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Inedible Appetizers...What would some Chowhounds do?

How would you have handled this situation?

M&M Jfood went out for a date last night, dinner and a late movie (This is It). Jfood chose a restaurant (entrée prices mid-$20, specials mid-$30, so not inexpensive) that has received some good press, a small place, maybe 10 tables, one round table for a 6-top, a true 4-top and the rest 2-tops that can be combined. When they arrived only the 2-top next to the bathroom or the front door were available and not exactly date night material. Jfood approached the owner and mentioned this was not exactly what they were looking for, apologized and mentioned they would return on a weeknight when it was not so crowded. The owner suggested the true 4-top, which was nice and they sat. So the owner is very customer focused.

The Jfood order appetizers and entrees and they arrive. One bite and they look at each other. This could be the worst two dishes placed in front of them in a long time. They cannot eat them by any stretch. So they sit and discuss options. Do they suck it up and spend $100 for a lousy meal? Do they return the appetizers in hopes that the entrees are better? What should they do?

They decided to…tell the owner the dishes were not to their liking and asked the owner to bring the bill for the appetizers and they would call it a night. The owner’s response was very professional. He apologized and told the Jfoods not to worry about the cost of the meal and he apologized.

What would some of you have done after the two bites of the appetizers? Just curious.


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  1. It depends on what you mean by "worst"..an interpretation of what it should be, based on ingredients listed on menu, or spoiled/old ingredients or overcooked/undercooked or the appetizer was obviously just pulled out of a box you could buy at the grocery store and placed on a plate?

    'Good press' is sometimes paid for. Seeing other (happy or perhaps disappointed) diners at 6/10 tables is another. If everyone else around seemed to be eating and enjoying/emptying plates...

    You didn't give enough details.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Cathy

      onion soup with tasteless broth, undercooked, not caramelized onions and flavorless cheese. house salad made of 100% frisee lettuce, overly citricy dressing if that helps. None of the stiuff was rancid or anything like that, just inedible to the jfoods.

      1. re: jfood

        Ah. Not quality and major skipping on basic things.

        I would (and have) done the same as you. Cut losses and run. [My initial order at a new place is basics and if that cannot be done right, I don't go back. At the price point you mentioned, basic appetizers are a test.]

        Would have left something for the waiter/on the table, even though owner did not charge.

        1. re: jfood

          There is nothing worse than bad french onion soup. I have had some of the best I had ever tasted and one of the worst, in the same restaurant just weeks apart. It all depends on who is in the kitchen that day, and what they do right/wrong. So I am with you 100% on this one J. Same with salad... how do you screw up a salad?... easy bad lettuce.

      2. I think you handled it just right--and, in turn, the ownder was cool maybe even earned your business for another try on a different day.

        For a totally different reason, we made a similar early departure from a local favorite place of ours. We were unfortunately seated next to an out-of-hand golf banquet (read: too much alcohol = too obnoxiously loud to hear ourselves think,, nevermind speak). I was practically sitting in my "date's" lap so we could talk to each other. It was that bad. The food, luckily, was fine...but we couldn't bear to eat an entire meal like that. The atmosphere was simply not conducive to dining.

        The restaurant where we ate is one we frequent regularly. We explained to our waiter that we just wanted to eat our apps with our wine and call it a night. We also said we understood the loudness was not their fault--just not something we wanted to suffer a whole meal through. And we told them, of course, we'd see them again soon. They totally understood and we have been back many times since.

        Cutting your losses early when you know it's not going to work out as you expected, whatever the reason, is never a bad idea--especially when handled tactfully on the part of both the diner and the establishment.

        P.S. Hope you enjoyed the movie. We're going to see it this afternoon and are planning our post-movie dining options. ;)

        1. I'm wit jfood -- I think jfood did just what was appropriate. It's nice to offer to pay for uneaten appetizers. It was completely appropriate for the owner to comp them.

          I wanna know if jfood plans on giving this place one more chance.

          I recall receiving an appetizer at an Italian restaurant we've frequented. What was supposed to be some sort of cheese and onion pie had been incinerated nearly beyond recognition -- and shamelessly served by the waiter! We should've taken that cue that the regular chef wasn't there, and the chef on duty wasn't "on." Sent back both entrees because they were burnt. Felt like the burnt apps were a warning that we were about to be taken hostage by the restaurant. And we were. It took 45 minutes to replace our entrees. We did receive a lovely bottle of wine on the house.

