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Does tipping incorporate service only or the quality of food preparation also?

My wife and I are having this debate... We were at an Indian restaurant today and ordered saag paneer. We asked if the dish was spicy at all (since it usually is) because it was for my 4.5 yo son who loves the dish but can't handle it if it is spicy. The waiter said yes, it is not spicy. So we ordered it and sure enough my son couldn't handle it because it was too spicy. So we told the waiter it in fact was spicy and he said, oh we can make it not spicy. So we said ok. He came back 5 minutes later with a dish that was a lighter green and thinner consistency than what we had originally been served. It was clearly the same dish but with water added in... And when we tasted it, had the same spiciness, just diluted. At that point, I decided I was going to 0 tip, rather than go through a 3rd attempt at getting what I wanted. My wife said that was inconsiderate. I said, let's post on chowhound and see what others think. Any thoughts?

I know this is petty... Yet, this speaks to my broader belief that the tip decision should incorporate the entire dining experience, not just the service component. I could easily get ripped apart for this, but curious to see what others think.

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  1. In your example, the question is whether the server made a sincere attempt to accomodate you. If yes, then dinging him on the tip is uncalled for.

    If the server was of the "roll his eyes" and you know they are not going to remake the dish properly camp, then server is complicit in the deception/insincerity and tip should reflect this.

    Also, you don't know what goes on in the kitchen and you don't know if the server is actually an owner/manager (and thus actually making the decision to water down versus refire). When you don't know, you have to give the server benefit of doubt.

    1. I come at this, as a European, where I am used to seeing service charges added to a bill in place of old-fashioned tipping. And, as such, I understand that the service charge might well be distributed to the full team, rather than just the servers. I am very comfortable with that concept and, certainly, it's my preference over traditional tipping, so I understand the OP's view about it reflecting the total experience.

      That said, when I am in restaurant that has traditional tipping, I regard it as income only for the servers. I would not expect a server to do other than return the dish to the kitchen, drawing their attention to the complaint. I would not expect them to be involved in how the dish was going to be re-presented. So, on that basis, I'm with the OP's wife.

      By the by, I think there is always a difficulty in differing perceptions about what is "spicy". Presumably in this instance we are understanding it to mean "chilli hot", rather than an excess use of a range of spices. That leads to the difficulty in differing perceptions about what is "hot". By co-incidence, we were at a South Asian restaurant last night. Unusually, the waiter asked how hot we wanted the dishes. Not having been to this place before (and, therefore, not knowing how they cook dishes), we all said "medium" (appreciating that was pretty meaningless in practice). When the dishes came, I got a taste of three of them - and there was a surprising range - from quite mild to quite hot. So, even the kitchen had its differing perceptions when it was preparing the dishes.

      1. "not too spicy" is a totally subjective term. What is not spicy to someone who grew up eating Indian food might be inedible to a westerner. Don't take it out on the waiter.

        1. Just the fact that you say that saag paneer is usually spicy makes me think that this is a matter of miscommunication about what "spicy" is, as I love saag paneer and consider it pretty much "very mild" on a typical Indian restaurant menu.

          1. I believe tipping incorporates the quality of the food preparation too. But in your specific case posted, I would have to take some responsibility for the problem because you brought a 4 or 5 year old child that doesn't like spice to an Indian restaurant (a cuisine well known for "spice" of all kinds)...then were frustrated at getting spicy food.

            "Spicy" is subjective to be sure, but I think some cuisines are just not (inherently) the best choice for children with sensitive palates and I imagine sometimes even YOU are not sure what is "too spicy" for him. One of my daughters was the same way, I always ordered rice for her when we were at a restaurant that mostly offered spicy cuisine (Indian, Thai, Mexican). I guess I wouldn't entirely blame the waiter or cooks, and I would have left a reasonable tip.

            3 Replies
            1. re: sedimental

              While working out the how spicy part may be tricky, I certainly wouldn't fault parents for the problem or for bringing their kid to an Indian restaurant. Given how picky many kids are, and the junk often eaten, I applaud a 4.5 yr old American (I assume) kid who loves Saag Paneer. And his parents for that matter.

              1. re: snippet

                I don't fault them for trying either. I just wouldn't penalize the waiter when it didn't work out.

                1. re: sedimental

                  We did end up tipping full. That being said, if I ask a waiter whether the saag can be made without spiciness, I think that's pretty clear. If, the saag cannot be done that way, then say no, not absolutely yes.

                  It is interesting though that I dont have this issue at Thai and Mexican restaurants (the other two cuisines you mentioned). I assume that's because the heat is added ad hoc for each dish, as opposed to Indian where the sauces are made in batches.

                  On that note if anyone has a recipe or saag pander, I'd love it.