's got an agenda regarding this restaurant. His friend *offered* to pay for the sandwiches. The OP just needs a good reason *never to go back* to this place and in this case it looks like that reason is a dining partner who's not paying attention to what he/she is ordering.

                The owner was right not to "eat" the cost of the sandwich. In fact, the owner didn't have to pay for the sandwich even if it'd not been bitten. Once food is served in front of a customer, it can't be served to another customer.

                For latindancer: believe me, restaurants are running on very, very tight margins right now and the business is as competitive as ever. Every penny counts. There will always be people who're happy being unhappy -- trying to make them happy is just going to cost owners money and isn't going to do anything for business.

                49 Replies
                1. re: shaogo

                  "For latindancer: believe me, restaurants are running on very, very tight margins right now and the business is as competitive as ever. Every penny counts. There will always be people who're happy being unhappy--trying to make them happy is just going to cost owners money and isn't going to do anything for business".

                  First of all...I'm very familiar with the restaurant business and not all restaurants are running on 'very very tight margins'. The customer is always right. It's really a no-brainer. Actually a restaurant owner, a good business person, realizes the price of the sandwich compared to the good will between the business and the customer (and the 100 plus people who she/he relays this story to) is meaningless....
                  Once again....the recession is hitting lots of places HARD, no question. The restaurants that succeed are the restaurants that understand this philosophy.

                  1. re: latindancer

                    That 100 friend statement and the customer is always right mantra is such BS it is a self-fulfilling prophesy for the self annointed.

                    If someone came to jfood with the OP story and told him not to eat there, jfood would look at him and say "Grow UP and have some responsibility for your decisions." Then jfood would march over to the restaurant and buy and sandwich and thank the owner for teaching the next generation to 86 the entitlement crap.

                    1. re: jfood

                      Good for you, Jfood.
                      Hopefully you're not in the restaurant business.

                      1. re: latindancer

                        And the OZ "I am the customer" statement is a level of maturity that allow for scenarios where people believe they can create a totally subservient relationship between a restautant and all of those self-entitled people.

                        That whole "I gonna tell all my friends" is such a 12-year old schoolyard mentality it drives jfood crazy. For Pete sake, people should Man-up...you order a pepperoni pizza and it comes with meat, have some self-respect and pay for it.

                        And in this case it was not even the person who mis-ordered. It was his friend with a chip on his shoulder trying to teach the mature customer how to be a whiney 12-year old.

                        OK so you think that ordering something on a menu is not entering into a social contract to pay for it until after you receive it and then decide you like it, even though the restaurant has performed its side of the menu-contract, then that is something you need to live with. Jfood believes his word is his bond and when he orders X for $Y and the restaurant delivers, that is on Jfood's shoulders, not on some Mantra that allow me to throw that silly way too often self-entitled trump card.

                        1. re: jfood

                          jfood, I love you!

                          I think it also deserves saying that someone who's going to complain about a restaurant in the fashion the OP does is *not* going to have 100 friends who're going to take their complaint seriously. I have acquaintances who're the first to complain any time they feel slighted by a business. It's like chicken little -- these whiners complain so often that one can only assume they're never happy, so why pay attention? The *frequency* of their complaints dilutes the power of their complaint-of-the-moment.

                          On Yelp it's easy, by checking profiles, which posters mean business and are fair, and which posters make a career out of being disappointed.

                          1. re: jfood

                            here here!!

                            I don't even understand why anyone would think they WOULDNT have to pay for the sandwich???

                        2. re: jfood

                          jfood, i guess you haven't heard of the power of Yelp.

                          1. re: Jacey

                            The power of any food-related website is questionable. I frequent a place that promotes the fact that they're hated on Yelp. It's always mobbed.

                            1. re: Jacey

                              The power of yelp resides in the self-centered minds of the people who go to yelp, and other sites. Jfood would love to see data that suggests that any website has caused the demise of a business.

                              Total and complete hogwash.

                              1. re: jfood

                                I could direct you to a local blog that has a restaurant owner bitching about bloggers dissing him, and he is quite upset. So he must be feeling some power from the lowly food blog.

                                1. re: DallasDude

                                  jfood always interested in learning. send to the mods and ask them to forward to jfood.


                                  1. re: jfood

                                    erm where is this jfood you are writing for?

                                    Here is the link. Hope jfood is OK, and can type for himself sometime soon.


                                    1. re: DallasDude

                                      After reading the article, thank you, it appears he is stating two points.

                                      1 - Please keep an open mind and try to enjoy
                                      2 - Try to enjoy and please keep an open mind.

                                      Jfood did not feel any fear, but more trepidation over the number of people there to review versus eating. After all it is a restaurant, not a game show.

                                      1. re: jfood

                                        Some restaurantuers truly would rather be a game show host, or racheal ray (same thing in my book). This one blog I pointed out made its rounds to many other local blogs and caused quite a stir. So much that the local and unnamed professional critic to pause at the blog and wrote about it and how she comes to critic restaurants. I know we are diverting from the OP, so I will wind it up by saying that, in my own opinion, feel that these types of blogs and and boards can and do have an affect to some degree on who will patronize - or not - a particular restaurant.

                                        I have owned a restaurant (lost in a divorce custody battle) and could chime in on the food cost issue, but won't. It is getting a bit too volatile for my liking and doesn't make for good chow. But I will say a few of the people that spoke up were spot on. However, I will say, who are we to determine the costs of a particular operator? If the restaurant makes a mistake they should be held to standards and make good on the issue. We, as patrons, should play by the same rules. Fair is fair.

