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Jun 26, 2012 08:07 PM

Sending something back in Paris

At a Parisian bistro, my wife asked our server for his impressions on the following two main courses that were tearing her in two directions: beef tartar (the dish that she loves) and pork loin (the dish that was tempting her). He recommended the pork, and she accepted his advice. But when the pork loin arrived, she found it tough and not to her liking, and she immediately regretted that she hadn’t picked the other. She told our server that she wasn’t happy, and she asked for a second main course of beef tartar. Our server was incredulous. It was as if we had thrown a glass of red wine on his crisp, white shirt. I have two questions: 1. When is it acceptable to send something back? Can one send something back if they simply don’t like it? Or must it be over-cooked, over-salted, etc.? 2. If one sends something back in Paris, how should one expect the restaurant to handle the bill? This particular Parisian bistro charged us for both items. Thanks for your thoughts.

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  1. If it is the restaurants fault expect a fulsome apology, and a replacement dish, either another of what you ordered or some other choice. But expect to pay as comping food is not really done. Examples, would include a badly cooked or faulty dish.

    If it is your fault, like a poor selection, food you don't like, or it doesn't meet you expectations.nthen expect a shrug of the shoulders. If you don't finish it you will still be charged, and if you don't finish and order something else expect to pay of r both.

    In France thre is a very high standard of service ad a lot of pride in the professionalism of the team. But this is different from " the customer is always right" model in many countries. In France if the customer is wrong then the customer is wrong and that is it. And customers know thousand understand it.

    In the this case the waiter gave advice, on which he thought was best. Your wife made the choice - thus her mistake. It would be different if the waiter said it was vegitarian and it wasn't - that is their mistake.

    1 Reply
    1. re: PhilD

      Although it is changing, "customer service" in France is frequently interpreted to mean "I'm doing you a service by deigning to be here and look at you".

      (this is not a condemnation of the French in general, by the way -- only that "customer service" is generally so horrible that it makes great fodder for comedy routines and party chatter)

    2. "Can one send something back if they simply don’t like it?"
      I'm afraid not.

      " must it be over-cooked, over-salted, etc.?"
      Do rhetorical questions require an answer? (This too is a rhetorical question.)
      I am confused here. Was the dish merely not to your wife's liking? Or would it have been universally accepted as inedible? Your information points to the former.

      However, how "over-cooked, over-salted" was it? Was it different from what you are used to? Or was it like a university dorm practical joke? In the latter case, yes, send back, but explain to the waiter your reason.
      If you had explained to the waiter that his description of the dish was wrong, and you should have been recommended the other dish instead, and demanded the other dish as replacement, I would tend to understand his incredulity.

      Lastly, I am only guessing here as you have not given us all the info we need to assess this. Please do not go ballistic as people tend to do when they don't feel backed up in these situations. I am not saying you must have been in the wrong. I am trying to say we don't have enough info, or have confusing info, from you. Did both the waiter and your wife communicate badly? Or did he deliberately deceive her?

      1. If I could rewrite this post, I would omit the fact that the pork loin was recommended by our server, as it appears that I’m attempting to shift the blame to him. To clarify, the pork was tough (but within the limits of acceptability), and the dish was fine (but it didn’t appeal to my wife). When we asked for something else, we expected to be charged for both items, and we thought the bistro was correct to do so. We very rarely send anything back to the kitchen, so this experience made me wonder: Should we have expected different treatment? Based on the responses here, I would say definitely not! As I now understand, one should expect to be comped only when a dish is egregiously flawed or contains undisclosed ingredients that would cause an allergic reaction. Allow me one other question. When we politely asked for a replacement dish, our server’s surprise gave us the impression that our request was most unusual. Was it? Is it unusual or rude to ask for something else based on personal taste in Paris?

        2 Replies
          1. re: Il Duomo

            Thanks for your clarification.

            " Is it unusual or rude to ask for something else based on personal taste in Paris?"

            Not if you expect to - and make it clear to - pay for all things ordered. If you ask for a replacement (comp) because what is recommended does not correspond to your personal taste, it is, well, not done.
            And I would say this is true not just in Paris. Personal taste is subjective. A misunderstanding of personal taste is nobody's fault. The restaurant should not be obliged to keep sending you dishes until they coincide with your liking.

            More than 50% of time, my DH prefers what I had ordered, and vice versa. Not to mention the times when the sommelier recommended a wine that we happened not to like. (We laugh about it and do not consider it an issue.)
            If we feel strongly about it, we order an extra bottle but fully expect to pay all things ordered, since it is our caprice and not any fault of the resto's.

            Communication has its built-in ambush. How many times we share our experience and make recommendations according to the best of our knowledge, only to be told what we said was romantic was not romantic, what we said was inexpensive was not inexpensive, what we said was modern was not modern, etc. etc. Tell me how to dole out the blame.

          2. Dr. Talbott just posted some comments on this issue, check out his blog.

            1. We just can't impose our American cultural values in France... restaurants assume that their dishes are good. they don't take kindly to criticism.

              I was once in Jacques Cagna in Paris, and they served a soup that was so highly salted it was inedible. I told the waiter. He took it away. Nothing else was said, and the meal proceeded as if nothing had happened. When I was paying the check, I noticed that the soup was on the bill! When I complained, they said that "the kitchen tasted the soup and it was fine.".

              Another thing to remember in the same vein is that most stores do NOT accept returns, even dept stores in France. You buy it, it's yours forever.

              1 Reply
              1. re: lemarais

                that's changing quickly -- you usually have at least a week or more to change your mind.

                That's not to mean that they'll take things back cheerfully or won't give you a hassle.