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how should I respond to microwaved restaurant food?

I went to a thai restaurant. We're seated immediately, quite a few take out customers. OK so far...very nice ambiance and friendly staff...the only red flag is that there is an open kitchen, and two microwaves in full view. I order thai style BBQ'd half chicken. I watch them put something odd shaped in a bag into said microwave, and my entry was served a couple minutes after said microwave is emptied.

So I know my high priced BBQ'd chicken was microwaved. As soon as I was served, i could tell. some parts were way hot and some parts were just kinda hot. The yellow curry sauce was over reduced, like it had sat overnight, the skin was rubbery and the meat had that twice cooked texture. It tasted alright and since I was with my mother and tired, I did not complain.

I feel we shouldn't of paid for it. We were promised BBQ chicken and served microwaved chicken. I am quite sure this chicken was made yesterday, did not sell and reheated for service tonight. Do I have the right to refuse to pay for something like that? Should I complain now? No use to complain because any restaurant with 2 microwaves in full view of the dining room obviously doesn't care, right?

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  1. Lots of restaurants (both high end, and hole-in-the-wall) use microwaves to reheat sauces, food, defrost, etc.

    Most of the time you just don't know it.

    And, in fairness to the restaurant, you *did* get BBQ chicken (or at least Thai style BBQ chicken) -- it was just reheated BBQ chicken.

    Live and learn I suppose.

    1. I think the issue here is whether you ate it or not. You can't really order the meal, eat it, then not pay for it. The time to have dealt with it would have been before you ate it. You could have sent it back to the kitchen, saying that you didn't realize the BBQ chicken was microwaved and wasn't to your taste and asked for something else. I think if you didn't want a substitution, you might have been able to refuse the meal outright before you ate it. But if you eat it, you can't turn around and say you didn't like it and refuse to pay for it after the meal is over and done with. Kind of a question of timing I think? If its really bugging you, you could go back and complain but I wouldn't be expecting any money back or compensation. You'd just be venting at that point. The other thing is to vote with your feet and not go back. Usually if the food is really that bad, the writing will be on the wall for this place and it won't last terribly long.

      1. Reheated food is a mainstay of restaurant cooking, even in good restaurants. For example, one of the major upsides of sous vide is that it can be used to reheat foods with better results than other methods. Also - it's long been observed that braises and many soups taste better the next day.

        IMO the main questions should be:
        A) Whether the food is something that is appropriate to make in advance and then reheat. So a microwaved sauce is fine as long as it doesn't separate. But a microwaved burger = unhappy Cowboy.
        B) Whether the microwave itself was used properly - if the food is reheated unevenly, yeah that's a problem. But vegetables that have been steamed (well) in a microwave - that's fine use of your equipment, if you ask me.

        Or, in a more basic sense - was the food GOOD? For BBQ chicken - that's a borderline call. Obviously, it's not gonna have the crispy bits that fresh, well BBQed chicken should have. And there's also that reheated chicken flavor. But if I go to a diner or chain, order BBQ chicken drowned in sauce (so the flavor of the chicken is drowned out and nothing crispy remains anyway), I'm not gonna complain or be surprised that it's reheated. 'Smokin Joe's Authentic BBQ Mecca' - some specialist place that's all about authenticity - I'd be more disappointed.

        Also, generally I think it's fair game to complain about any food that's heated unevenly (a pit fall of microwaved food, but it's not always the case). That said, I don't think you can finish your plate and then demand to be comped. Complain as soon as you notice the problem or else just suck it up and don't go back to that restaurant.

        3 Replies
        1. re: cowboyardee

          Your last paragraph is the take home point here. I once took friends to a favorite restaurant and dined al fresco, enjoying buffalo wings. There were 4 of us. My first wing was a bit pink in the middle and I was concerned but didn't say anything. Everyone was enjoying. But my second wing was raw in the middle. Unacceptable and dangerous.
          Since there was 4 of us eating the app, at least half were gone by the time I waived down our waiter to get it taken back and taken off of our bill. He AND the manager turned down my request and of course we stopped eating them as soon as everyone took a good look at their raw meat (gets a little obfuscated with sauce, ya know).
          I was mortified to be treated so badly when I had been chatting this place up. Never went back.
          Those darn wings should have spent time in the microwave!

          1. re: monavano

            Yowza...the manager turned down your request? This wasn't a case of taste preference, it was food safety. Dude should have at least brought you another properly cooked round IMHO. Ridiculous...