                                        1. re: jfood

                                          I didn't read that as him "bitching about bloggers" either...I thougght it was pretty matter of fact.

                                        2. re: DallasDude

                                          jfood, are you being cynical?
                                          I have personally had responses from a number of restaurant owners and restaurant chefs trying to woo me and get me to post favorably about them, when I have been critical of them on this site.
                                          From my experiences I suspect that restaurants pay a good deal of attention and that we matter. Comments from others on this site mirror that.
                                          Shaogo is a restaurant owner in CT and he is a regular participant, here. How many others are there? Restaurant employees weight in here. They want a restaurant to succeed or fail.

                                          I suspect that you are right, that we do not have the power to sink a restaurant. If we express the unspoken sentiment of the majority that vote with their wallets and feet then we are a player that can tip the scales.
                                          As imperfect as it is, the internet is influential. Why would Amazon and others post reviews of products? Why do some restaurants post a link to Chowhound on their "reviews" page? The NYT and other major papers (that do reviews), aren't influential?
                                          PS: I don't give a shit what "person" you post in. You have a strong voice, make a lot of sense, and for people to attack you because of your writing style is irrelevant, off topic and denotes weakness.

                                          1. re: Scargod

                                            Jfood likes the new avatar...looks like a fire breathing snail. Fits you perfectly. :-))

                                            There are many of us who spend inordinate amounts of time here and in restaurants and may have a guiding influence, but the power to close a restaurant is not something jfood thankfully thinks we have the power to achieve. There are two restaurants that know jfood's ID and he cannot post on either. C'est la vie, others love them as much as jfood so they get enough press here.

                                            So jfood believes in the principle he learned years ago, a good mentor keeps the mentee between the yellow lines, guide them but let them make the decision.

                                            As far as the third person criticism. Jfood is old enough to have a major yawn if people do not like it, plus the mods normally delete those pretty quickly. In jfood's biz he has lots of spirited debates, so someone criticizing this does not move the meter at all. Thanks for the feedback.

                                            1. re: jfood

                                              I wouldn't think to posess any powers to close a restaurant. That would be nothing short of hubris. I do not think any one voice blog or print could do that either. I do think we all have a sphere of influence. Some larger than others. I am sure mine isn't significant. As my reply in that particular blog stated, I prefer to dwell on the positive reviews personally. There are too many choices to do so otherwise.

                                              And as for the third person thing goes... I was merely asking if you were writing for another person as you hinted. Legitimate question. You gotta admit, quirky. We all saw the Seinfeld episode. I have done it when I was drunk a few times.

                                              1. re: DallasDude


                                                It started as a fluke when jfood started posting years ago. It sorta keeps him focussed as it is much harder after a long day to concentrate in third person. He tried once to change back to first person and there were many posts to go back to 3rd.

                                                Jfood heard from a CEO years ago, "never believe your own press" we may guide a few people to restaurants but closing is, as you state, hubris. Likewise it is rare, if ever, that jfood posts a negative review of a restaurant

                                            2. re: Scargod

                                              Still no comment from me re: food costs. Suffice it to say that cost of goods sold for a restaurant is a major line item. Had the owner in the OP's example given away the sandwich, when the owner *knew* in his heart that it was the customer's error, would have cost him a little money. But, in my opinion, it wouldn't have brought the OP back as a customer. The OP has too much bad history with this place.

                                              On to the much more interesting topic of whether or not an Internet website can "sink" a restaurant -- what I've noticed is that the more competitive a restaurant market, the more on-line reviews there are about restaurants in that market.

                                              As I said above, when I consult, for example, CitySearch (or, for that matter, Chowhound) I "check up" on extremely negative posters by checking their profile. I typically find that they're either a one-time poster, or someone who makes a habit of writing scathing, disappointed reviews. Before the Internet, these people relied on their friends, acquaintances and co-workers for an "ear." Now, they can broadcast their disappointment, disaster stories and vitriol to the whole world via cyber-space.

                                              An example: we eat often at a Manhattan restaurant that's been around for a long time and is certainly not a "hot spot." It is, however, a very beautiful place in an extremely beautiful setting (by the water) -- and the service and food are excellent. About 2%-5% of the reviews on CitySearch lambaste the Maitre d' for being "mean," "spiteful," and even "careless." Now, I *know* this guy. He's charming, classy, efficient, and even laughs every now and then. However, the folks who were so upset with him were basically upset that he "doesn't smile." Now, the biggest problem he has, he tells me, is that he's got a huge restaurant with a view, but only a precious few tables with an actual window-side seat. Invariably people get upset because when they reserve, they tell OpenTable (or the restaurant's own reservations line) that they want a "window-side seat," yet when they get there, there's no seat by the window. Hey, it'd be impossible to seat *everyone* exactly where they want to go. And the rest of the seating in the restaurant is raised on a couple of levels, so the gorgeous view is unobstructed. My friend does the best he can do but has to say "no" often. He does not smile when he must disappoint; he says that putting a veneer of a smile on bad news is patronizing and phony. What do his critics on CitySearch whine about most? The fact that he doesn't smile. They don't accept the fact that this guy is a serious guy, and very old-fashioned-formal, without being stuck up.

                                              I feel bad for this guy. I see him break into smiles, laughter even, when talking of the news of the day with his regular customers. He is a very nice man. It's a shame that he's being accused of being something he's not, merely because he chooses not to sugar-coat bad news for customers. Perhaps the complainers would like a maitre d' with the personality of a cruise-ship entertainment director.

                                              Wow, this is getting long-winded.