          1. I've had my share of disappointment in restaurants, just like everyone else, but the only time I return food is if it is not cooked properly to temperature, too tough to chew or over salted. If I just do not care for the dish, I just assume I ordered the wrong thing. Not everyone cooks like out Grandmothers, so chances are I would not cut and run, unless the food came out looking terrible and very greasy on the plate.....think of something like a Fried Calamari appetizer, which has been over cooked, brown burnt and dumped on a plate with an obvious pool of grease sitting underneath without something to drain it upon. If such a simple dish could come out so poorly, I could only surmise that entrees may be a disappointment as well........I would immediately get up to try and see, as discreetly as possible, how the food looked on the tables of other diners...before I made my decision to stay or leave.

            By all accounts you have given, the owner seems like a sharp guy, so I would give the place another chance, but make sure to say hello to the owner on the way in and see, or make sure, he remembers your last visit.

            1. I would have done the same thing. What were the appetizers that you ordered?

              1. I think that when you are served food that is completely inedible, it's important to send it back. Something could be going wrong in the kitchen- an ingredient could be mislabelled, it could have expired, a piece of equipment might not be functioning properly. I once sent back a bowl of soup because it tasted like a bowl of liquid mercury or something... totally metallic. My server initially didn't believe me, but the kitchen investigated and realized the entire pot had been made with the wrong ingredients. A cook even came out and said, "I'm so sorry, I don't know how you even ate a spoonful."

                10 Replies
                1. re: Jetgirly

                  I agree. I once ordered a creme brulee that had no sweetness whatsoever. We brought it to the attention of our server. The manager later came over and thanked us for saying something. The entire batch was unsweetened and they were able to pull it from the menu before disappointing another customer.

                  1. re: Ima Wurdibitsch

                    How does any professional chef / baker send out either of these things without tasting some part of it first ?

                    1. re: Ima Wurdibitsch

                      We like to play a prank on the newbies at our restaurant involving mayo with a bruleed crust. It fools everyone!

                      1. re: invinotheresverde

                        I hope you mean the kitchen help... not customers :- O

                          1. re: invinotheresverde

                            oh that is an oldie but goodie! even if you know what it is, it still looks convincingly like the real deal. The best application of this prank I ever saw involved mayo coming out of someones nose.....nuf' said.

                            1. re: invinotheresverde

                              Oh man... they are the easiest to get! I love making them experimental drinks at the end of the shift... muhahahaha.

                              1. re: gryphonskeeper

                                I laugh every single time. Then again, I'm super immature.

                      2. re: Jetgirly

                        This happened at a restaurant I worked for when I was just starting out bartending. Somehow an entire container of salt was mislabled as sugar.

                        1. re: gryphonskeeper

                          When I hear stories like that I think "This is why on Top Chef they are always asking the maker of a failed dish if they actually tasted it..."

                          but in fact the salt for sugar thing can happen....Once someone was making a bunch of pumpkin pies at Thanksgiving time for our cooperative dorm in college and did just that. She was not a professional chef, so its forgivable...but unfortunately the mistake was not discovered until the pies were served, causing the "baker" much embarrassment. (No, it was not me....but then again, I know how to tell salt from sugar by looking at it. OTOH, I always taste....just to be sure...)

                      3. "that has received some good press".
                        Knowing you, I feel you believed the press and went there on good faith. Then the owner treated you properly. I don't doubt that you should have sent the appetizers back back.
                        Once I told the waitress that the soup I was served was the worst thing I had ever tasted. She first thought I was kidding, and I could see I was making the others at the table uncomfortable with my statement. The owner/chef's wife came out and apologized profusely, stating that it was the bottom of the bucket, it shouldn't have been served, and it was terribly bad.
                        I am unclear whether you finished your "meal" there, on the house, or left? And, will you try it again? I have a sixth sense about a place. If it is new it is more difficult to sense. You probably have some sense of whether it has some redeeming qualities besides the courtesy of the owner.

                        1. You did the right thing. Both you and the owner acted appropriately; sometimes the food is not what you expect or it just does not come out right from the kitchen. If you ate everything and then sent the empty dishes back, I'd say something else. Good call!

                          1. I have no problem with what you did, but I would have handled it differently. I, being the eternal optimist, would have toughed it out and waited for the entrees, ever hopeful that the apps were just bad luck.

                            1. I think you handled it very well. We probably would have stayed and suffered through the entree and regreted that choice later ;-)

                              1. I just want to know what happened to Mrs Jfood mentioned last week. Sigh.

                                It was cool to cut losses early on. If it was a first date, however, I would let her have some input as not to appear too fussy (as I know I can be).

                                And seriously? Michael Jackson?

                                5 Replies
                                1. re: DallasDude

                                  Unclear of your first para.

