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When the People are Nice, but the Food is Bad!!

Based upon internet recommendations, we just dined at a particular restaurant for the first time. The food was not very good. The owners/servers were wonderful! They spoke to us about the ingredients (not good ones), etc. We complimented them and left a nice tip. We will never return; the food was just not good at all!

Would you have told the truth when they asked? We talked about it at the table and decided that, since they seemed to have plenty of customers, it would do no good to criticize their offerings. To do so would only be unkind and maybe ruin their day.

We will never go back, however.

What would you have done?

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  1. I;d have left a great tip as you said the service was great, but if asked I would have been honest about the food. If they are nice people you should want them to succeed, and saying everything is great when it isn't does not help them correct their issues.

    1 Reply
    1. re: twyst

      twyst, we didn't tell the truth because the place was packed and we figured that they were succeeding without good food, so who were we to poop in the pool?

    2. Sandy,
      Was the food actually bad? or just not to your taste?
      If it was cooked as planned, but you didn't like it, don't say anything and don't do back.
      If it was actually bad>>>burnt, undercooked, spoiled ingredients, slimy, etc then a call to the owners, an email, or drop a note in the snail mail saying that you loved the service you received, but the meat was burnt, or spoiled or the ingredients were past their prime.

      3 Replies
      1. re: bagelman01

        The shredded beef filling had no taste at all, as though it had been boiled forever without any spices or even salt. The salsa was like canned tomato puree with garlic powder. The fried items had been cooked in overused oil...need I continue?

        Obviously, this was not a gourmet food destination; we didn't want to drive from the 'burbs to the city tonight, and this place came highly recommended. We weren't expecting innovative food, but we did think there might be some flavor or freshness here!

        1. re: sandylc

          Well, you know you are not going back. As to , should you have said something, eh. i do appreciate owners/chefs stopping by to chat. But people are really dining out to eat food they like, over, a good social connection. It was your first time. It may have also been their first "OMG everything went wrong, work the crowd" deal.
          You were gracious, they felt that. a good thing. So let it go.

          I have been here on CH for years now. One sushi place was so *highly* recommended. Worst meal in, my life as well as my Mom's. It happens.
          You were polite, you interacted, you did a good job. So unless you run into the owners on a regular basis, you did right,

      2. We had the exact same experience a few years back, and ended up just eating, tipping well and opted not to post a review as usual because it would have been unfavorable.

        1. We have a fairly new place in town that serves bad food. I considered telling the owner who I know slightly, but first decided to check out YELP. If the owner wanted to know what was wrong with his place, it was written out clearly in many reviews. Whether he does something about it is his own business.

          1. Since it was crowded and you say there were internet recommendations then I assume the place is doing well. Perhaps as a CHer your palate is discerning and to you the food was bad, but to their average repeat customers the food is just what they like. I would not have said anything and just leave it at that.

            1. I pull someone aside, and discuss my displeasure.

              Not that long ago, we had similar. We had lovely service, but the food was just bad - all of it.

              Across from our table, two "regulars," sent everything back, an multiple times.

              We now joke that that restaurant needs Chef Gordon Ramsay, an "Kitchen Nightmares."


              1 Reply
              1. re: Bill Hunt

                These people were trying very hard. I didn't want to hurt their feelings.....

              2. From what you mentioned, it sounded as if you went to a Mexican restaurant. I went years back to a small chain called Blue Moon (I am saying the name). The service was spot on. The margaritas were good. What followed was the worst meal I've ever eaten in a restaurant. The problem was, everyone else was so enamored by the size of the portions they were content. One woman even going so far as to tell the server, while I was in the bathroom (probably spitting out my food) that the food was "exceptional." When I came back I was told by a laughing friend that I couldn't complain now, because of the rave review that was just given. Three of the five of us (those not enamored by portions and kiss-butt service) hated it. I wrote the company...praised the service and the drinks. I then went on to dissect everything that was wrong with the dishes. Under cooked, under seasoned, missing ingredients standard in the dish, etc. Obviously, no reply. Oh and we tipped between 20-25%

                1 Reply
                1. re: jhopp217

                  Sounds very similar to our experience. The rest of the customers (the place was packed) looked quite happy with the food - it was astonishing. And this place actually served ranch dressing for the tortilla chips, alongside the previously mentioned tomato-garlic powder puree.