                                              The funniest thing that ever happened to me on this topic: A customer was eating at my restaurant and called me over. He asked me if he'd seen the scathing critique of my place on Yelp, written by a lady we'll call "Mary." I said that indeed I *had* seen the review. He asked me if her story was true. I told him that, frankly, I would've remembered a visit from a customer who said that *all* the entrees brought to her table of four were the wrong ones! I then asked the customer why, if he'd seen her awful put-downs, he and his wife decided to visit. It turns out that he knows "Mary" and has actually eaten at a restaurant with her. Suffice it to say after one evening consisting of two hours of complaining and very little eating, he's declined when she's asked them out.

                                              Finally, about reviews: reviews can, and do, sink restaurants. Small, local newspaper reviews can be taken with a grain of salt, because the restaurateurs no doubt know who the reviewers are and are certain to give them the very, very best of everything. Big-time reviews like the NY Times can make the difference between hundreds clamoring for reservations and an empty, lonely restaurant. Now, let me say that if a restaurant does not do well with a food reviewer, who typically dines more than once before making a decision, they're obviously dropping the ball. I shiver when I read reviews outlining cold soup, warm salads, and surly service.

                                              Still, there is nothing more influential to a diner than hearing of a friend's good experience -- or bad -- at a restaurant. The kind of friend I'm talking about is one who typically has only a kind word or silence -- never complains. All I need to hear from a person like that is "we decided not to go back." That's all I need to know.

                                    2. re: Jacey

                                      Yelp lets restaurant owners remove certain reviews for a fee. And yelps moves bad reviews down and good reviews up, for a fee. So eventually imho, they'll lose all credibility.

                                      1. re: jackattack

                                        What factual information do you have that this is so?

                                        1. re: jackattack

                                          Yelp lets restaurant owners remove certain reviews for a fee. And yelps moves bad reviews down and good reviews up, for a fee.

                                          Do you happen to know how this is initiated, what the contact method is and what the procedure is to do so?

                                          1. re: latindancer

                                            From Yelp FAQ, link below:

                                            Will Yelp remove bad reviews if a business pays for sponsorship?
                                            Absolutely not. Reviews of Yelp sponsors and non-sponsors are treated identically, and any complaints are handled by the same user support team, operating under the same Review Guidelines and Terms of Service.

                                            While non-sponsors receive free email support, sponsors also have an account manager they can contact. Account managers do not handle complaints about reviews, and any complaints they receive about specific reviews are handed off to the user support team. Only a member of the user support team can remove a review and this team is not part of the sales organization. Please note that members of our user support team do not receive compensation tied to sales performance. It's our version of checks and balances.

                                            As you probably realize, negative reviews are a normal part of doing business (what company has never had an upset customer?), so you shouldn't be surprised if you find the occasional negative review on your own page. While it's important to look for patterns in your reviews (bread is stale, a problem employee, flat sodas), you should take any individual perspective with a grain of salt.

                                            Does Yelp allow sponsors to move bad reviews to the bottom of their page?
                                            Absolutely not. Sponsors can highlight a single review at the top of their page, which is clearly marked with a heading denoting their sponsorship, and that the review has been chosen as the business owner's favorite. Following that, review order is determined by a combination of recency and user voting, and this methodology is applied to all businesses, sponsors or not.


                                            1. re: DallasDude

                                              Thanks, DallasDude!

                                              I went looking on Yelp! for that information, and could only find the way to sign up as a representative of a business -- I thought that a page like the one you quoted might be there.

                                              1. re: DallasDude

                                                Interesting and very informative, DallasDude.

                                        2. re: jfood

                                          ..."86 the entitlement crap."

                                          Love that, Jfood! And I agree 100%. And latindancer's statement that the cost of the sandwich is "practically nothing" is absurd. Hell, for all we know it was Kobe beef or imported prosciutto. But either way, we are in desperate need of a revival of the concept of personal responsibility.

                                        3. re: latindancer

                                          "The customer is always right."

                                          Not when he wants the restaurant to pay for his own mistake, and not in a million other scenarios I can think of. I certainly don't want my favorite restaurant to waste resources on trying to please bad customers at the expense of their good customers.

                                          1. re: dty

                                            'Not when he wants the restaurant to pay for his own mistake'.

                                            The restaurant is paying 15-20% of the actual price of the sandwich.
                                            Please don't think the stupid sandwich is going to break his bank unless, of course, the restaurant can't afford to throw the sandwich away....in which case the restaurant has bigger problems than they're willing to admit, finances being the least of it.

                                            1. re: latindancer

                                              If the restaurant is willing to cater to bad customers' unreasonable demands, then I do believe the establishment has a problem. Forcing the staff to put up with and accommodate bad behavior from bad customers alienates the staff and the good customers also. Why should an establishment bent over backwards to entertain the whims of the bad apples while neglecting the good customers?

                                              1. re: dty

                                                "Why should an establishment bent over backwards to entertain the whims of the bad apples while neglecting the good customers?"

                                                The OP was talking about a sandwich. With a bite out of it. A customer who made a bad decision about a sandwich and asked the owner to make it right. It happens. It's part of the business. A successful business will make allowances for the occasional customer who makes things a little difficult....it's built in.
                                                How on earth is the owner 'neglecting the good customers' by giving the customer, who's not satisfied regardless of how it happened, another sandwich that, in the end, pleases him and makes him want to come back again? It costs the owner nothing and the customer is pleased. Everybody wins. This, dty, is a no-brainer, good business move.
                                                It's why good businesses stay around while the others fail.

                                              2. re: latindancer

                                                but how many of those a day before it is a problem?