                                  M&M Jfood took a pocketful of mini candies and sat with 6 (yes a total of 7 people in the entire theatre) other people to watch the movie. Jfood thought it was OK, it would have been an unblelievable concert, felt really bad that all the work was put into the production and poof. The major highlight was the guitar playing of the female guitarist. She could play with any group ever. Jfood has never seen such talent and composure.

                                  Good thing they had the candy. Not sure if jfood can eat another twix, baby ruth or snickers for a while.

                                  1. re: jfood

                                    Was this guy in the theatre ? ;)

                                    Your mention reminded me that not only did i sit with a friend in an otherwise empty theatre to watch a movie a little while back ( 9 ) ..... I can appreciate the fan thing, albeit not for MJ. I drove two hours to sit in a movie theatre with about 8 people to watch the only Canadian showing of "Bananaz" (Gorillaz documentary) at a film festival last year. Mind you....I also went out for sushi and made a night of it.

                                    I was out of town for Halloween, and an unfortunate drawback is that I have no leftover mini-candies :(

                                    1. re: jfood

                                      You did the right thing.
                                      I thought I read Mrs. Jfood took a pocketful of candles.
                                      While watching 'This Is It' Mrs. Jfood lights little candles.
                                      I need glasses.

                                      1. re: latindancer

                                        and jfood stood up and waved his b'berry with the light on at the screen for an encore. that would have been a real hoot.

                                        thanks for the laugh with only a couple of sips of coffee.

                                    2. You acted appropriately - and I presume did not lose you temper, nor berate the owner in front of other customers causing other people to enjoy their meals less.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: Paulustrious

                                        Of course not.

                                        The other tables were nejoying themselves and that is what the restaurant is there to provide. Different strokes...

                                      2. You did the right thing and are a good example for those of us learning to be more assertive. Two weeks ago I returned food on 3 different occasions at 3 different places only to be disappointed with the replacements. The issue for me is that even with affordable places the cost of sucking it up and not speaking up takes a toll on the wallet or when I'm flush my enjoyment of eating out.

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: free sample addict aka Tracy L


                                          how did you handle each, you had two dishes you did not like at three separate places. Were they rancid or not to your liking?

                                          1. re: jfood

                                            No, I had 3 dishes I didn't like, lol. I was starting to get a complex after the second meal.

                                            The first experience was at a restaurant that serves mostly comfort food they call it a bistro but it is just a very nice little restaurant with mostly American food, entrees are about $12-15. I ordered the vegetarian lasagna that was mediocre so I switched it for a roasted chicken dish which was meh. The waiter noticed I didn't finish it and I told her why so they sent over a big cupcake which I brought home and gave to a friend. The next morning I had a bagel lox and cream cheese at a chain bagel shop. I specifically asked to leave off the capers and my order arrived with capers. I sent it back and it came back on the wrong bagel and it had alfalfa sprouts, I think I heard my NY grandparents turn in their grave. By that time I was ravenous so I picked off the sprouts choked down the bagel and vowed never to go back again and to learn how to make good bagels. The last place made me feel like I was in foodie twilight zone. The lunches there compared to other places in the area are a little more expensive and has counter service but I figured it was worth it since I have friends who swear by the place. So I ordered the lunch special which was a garlic chicken sandwich with fries and a soda. The sandwich arrived w/out the fries, I was seated outside so I went inside to get my fries. Then I had a few bites of the sandwich and notice it wasn't very garlicy, but I hadn't progressed too far. At that point I needed some napkins so I got up to get some napkins and get a refill on soda. When I returned to my table my lunch was cleared away. At first the people behind the counter did not know what to do, they questioned the bus person but he didn't know what was going on. They asked the manager what they should do and he told them to replace the meal. He apologized and I thought maybe I didn't get the garlic chicken sandwich in the first place and maybe the second sandwich would be the right one; however, they must have a different concept of garlic than I do because it wasn't garlicy. I didn't have the heart or the courage to complain. I was pretty full about halfway through.

                                            Ironically, a hawaiian barbecue place opened near my house and over the past few weeks I have gone there 3 times and have been impressed by the quality of the food and attentive service.

                                        2. I think what you did was fine. I don't agree with the prevoious poster - I never return food because it's mediocre or not garlicky enough. If there's nothing wrong with it (i.e. bad or an obvious error like salt instead of sugar) and I just don't happen to like it I'll still pay (and not go back). I don't see any point in telling the establishment to make things differently to suit my tastes. Although I would complain about undercooked onions in onion soup and not expect to pay, it would fall into the obvious error category.