            1. re: freia

              That was over 20 years ago and I've never been back. Can you imagine noticing that your wings are not cooked fully and being treated like this in front of friends? Yuck.
              I felt I pushed it as much as I could, then let it go.
              IIRC, I think we packed it up and went to another restaurant!

        2. Hold your breath until they refund your money?

          1 Reply
          1. I've returned a duck appetizer in a Chinese restaurant that was obviously microwaved. I didn't eat it first, however. I took one bite and gestured to the waitress. She was incredibly rude about it, too. So, choose your battles. I have never returned to that restaurant.

            1. Some food reheats in the micro or a bag in water and it's fine. What's never fine is instant mashed potatoes. That makes me want to fling it back into the kitchen!
              It's not that instant is so horrific, really, but seriously, I'm rarely that lazy at home and if you're taking my money, you'd better give me real mashed potatoes ;-)
              (not to hijack, but I think there are worse transgressions)

              1. My favorite restaurant does not have a microwave!
                We ate at "one of the best places in town(a small town) and I ordered a grilled plate. There was not even the pretense of grill marks. It was a straight up microwaved TV dinner placed artfully on the plate. The meat had very hot and cold spots and the veggies were rubbery. It was awful. The owner was close by giving a wine dinner but did not come around to the tables. We found another place in town that bought everything locally and everything was freshly prepared. We passed that info onto everyone we knew that was going that way. It was a live and learn kind of thing.

                1. To answer the main part of the question, once you eat the meal you really gotta pay for it. As for the microwave, I don't know of any finer dining establishments that even have one. No self respecting chef would allow one in their kitchen. If they need something heated up they do what we all did 30 years ago. Personally, I didn't think it possible that I could live without a microwave until we stored ours for open houses when we were trying to sell our place. Hardly missed it at all AND me thinks the food tasted better heated in a pan vs. being nuked.

                  1. I was in a mid-level French bistro in Boston a couple of years ago and spotted on the menu "Paté de foie gras au microonde" - and yes, microonde is French for microwave.

                    I asked the waiter about that and he admitted to being embarrassed by the name but confirmed that the chef mixed foie gras, cream, and other ingredients, cooked it in the microwave, then refrigerated it until firm. I tried it - too much cream, not enough foie, nearly flavorless. Meh.

                    But I had to wonder how many people reading that menu realized what "microonde" means.

                    1. If you hadn't seen the microwave, would you have been unhappy about the food?
                      If not - then it's a non issue.

                      1. Chalk it up to experience and don't go back. I personally don't feel that restaurants have to give away food because they used a microwave (which is what it seems you are wanting). However, I do believe that people don't have to eat there in the future.

                        1. Ferran Adria once said that the most complicated and high tech tool in his kitchen was a microwave.

                          If you've ever eaten at a chain restaurant, chances are you've eaten preportioned, and microwaved food. I know of a fine dining restaurant in San Francisco who "baked" their cake in a plastic cup, in the microwave. It was glorious, and no other way could they have gotten the texture they were looking for. I spent a good twenty minutes after service died down that night, talking to the pastry chef.

                          Like it or not, the microwave is an ever present, incredibly viable, and (when used judiciously) a very useful tool in a commercial kitchen. Just because you burn the bottom of your lean cuisine in it most nights, doesn't make it an amateurs tool

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: plaidbowtie

                            Didn't Iron Chef Morimoto say it right during the Bobby Flay/Morimoto showdown on the original Iron Chef: "It is a poor master who blames his tools"...microwaves are just another kitchen tool. Maybe it isn't the fact that a microwave was used, it was that it was used poorly. When used right they can yield spectacular results, but when used in "bing bing" cuisine (where you just preheat frozen stuff until the timer goes BING BING, then serve it up), its understandable that they get a bad rep...

                            1. I understand your frustration, but since you did not state a complaint and did indeed eat the meal, IMO you were obligated to pay for it.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: mamachef

                                Actually, it's not just IMO. Eating a meal and then refusing to pay for it (especially without voicing complaint) can be construed as the old dine-and-ditch, a/k/a "defrauding an inkeeper" which in every state is an arrestable or at least cite-able offense.