                                                1. re: LaLa

                                                  Exactly what I had thought when I read latindancer's comments throughout this thread, LaLa. The contract was started when the customer ordered the sandwich (and reading the OP's clarification post below, the person doing the order overlooked the meat in the sandwich - so it was clearly the customer's error). Just because he didn't like it doesn't mean the establishment is required to create another to his liking. Because if *everyone* did this, *that* is when a good business would fail. "The customer is always right" isn't always true.

                                                  And for all we know, the business in question has done exactly what latindancer has mentioned should be done (in the past) and has been burned with more people coming in to do the same thing...hence, their stipulation that if you make a choice and take a bite of it, barring an allergic reaction of some kind, it is considered that you have made a purchase, and no replacement sandwich should be given.

                                                2. re: latindancer

                                                  Please explain how you come up with "15-20% of the actual price of the sandwich "

                                                  1. re: latindancer

                                                    You're completely wrong about food costs. The average restaurant runs at a 30-35% food cost. This does not factor in the rent/mortgage, heat, air conditioning, cable, sound system program, electric, property maintenance, staff wages, silverware, plates, glasses (the last few all need constant replacing due to loss/breakage), POS system, credit card machine fees, employee uniforms, employee training, health insurance, sick time, 401K, advertising and the biggest: insurance.

                                                    Restaurants barely make a profit. If you think otherwise, you're absolutely wrong and fooling yourself.

                                                      1. re: invinotheresverde

                                                        agreeing with Invino's post, and adding that for many/most restaurants, replacement has a lot of hidden costs as well-- they are much more time consuming, sometimes one or more managers must get involved to expedite, a large table might be held up without turnover while the whole large party waits for the one comped item to be remade and eaten. . . if the op's restaurant is a qsr-model where lots of stuff is premade/pre-prepped, we're talking about extra staff time to make certain items from scratch or do substitutions. this is probably the reason the restaurant started to charge for additions & substitutions on its set menu-- it gets costly in terms of staff time, interpersonal communication (all the little notes and codes on the tickets-- my fave-- *wait*-- meaning do not start/fire the order (or anything else for the table) until the server comes back and talks to you verbally about whatever the issue is, and everyone must wait around for this to happen, while another table is flagging the server or s/he delivers drinks that are ready) to do special orders all the time when a place is really busy.

                                                        everyone who's ever worked at a super-busy place knows how frustrating & stressful it is when there are seven menu sandwiches sitting in the pass, with one almost identical special order sandwich. . . and a server grabs and serves the wrong one. then both sandwiches (or whatever menu item!) need to be tossed and replaced "on the fly," maybe even comped in addition. so the owner actually ends up paying double-to-quadruple for the ingredients, & double-to-quadruple or more for the staff for one sandwich, which s/he might then not be paid for. . . so. places that are really busy charge for menu changes to 1) deincentivize the customer from subbing every. freaking. little. thang. . . 2) defray some of the costs for when there is a snafu. as there invariably is. because the place is very busy. one thing begets another in this case, ime :(

                                                        1. re: invinotheresverde

                                                          Food cost analysis is comprehensive and extremely involved. However there is a ratio, a formula, that is required for a restaurant to make a good profit.
                                                          It's restaurant business 101.
                                                          Restaurants DO make great profits and I'm very right about that.

                                                          1. re: latindancer

                                                            You're not, though. There is a very small profit line. Some restaurants gamble with that profit line; most don't. The reality is that food costs are over 30%. (I don't think you really have much restaurant experience).

                                                            Your earlier claim was completely wrong.

                                                            1. re: invinotheresverde

                                                              "I don't think you really have much restaurant experience".

                                                              Well, it's important for you to believe it so I'll let you imagine you know more than me.
                                                              But a little clue.....you are very wrong.

                                                              1. re: latindancer

                                                                I'm not trying to be a jerk. I just disagree with the fact that you think food cost alone is so minute. Please refute below.

                                                                1. re: latindancer

                                                                  Wouldn't a little background as to your personal knowledge be appropriate to try and convince others who are obviously in the industry as to your claims that restaurants make "a great deal of profit"? You continue to state that food costs are minimal to a restaurant, where all indications are that food costs are often upwards of 30% or more of a restaurant's budget. How do you know this for fact? Without background on your industry background, isn't it just posturing on your part?

                                                                  Thirty percent is not a "minimal cost". I'm not in the industry, but people like soupkitten and others most definitely are, and they've given personal experience.

                                                                  Stating "restaurants do make a very great profit and I'm very right about that" without any backing info doesn't allow any of us to see your reasoning behind that statement, whereas others have given their personal experience as to what they've lived and know for a fact: Food costs are often more than 30% of a restaurant's operating costs.

                                                              2. re: latindancer

                                                                Formula and ratio are not the same. There is no required formula for a restaurant to make a profit. You are either reading to many text books or going to classes and not understanding. These are guidelines to assist you in developing a solid business plan for your particular business.
                                                                Food cost analysis is not particularly comprehensive and involved but it does take a some financial experience and understanding of basic business practices.
                                                                I m not sure I can find it , but the restaurant industry does studies on restaurant profitability and I recall a restaurant that makes pre tax 5-6 % profit is considered great.

                                                                1. re: latindancer

                                                                  Can you help jfood understand this ratio thing.

                                                                  Let's assume that the restaurant generates 100% of its revenue from food and beverage. Further assume that your 15-20% number is correct. Continue down the assumption list let's include the wastage from the food prep of let's say 20% from trimmings, and then another 10% from spoilage, non-sales and waste / re-fires. So the net cost of the revenue producing food (that which hits the table) is 10.8-14.4%. So Business 101 and Euclidian math results in a break even multiple of 6.94-9.26x. And to your point of great profit, let's try for reasonable profit first, say 20%. The multiple jumps to 8.33-11.11 and further jumps, assuming a 33% profit, to 9.24-12.31%.