                2. We just had dinner, this past weekend, with some friends who just love a local fish place that serves things like Ahi Poke Salad, Grilled fresh fish ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,, and makes them up as plates, salads, burritos, tacos, sushi rolls, etc.. It's a counter order/ bring to table place. We agree with them that the food is absolutely wonderful. Our son (early 30's) loves it too. THEIR two kids (also 30-somethings) think the food is tasteless and not worth it at all. You just can't be sure with this kind of thing. I always try to be as specific as I can if I'm going to comment on the food at a popular place. Just my 2ยข.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: Midlife

                    Point well taken...different tastes, opinions, etc. But seriously, ranch dressing and tomato sauce with garlic powder for tortilla chips? I guess some people could LIKE this, but anyone who enjoys even semi-authentic Mexican-American food is going to look askance at it.

                    1. re: sandylc

                      "enjoys even semi-authentic Mexican-American food is going to look askance at it." perhaps true, but by your own stated evidence of the place being packed with happy looking customers enjoying the food, it seems there certainly is a market for it.
                      You did not like the food, many others do, so chose which is more important to your dining experience, nice owners/managers or great food.
                      As Midlife said above, stuff some folks find wonderful, others hate. You know that "one man's meat is another man's poison" deal.

                      You seem to be upset that others are enjoying the place, where you did not. And here you are trying to convince us that the food was bland and awful. Why? We are not going there. Besides if we did and liked it, what would that mean?

                      1. re: sandylc

                        >>"ranch dressing and tomato sauce with garlic powder for tortilla chips".<<

                        Now THAT'S truly bizarre. But, then again, my father-in-law sat down every evening to a glass of white zinfandel and a bowl of crushed tortilla chips and mild salsa, scooped up with whole chips. Whatever floats your boat!

                        Seriously............ does this place state that it's Mexican-American? What DO they say their style is?

                    2. I had a similar experience at a restaurant near my home. This place is the only breakfast and lunch place that I can walk to, and it has changed hands many times in the years that I have been going there. The incarcation prior to the current one was run by a woman whom I know and like very much. The food ranged from mediocre to bad, but she was so enthusiastic about it! She would visit the tables and say "Isn't that sandwich great!" or "Didn't you love those onion rings?!" and I just couldn't work up the heart to tell her that the sandwich was tasteless and the onion rings over-breaded and soggy. I don't think I was alone in my opinion, because the place got less and less crowded over the months and finally went out of business. I felt kind of guilty - like maybe I could have helped if I'd been honest. It's had to know what to do!

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: Kathleen M

                        I always try my best to remember that a small business owner likely has a lot of, if not al, their personal wealth invested in the business. Losing it can be permanently devastating, so I will try to at least give my opinion. Usually, though, an owner will ask what you think, so I can see how this particular situation would be somewhat difficult. Still................. I'd hope I could find a way to "suggest" that the food wasn't to my taste, hoping to start a dialogue.

                        1. re: Midlife

                          I often find myself in that situation, and first, try to be kind and respectful, but then to offer useful criticism, to help them.


                          1. re: Bill Hunt

                            In retrospect, I certainly agree that I should have offered some kind "constructive criticism". This was a different case from the OP because in the OP's case, the restaurant was crowded and apparently popular despite the food. In this case, the place never really seemed to take off. It just seemed so hard to put a damper on the obvious enthusiasm for the food. One time I had ordered a side salad instead of fries (the fries were pretty bad!) which was an upcharge. The salad was far too old and brown. The woman I knew was't there, but the waitress asked me how the salad was, and I politely told her the truth. She waived the upcharge. At other times, I thought perhaps the amount of food left on the plate uneaten might have been a clue, but I think that was chalked up the the generousity of the portions.