                              2. FoodEater,

                                I think you raised a good point, but also think many other posters have given important and valid feedbacks. Many restaurant foods have been microwaved. In this case, you see the reheating. In other cases, you don't. You should complain if you think they did a bad job of reheating the foods, but I don't think you can simply complain because they use microwaves.

                                1. I don't get the animosity towards microwaves. I use mine almost every day! I make most of our meals and many times I freeze the leftovers. I can't imagine using my oven for reheating.
                                  I remember the days before the micro when a frozen dinner took 45 min. to cook in the oven. Kind of counterintuitive for convenience food. I also remember when boil in bags were all the fashion for frozen foods. Whatever genius thought that was a good idea should be whipped with a wet noodle.

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: monavano

                                    "I remember the days before the micro when a frozen dinner took 45 min. to cook in the oven. Kind of counterintuitive for convenience food."
                                    Actually the convenience was that you could put the food (maybe three or four different dinners?) in the oven and do other things while it cooked. Like help your kids with homework. Or watch the news. You cant really put three or four dinners in a microwave and have them cook evenly - without having to tend and turn them every minute or so... which is not convenient.

                                    1. re: MplsM ary

                                      I could cook plenty of food to feed a family in 15 minutes in a micro.
                                      It was what it was at the time. I get that you didn't have to "make" the food, but it took a very long time.
                                      It was quite the invention at the time, I get that.
                                      My point is more retrospective. I thought that was implied.
                                      btw... do they even make microwaves without turntables nowadays?

                                    2. re: monavano

                                      It is like the posters above said-It is often poorly used. If an item you are reheating is supposed to be crispy, it gets sort of steamed in the MW especially if it is in there too long. IMO, pie is ruined reheated in a MW. I think it ruins bread as well.

                                    3. No pt of complaining now..simply stop going to the restaurant.
                                      btw, I am almost certain that almost all restaurants even the high end ones do have microwave...not for reheating food but to do other tasks like melting chocolates, etc.

                                      5 Replies
                                      1. re: Monica

                                        Monica, you're right. Most kitchens, even the higher-end ones, do have microwaves. Caveat: not for melting chocolate, which will lose temper in a microwave in less time than it takes to say microwave.

                                          1. re: monavano

                                            My sis who is a pastry chef at a so called high-end restaurant in NYC swears by melting chocolate in microwave oven. I said, what ever happened to double boiler method, etc? she said she doesn't know any pastry chef who uses that method. haha

                                            With high quality chocolate and timing, you can melt chocolate successfuly in a microwave oven..she's done it in my house to make chocolate ganache. She would put it for like 30 sec...then for 15 sec...etc..
                                            She also mentioned something about risk of water vapor coming into the chocolate...with the double boiler method.

                                            1. re: Monica

                                              Exactly - it's a dry heat, no risk of water getting in and siezing it. You just have to stir frequently or you can get scorched spots in your chocolate. Sometimes I wish I had a microwave at work, but we don't - and the line cooks are not allowed to use tongs either, but that's another story. So I still have to use a double boiler. It probably is slower, and over a gas flame you have to be careful about scorching the sides of the bowl, but it works fine. At one place, the pastry chef before me had brought in a small microwave, presumably for melting chocolate, etc, but I don't know, maybe he was making the el bulli microwave sponge cake (though working for that very French chef, I doubt it). It left when he did. So not every restaurant has one. Sometimes the kitchen is too cramped to begin with to spare the counter space, sometimes its a philosophy.

                                            2. re: monavano

                                              Very likely either my lack of skill or patience is the problem, it's certainly a possibility. I've never had luck w/ it, but that being said, I don't do a lot of chocolate work and don't mind the double boiler at any rate.

                                        1. You ate it, so you should pay for it. I think the time to have said something was as soon as you realised that the chicken was microwaved.

                                          I wonder what the reaction might have been to this actually - since they had already prepared it and brought it to the table, it is very possible that they would have refused any kind of refund. Some restaurants even say on their menu that orders cannot be retracted once placed, and since there was nothing fundamentally wrong with the chicken you would have essentially been asking them to change your order on your personal whim. I'm not sure they would even have been clear on why you were complaining about it.

                                          I understand where you are coming from with this as I am not a microwave fan and I wish that all restaurants would cook things fresh as the order comes. But whether we like it or not, I think it's fair to say that microwaves are not uncommon in restaurant kitchens so unless the menu implies the foods are cooked to order I think you would be on shakey ground in getting a refund in such a situation.