                                                                  So you are say that the price on the menu of the food sitting in front of jfood is in the >10x category of the food sitting in front of jfood to achieve the profit in a restaurant? So the $36 priced steak serves $3.60 of beef? That's a tough putt.

                                                                  Likewise, and Jfood will defer to Invino given her profession, does the average mark-up on your wine approach 8-10x?

                                                                  1. re: jfood

                                                                    I was once a general manger for a corporate restaurant chain for 8 years and having "priced" menus I know a little.
                                                                    It's not an across the board percentage...there's a product mix and certain menu items like a steak are going to "cost" more than say the cost of ingredients go to make a salad. Steak in a high end restaurant could easily cost them $10-$15, so the food cost on the steak alone could be 40%-50%. Certain menu categories say like appetizers the profit margins are going to be higher. Beverage sales like soft drinks, coffee, iced tea are going to have costs of around 5%-10% in general. Bar sales cost hopefully are always around 15%-20%.
                                                                    Hopefully it all averages out in the end on the plus side. The big picture here is the owner isn't giving away dozens of sandwiches a day by mistakes from either the customer or the kitchen. Maybe he's wasting a half dozen sandwiches a day, but he's obviously watching his nickels and dimes and it probably makes a difference in his bottom line.

                                                                    I'd probably throw that sandwich the OP was talking about in the 5-10% category of waste/spoilage if I comped it to him. So if it was an $8 sandwich I'd be out about a buck at worst. I'm guessing if it's a sandwich like the OP is talking about their food costs are definitely under the 30% mark and probably no more than 25%.

                                                              3. re: latindancer

                                                                Regarding the restaurant paying (only) "15-20% of the actual price of the sandwich" and that it won't "break the bank:"

                                                                I'd like to know, under what circumstances, latindancer would pay small amounts of money to persons who're less than happy with latindancer's job performance.

                                                                It is my experience in life that the same people who think that a restaurant owes them a "comp" or "can afford to give them something for free" are the people who're very, very tight with a dollar.

                                                                1. re: shaogo

                                                                  As an owner, can you back me up here? Please vocalize food cost v. everything else.

                                                                  1. re: invinotheresverde

                                                                    again i concur. food cost is about a third. depending on the item it is 25-38% of the final cost of the item, with it hitting about 33% on average. of course there are fast food places where food costs might be lower-- to make up for high advertising costs LOL but i don't think LD has any idea what she's talking about. it's about a third for most restaurants. fine dining food costs will often be 30-40%.

                                                                2. re: latindancer

                                                                  The restaurant has to account for enough waste due to its own mistakes. It shouldn't have to cover for every customer that messes up as well. And we as customers shouldn't have to pay for these mistakes when the restaurant has to raise their prices because of numnut customers and over-demanding weasels. I have a friend who brags about how her dad is able to weasel this and that out of every restaurant and hotel that he goes to. He is a professional complainer, and I'm sure there are many of them.

                                                          2. Hopefully some of your friend's class and maturity will rub off on people who think a restaurant is the equivilent of the sample lady at costco. If you buy something and did not notice that roast beef was included in the description and then did not notice the roast beef when it was delivered, then closed your eyes and did not see the the roast beef when you picked it up and then STILL took a bite, you bought the sandwich.

                                                            And the OP did not include the phrase , "and i checked the menu and the meat was not there." sometimes what is left out is what should have been included.

                                                            Your friend was absolutely correct, you , on the other hand...

                                                            1. IMO you are neither right nor wrong. This is a subject that is hitting home for me, but for a different reason. My favorite sandwich shop has started sending out what I perceive as somewhat hostile and inappropriately political emails and because of that I have decided not to go there. I love the sandwiches and bagels from there and have been tempted to write him, but am waiting until cooler heads prevail.

                                                              Did the restaurant owner do the right thing? IMO, yes. Do you have to justify not going back? IMO, no.

                                                              With the current economy I see customers more and more taking the attitude of having small businesses by the short hairs and taking advantage of that.

                                                              2 Replies
                                                              1. re: Janet from Richmond

                                                                If you're in a people business, taking a political (or religious) stance is going to distance you from potential customers. It's a big no-no in my opinion.

                                                                1. re: shaogo

                                                                  I agree with you. I manage a small (non-food) related business and we're careful about not publically displaying or advertsing our political and religious views in context of the business.

                                                              2. If the list on the board did not make any mention of meat in the sandwich, it's their fault, not the customers. He's not a mind-reader... what if he was a vegetarian, or a Buddhist and it was against his religion to eat meat? It's quite normal to assume that your sandwich contains the ingredients that were listed on the menu board without anything extra, and sandwich ingredients are often invisible from the outside of the bread, so I'm not surprised that he picked it up and took a bite before he realised that it had meat in it.

                                                                If the board said 'all sandwiches contain meat', or he just didn't notice it on a quick scan of the listing and it was actually written up there, then it's the customers' problem... but if it was omitted entirely from the description then the restaurant should be the one to eat the bill.

                                                                1. You wrote yourself that "this was my companion's fault," and he seems to realize it as well by his own action. So what's the problem? If he's okay with it, why should it bother you? It seems like you have a whole other agenda happening and are looking for any reason to justify it.

                                                                  Btw, I'd side with the owner in this instance.

                                                                  As for "the customer is always right" mentality, that gave me a good laugh! I have my own (non-food-related) business. The mantra should be "Let the customer think he's always right" until you absolutely can't take it anymore. There are gentle ways to sever a business relationship. Been there, done that.