                      2. I would have done what the OP did - and have done what the OP did on more than one occasion.

                        There's really only a point in making adverse comments if you think the owners/management are likely to really want to hear it so they can makes changes. And you just know that in a smallish owner-run place, where tables are full, they are not going to want to make changes.

                        1. sandy, no, I wouldn't have recommended you say anything. Based on my knowing your preferences and having been there a couple days before you, I recognize that a) this isn't your type of place and b) you are exaggerating a little bit on the food product. It wouldn't have been a constructive conversation with the staff.

                          We live in an area where these Americanized Mexican restaurants are a dime a dozen and wildly popular. Of the bunch, this one does a better job than most (in my experience/opinion). But we have much, much better Mexican food options not very far away. As for the salsas, the style of both is what people want in this area (unfortunately).

                          I think you were duped a bit by some over-hyping and/or loss of context when you were reading your reviews on the place. Not any reason to say anything to them.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: MSPD

                            "you are exaggerating a little bit on the food product"


                          2. I wouldn't speak to the owners - it looks like they've got a pretty large market for what they are offering (by the sounds of it, large, affordable servings of mediocre, not even vaguely Mexican Mexican food.)

                            What I would do, though, is post an honest review on whatever review website you used in the first place. Something along the lines of "The service was excellent, and the portions substantial for the money. However, the food was mediocre, and not even vaguely authentic (for example, the salsa appeared to be tomato sauce with garlic powder added, and ranch dressing was provided for the tortilla chips)"

                            That basically just gives a heads up to people who would react the way you did, and would prefer to maybe spend a bit more, or get smaller portions, or less enthusiastic service, but higher quality food. It will help them calibrate the enthusiastic reviews you read.

                            I remember when my Mom went out once with a friend who had been raving about a local restaurant - amazing food, just like home-cooked, etc. They were served stringy roast beef, lumpy mashed potatoes, and over cooked vegetables, her friend raving about how good it was. It was basically a lovely home-cooked meal from the point of view of a bad cook.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                              I think you've nailed it, tastesgoodwhatisit.

                              1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                                I look forward to the "honest review" but I suspect that the website (a blog chronicling life in the suburbs of Minneapolis) will react with a "well no sh*t". In the first two paragraphs of the blog post which spurred sandy to go there, it says twice that it's Americanized Mexican. Every regular on that site knows sandy's very, very extreme low tolerance for anything that isn't masterfully prepared and made from very carefully sourced ingredients (again, I say this as a compliment).

                                For context, the person who runs that blog commented to me in a personal conversation expressing no shock whatsoever that sandy didn't like it and that we were surprised she would even bother with a place like that. Just a couple days prior, we talked about Frontera/Topolobampo....I know her tastes.

                                Though I posted a positive comment about the place 2-3 days before (within both the context that it was good FOR WHAT IT IS and nowhere near the quality/genre of the better/more authentic places around town which we have talked about there extensively), I never, ever would have suggested sandy go there. It's a good place to satisfy less-discerning kids/dining partners but with a handful of more authentic items. My meal there that week (my first visit) was a good lengua torta on a freshly-baked roll with perfectly ripe avocados while my kids had their quesadillas and whatnot.

                                Savvy chowhounders get recommendations for stuff all the time, but you have to consider the context and source. This place is delivering exactly what their target market (non-discerning suburbanites that aren't particularly sophisticated) wants. Rick Bayless isn't in the kitchen -- some are OK with that and some aren't.

                                To summarize, if the "owners are nice but the food is bad!!", don't complain -- especially to the restaurant -- if it's because it's more a function of your own preferences and you ignored the source/context of what led you to the place.

                              2. I usually just let it go, especially if it's a popular restaurant where other people seem to be enjoying their food.

                                Now, if it was a brand new place or the dining room was empty, I might be more inclined to be honest in my opinion, though I'd also be tactful.