                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                  1. re: gloriousfood

                                                                    "Let the customer think he's always right" - that's a great statement.

                                                                    Jfood heard an interesting comment from the Chairman of a Fortune 500 at dinner last night. "Companies are now calling customers and asking them to help them make their budgets."

                                                                    It is a relationship.

                                                                  2. Wow so many opinions. First let me clarify this. My companion did not ask to be comped on the first sandwich nor did he dispute being charged. He admitted it was clearly his oversight. I said nothing in the matter.

                                                                    The menu did list the ingredients which included mostly veggies and a meat. He either did not know what that meat was or did not see it in the long list of ingredients.

                                                                    I or my companion did not try to get something for free but I do question the customer relations aspect of this. If one sandwich (or even a couple) would break a restaurant, then that place should not be in business. I know several people in the restaurant business who would agree with me on this.

                                                                    To also answer you, I do have a past with this restaurant. When it opened over 10 years ago, I was a regular there. They knew my name and my orders. Their food was very good and the prices were reasonable. Then the place was "discovered" and things changed. Gone were the reasonable prices. Sandwiches went up in price by a couple of dollars and they began to nickel and dime people on little things. If you wanted something a little different, they charged you. I got mad and one day went in and told them they lost me as a customer. They did not care since they were now well regarded and had plenty of other customers.

                                                                    I did not go back until a couple of months ago. The food was still good and the prices are still a bit high. I do not mind paying more though for good food so I suggested this place when I was trying to decide where to meet someone for lunch.

                                                                    Now this happened and it brought back the memories of the earlier incidents and I am questioning whether I was right or wrong about coming back and/or staying away from this place all these years. Jay

                                                                    7 Replies
                                                                    1. re: JayCT

                                                                      Thanks for the update Jay.

                                                                      Just out of curiosity since jfood likes data and definitions and this has been the subject of many threads. What types of nickel and diming did the restaurant do? Was it 50-cents for tomato or cheese, or 75-cents for a roll or was it substituting american cheese for swiss? Or roast beef for ham? Lots of getting into the weeds to see if the restaurant are nickel and diming or the customer trying to get something for nothing (do a search of the Starbucks scams on the Chains Board).

                                                                      Likewise, jfood is curious about this exchange that you "got mad" and told them they lost you as a customer. Did they actually tell you that "They did not care since they were now well regarded and had plenty of other customers" or is that a conclusion you reached after they obviously disagreed with your request.

                                                                      Jfood has watched prices at restaurants go up for years, and he actually remembers penny-candy and hershey bars for 5-cents (now 89-cents) so that is just a function of economics. And many new places try to keep prices reasonable to create a client base and then when they have the base they test the elasticity of the price increases.

                                                                      But the other softer issues jfood is curious about. Any help you can give him is appreciated. As for going back to the restaurant. It's a sandwich shop, and take-aways are available. If you think the price and qaulity are what you want absolutely go back. Your buying a good sandwich, not marrying the owner. Keep it in perspective buddy.


                                                                      1. re: jfood

                                                                        jfood - At frst they did not charge for simple changes like adding some spinach to a sandwich instead of lettuce. Then it was charging extra for using a different cheese. They had a lower priced lunch menu that they eliminated and then upped the prices on all of their food. It was very frustrating to have this happen to a place I really liked.

                                                                        Over the course of time I mentioned to the staff that I did not like the changes. You could see they were frustrated too. The cashier even commented that she had no choice. When I finally said that I may not come back she apologized and said she woud mention it to the owner. Next time she said there was nothing she could do.

                                                                        I certainly will not be going out of my way to go back to this place. There are other restaurants we go to that are more reasonably priced and faster for lunch.

                                                                        Thanks everyone for the input. Jay

                                                                        1. re: JayCT


                                                                          thanks for the feedback...only time will tell whether they are reaching or have exceeded equilibrium with their pricing policy.

                                                                          1. re: JayCT

                                                                            You want to analyze the owner's business he's the one you should be talking to not the employees or cashier. They don't really know what's going on-sure they get customer feedback.

                                                                            We're all speculating on what the owner's food costs might or should be, but his bottom line (profits) might not be impaired by the food costs, but his lease or other expenses are way out of line and the only way he can manage to be profitable is to nickel and dime (charging for the extras) and eliminating things like a less expensive lunch menu. Sure it looks bad, but probably the only way he's going to survive.

                                                                            A place may be mobbed with customers and appear successful, but we don't know if an owner's drowning in debt and fixed expenses because of a bad lease or who knows what.

                                                                            1. re: monku

                                                                              Or he has a great product that is now priced for its value.

                                                                              Look at it from the owner's POV. The same customer that complained about not paying for spinach versus lettuce, subbing different cheese (this could be a +/- in cost), did not like prices rise, did not like the removal of the lunch special prices, complained to more than one of the staff (but not the owner), returns and has a second conversation with the cashier (not the owner), then returns with a colleague and when the restaurant delivers exactly what was ordered thinks that the restaurant should not charge him for it, even though his colleague had no issue with his mistake.

                                                                              And then he complains about the restaurant.

                                                                              You cannot make this stuff up.

                                                                              1. re: monku

                                                                                Presactly! Also, he might have started out too low with the pricing for some of the items relative to the local market or perceived value. He might have not wanted to be aggressive with pricing when he started up (thus the nickel and dime comment). It could be any of the above including wanting to make a healthy profit. As I understand it, the restaurant business is a risky proposition with many failures. I know a couple who have had four restaurants and up to two at one time. They are good folks. They are down to one and they are not wealthy.

                                                                                1. re: Scargod

                                                                                  Having been in the restaurant business I have an appreciation for good operations and will seek out and commend the owners on their efforts. This goes for places where I'm a regular or a place I've just visited. Most people take for granted the hours and sacrifices mom and pop businesses make to survive. Some reason everyone thinks it's easy and they can do it better.

                                                                                  Recently went to Palm Springs and this deli "Manhattan in the Desert" was having a 50% off everything on the menu (except beverages and liquor) for the month of September. We ate there twice in one day. I told the manager it was a great deal and she told me they were doing it to help the patrons in this economy and it was a way to give the employees more hours since their schedules have been cut back.

                                                                                  On the other hand if I find something out of whack I'll tell the owner. At a golf course I noticed a $2 extra charge on my check for an iced tea refill. I called the owner (concessionaire) over and told him it was outrageous to charge $2 on an iced tea refill when it costs him no more than a nickel. He told me he couldn't afford not to charge $2 for a refill. I told him in that case I'll skip the $2 iced tea next time and order water, he didn't say a word and walked away. He probably thought I was an asshole, but he was out the following year and a new concessionaire took over and no refill charges and he's serving better food.

                                                                                  Got a beef or compliment talk to the owner or manager.

                                                                        2. I'm in the court that the onus is on your friend. He misread and/or mis-ordered and then took a bite. I don't think the restaurant is out of line in expecting him to pay.

                                                                          1. I don't understand why your friend just didn't take the meat off the sandwich and continue
                                                                            Having managed corporate restaurants we would make it right for the customer, mistake or
                                                                            not on the customers part on ordering if all he took was a bite. If they ate the whole thing
                                                                            then we'd charge them. Any sandwich is definitely inexpensive enough where I'd exchange
                                                                            at no cost, but that's the owner's call and maybe he was having a bad day or felt it was a
                                                                            lame excuse.
                                                                            Couple weeks ago at my regular non-chain fast food place I order a cheeseburger( $3.50).
                                                                            Sit down and there's no cheese on it and I bring it back to the window and the owner says no problem. He takes the hamburger and tosses it into the trash and happily says he'll make me another. After eating on my way out he says he threw out the burger because he didn't want other customers to think I was unhappy with "that" hamburger, so better PR for others to see him "making" me happy.

                                                                            1 Reply
                                                                            1. re: monku

                                                                              We don't know why the OP's friend didn't want meat. Perhaps he's a vegetarian or it's his way of keeping Kosher. I would say most of them would find taking the meat off the sandwich unacceptable.

                                                                              And while your corporate restaurant or non-chain fast food place may have been able to absorb the cost of throwing out the sandwich, it seems that the restaurant the OP went to cannot, especially as the place started "nickeling and diming" him. There are different business structures out there.

                                                                            2. I have twice received 'unexpected' meat - once I ordered 'German potato salad' which came with unannounced bacon, and once when I ordered 'the calzone'.
                                                                              The former (in the US) was replaced with no problem. Maybe German potato salad always has bacon? I have no idea. If I saw 'reuban sandwich' at least I'd ask if it had meat (not having encountered a reuban before) but potato salad sounds innocent.
                                                                              The calzone (in the UK) was probably my fault - I never read the meat sections of menus so didn't know there was a meat calzone on offer. I just asked for 'the calzone' - and got the meat version by default. The waiter said it was his fault for not asking me to clarify - it was a new menu and he was not totally familiar with it. My food was replaced with a smile.
                                                                              If I suspect an item may have meat in it I ask. It is rare (like the potato salad) that meat appears unexpectedly. I think it is completely MY responsibility to verify ingredients. I cannot eat mushrooms, so I ALWAYS ask if something just says 'vegetables' if there are mushrooms in it. If I didn't ask and found mushooms when the food came I would order something else and be prepared to pay for 2 meals. If I was offered a 'free' replacement then great - but it would not be expected as a right.

                                                                              1. Jfood cannot stand the taste of raw onion. And you can imagine how many times he has ordered his favorite cheeseburger and fries, only to have it served with a slice of raw onion on top. 95% of the time it is NOT mentioned on the menu, nor should it in jfood's opinion.

                                                                                Should jfood expectthem to tale it back and re-cook. If you follow the letter of the law that people have place here, they would say yes. Jfood just deals with it and he tries to remember whenever he orders a burger always say, "please no raw onions."

                                                                                5 Replies
                                                                                1. re: jfood

                                                                                  I really can't stand onions generally and am pretty vigilant asking whether they're included. usually with raw onions I am okay picking them out, but when it's cooked into a dish the slices are typically too small for that to be practical. Cooked or uncooked, they are almost always a secret ingredient, but I always accept responsibility if a dish comes with onion and I didn't ask about it.

                                                                                  1. re: queencru

                                                                                    I think that cooked onion as a "secret ingredient" is like saying that black pepper is too. Try telling a chef that they can't do a moire poix!

                                                                                    1. re: Scargod

                                                                                      No, this is different. I understand if the onion is in a sauce, but a lot of times it will be in places where you would expect it to be mentioned- like mac and cheese, a topping on pizza, or in rice pilaf.

                                                                                      1. re: queencru

                                                                                        Onion is a standard ingredient in rice pilaf. As is bacon in German potato salad. If you're unfamiliar with the dish, then you should ask.

                                                                                  2. re: jfood

                                                                                    Why would it need to be re-cooked? Can't you just take the slice of raw onion off and eat the cheeseburger?

                                                                                    The way I see it, "customer is always right" places build in the cost of absorbing the customers' errors and opportunistic complaints, kind of like places that always give coupons. If they didn't they wouldn't be still in business. You know it's going to cost more if you're not the complaining or coupon type.

                                                                                  3. You are not wrong about not going back. That is purely up to you! But you and other people after freebies might not be missed. At all.

                                                                                    1. There was absolutely no responsibility on the part of the owner to comp anything due to the customer ordering error but it could have been a missed opportunity for some really cheap (relatively) good pr. I know when I was a server people occasionally ordered the wrong meal by mistake and we corrected it at no cost to them. You make a great impression on that customer and all that are with him (and others they tell) as a place that is willing to go the extra mile to make the customer happy. The price of a sandwhich is really a bargain to spread that kind of goodwill. There's really not much of a downside to that.

                                                                                      1. Even if the owner had offered to comp the sandwich, I would still pay for it since it was my mistake. I've ordered lemonade for my daughter who is allergic to red dye and forgotten to ask. When pink lemonade comes, I eat the cost. I've had servers offer to take it off but I tell them it's fine. I don't expect the restaurant to make up for my mistake. It's not just one sandwich, as you keep saying. It's every customer who makes a mistake ordering and that adds up. If you've ever been in customer services, you'd know a business could go broke trying to keep every single customer happy. People complain about everything.

                                                                                        2 Replies
                                                                                        1. re: chowser

                                                                                          Isn't it funny how the house has to be right and on their game about everything - opportunists are always looking for a reason for them to slip up so that they can complain and score some free food/drinks. But when I customer makes a mistake, the house is often expected to overlook it and eat the cost of that mistake. So not fair.

                                                                                        2. IMHO, restaurants should make it clear what ingredients are in what dishes, what choices are available, and what is refillable and what is not. The servers should also not assume certain orders; if there is a meat calzone and a veggie calzone and the guest orders "a calzone", the server should ask which one they want, On the other hand, having been a server myself as well as being married to a former restaurant manager, I'm also aware of how clueless your average person can be as far as substitutions and charges. If there is a charge, the guest should be warned beforehand. I've had guests be truly surprised that there was a charge for adding avocado to a sandwich, but even though they would complain to the management and go on about how often they eat here etc., once they KNOW that it costs extra, they can't refuse to pay for the extra item if they order it.
                                                                                          Anyone I've ever known who had food restrictions has been very good about making sure any meal they ordered had nothing they couldn't or wouldn't eat in it, and so they should.
                                                                                          I'm surprised that, given the attitude of the OP's friend regarding admitting he made an error and was willing to pay for his meal, that the owner not charge him for the second sandwich, but also seemed very unimpressed with the thought of losing a regular customer. I've had instances where the restaurant made a mistake, both times in my favor, but I wasn't charged the difference because it was the restaurant's error.
                                                                                          While bearing in mind that there will always be customers that try to shaft a restaurant for anything they can, there are still the ones who are understanding and put up no fuss when they're the ones in error. I feel that attitude factors 99% in any sticky situation that arises in the world of dining out.
                                                                                          And I agree with monku: why didn't the guest just remove the meat?

                                                                                          2 Replies
                                                                                          1. re: Michelly

                                                                                            I don't eat meat. The OP issue aside (I agree that it was the friend's fault), if I got unexpected meat in a sandwich or any dish that wasn't popularly known to contain meat (like the reuben), or whose ingredient list doesn't say so, and I was paying for it, I wouldn't simply peel the meat off and chow down. I'm not the pickiest of veg's either (been known to not ask about soups or things I know were likely made with stock), but I know many who won't even eat the sandwich if someone hasn't washed hands or changed gloves after handling meat for one sandwich and moving on to the vegetable-only sandwich....so for them, or people with allergies etc, removing it wouldn't be an option. Besides which, it may not have been that type of sandwich where the meat even could be removed....maybe it was mixed together or something.

                                                                                            As for the "how could you not notice it was in there before taking a bite' that has been mentioned upthread, i've had this happen twice after ordering meals that were supposed to be meat-free right from the get-go and advertised as such; veggie burrito, and another time, a grilled vegetable sandwich. And I am very conscientious about reading descriptions and asking questions. I was talking with my friend when I cut into and took a bite of the burrito without looking (mouthful of chicken)....and same goes for the grilled vegetable sandwich (and also because the chicken was well hidden inside the sandwich, not sticking out. Again, mouthful of chicken. Both times the meals were sent back and I ate the next round. Some people would instantly lose their appetite after this ( I admit I was close ).

                                                                                            Something that bears mentioning is the misunderstanding of the whole meat thing. I can't count how many times i've told people I don't eat meat, and this comment is instantly followed by, "but you eat chicken right?" . Unfortunately that's not exclusive territory of the general public, but also found in restaurant types. After one exhaustive Q&A with a server about whether the "bacon bits" advertised in the salad were the fake variety or the real thing (she assured me to no end that they were not meat), my salad arrived with bacon all over it, after which point the server argued up and down with me that they weren't and almost refused to take it back. I got the impression that she thought that making it into bits rendered bacon meat-less or some sort. Anyway, since that day, I always order any salad with bacon bits on the side because it's just not worth the Q&A.

                                                                                            1. re: im_nomad

                                                                                              <The menu did list the ingredients which included mostly veggies and a meat. He either did not know what that meat was or did not see it in the long list of ingredients.>

                                                                                              Was the OP's 2nd description of the incident, where again there was never a mention that the friend was a vegetarian or even that he was meat-ophile. That's why I said why not just take off the meat. OP doesn't understand how his friend mis-read the menu.
                                                                                              The OP is more upset about this than his friend was who seemed to take it in stride and get double-billed with no problem.