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Should you be charged extra if....[moved from Boston board]

...Tonight Mr. Swank and I ordered takeout Chinese from a local spot that shall go nameless, because we like them. Mr. Swank asked for house lo-mein and was told that their lo-mein noodles were gone, but he could order udon noodles with his lo-mein for $2 extra. It does seem petty ($2!), but we disputed it on principle and said that we should pay the original price, since they were out of the advertised dish. Agree/disagree?

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  1. Great question.

    I disagree with you. A restaurant has no obligation whatsoever to guarantee that all of their dishes are available as advertised at all times. Sometimes the food runs out. You can't always just conjure up the ingredients fairy. We must not forget this.

    Furthermore, such substitutions are suggestions, and they should be left entirely to the discretion of the restaurant. If a restaurant is out of a cheap ingredient, should they be under some kind of unspoken obligation to allow for a more expensive replacement at no extra charge to the consumer? Or if they're out of a dish in general, should they allow for a same-price substitution of a more expensive dish entirely? No way.

    I agree that it's not unheard of -- maybe even not unusual -- for restaurants to do this, and it may actually make financial sense for them if the other option is you just taking your business elsewhere, but if it's the principle we're discussing, I'm firmly on the "no obligation" side.

    1. I disagree also. It's not like restaurants offer an in-stock (or kitchen) guarantee where if they run out they upgrade you to the next best thing at no additional cost.

      1. Provided that they told you about the $2 extra in advance, I feel that it is appropriate, as you have the opportunity to change your order if you wish. However, if they prepared your order and then told you about the $2 extra fee, that would be unacceptable to me. Maybe the udon is more expensive for them to purchase and they need to pass the cost on to the customer.

        1. Yeah I will have to disagree as well. They could have just said they were sold out and not offered it to you at all. I went to a restaurant last night and wanted a particular dish but they had run out of the specific mushroom so would not make it for me. Would have much rather them offer it with a different mushroom so I could still have had it, even if it cost a bit more. Different ingredients cost different amounts of money. They told you in advance, so I'd certainly not have had a problem with it at all.

          1. I disagree, They were out of an ingredient, so the dish was not available that day. No one forced you to buy that entree in a modified/customized version. Most restaurants will charge for a substitution, hope you enjoyed the dish.

            1. As others, disagree. Place doesnt have any obligation towards you in that respect.

                1. I agree with the others. You could have just ordered a different dish if you didn't want to pay extra for the noodle substitution. They were up front about it, so you had the choice there.

                  1. Someone needs to play devil's advocate here so I'll say for the $2, which at most equals 50 cents worth of product for the restaurant, why not do the upgrade for free especially for a customer who appears to be a regular. Restaurants regularly comp food or drink at the slightest hint of a less than happy customer (although not so much Chinese restaurants).
                    If you're out of something, the custom in the business world is to replace it with something of equal or greater value at no extra cost - within reason of course. My reserved compact car is not there? They upgrade me to a midsize. They rented out my standard hotel room? "We can give you a suite at no extra charge." I have had restaurants on more than one occasion discover that they had run out of the wine I ordered only to offer a more expensive bottle at the same price.
                    I know. I know. Those things happened after I had made a reservation or already ordered so it may not be totally apples to apples. Just trying to say that, although I do not believe the restaurant did anything wrong and I would not have blinked an eye myself at the upcharge, I also would not have been surprised if they "took care of" their customer in this instant.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: bobbert

                      This is not a sitdown restaurant with white table cloths. They are ordering takeout. They were given an alternative at a different price. If the alternative been less expensive, would they have paid the extra?

                      1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                        If the alternative had been cheaper, do you really think the restaurant would have said so? Say udon noodles were cheaper than lo mein noodles - would the restaurant have said "sorry, we're out of lo mein, but we can make it for you with udon noodles - it will cost $1 less." NO WAY.

                      2. re: bobbert

                        there is a very marked difference between a reserved rental car and a dish at a restaurant. namely, the car was supposed to be reserved for you, and the dish was not.

                        with that said, if it were my restaurant, i would have given it to you sans additional charge. but i dont think its a big deal really.

                      3. Disagree. Perhaps the udon noodles cost more than the regular lo-mein noodles, and they need to pass along the cost to the customers. Restaurants aren't required to keep every menu item available. So they ran out. :::shrug::: It happens. *AND* they gave you the price differential up front, giving you the chance to refuse to pay the additional cost for the substitution.

                        1. I too shall play devil's advocate and agree. Lo mein is neither an exotic menu item nor would it be on special the way restaurants run specials on certain seafood or fiddleheads for a finite amount of time.

                          Their poor planning should not a price uptake make. It's penny wise and pound foolish on the owner's part.

                          1. I disagree. If I go to a restaurant and they''re out of the chicken, I don't expect to get the duck for the same price.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: escondido123

                              I feel this way exactly. Seems like the order taker was simply trying to be helpful, while being bound by the menu prices. If they had simply said, we're out of lo mein it would be a non-issue.

                            2. I don't think that the restaurant was wrong in this case - places run out of things, it happens.

                              On the other hand, for a simple substitution like that, while I would not expect a no-charge substitution, I do think that a good number of restaurants would make the sub with no extra charge.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: jw615

                                "On the other hand, for a simple substitution like that, while I would not expect a no-charge substitution, I do think that a good number of restaurants would make the sub with no extra charge."

                                I agree. But on the other hand, I am a Asian food snob and I would prefer not to have the lo mein without the normal noodles than have it with Udon. I'm not saying that there is anything wrong with Udon noodles, it's just that IMHO they don't belong in Lo Mein.

                                1. re: jw615

                                  Exactly that^^^^^ (what jw615 wrote)

                                  Had they been out of chicken and could offer only shrimp or lobster meat, sure, understandable. But noodles? Reminds me of when I went to my local sub/pizza place for a small tuna sub a couple months ago; they were out of sub rolls (!?!?!) and wanted me to pay a dollar extra for a pita. I went to their competitor across the street and got exactly what I wanted for no extra charge. But, to each his own.

                                2. If you ordered the udon noodles and restaurant told you they were out of udon noodles but could replace them with lo-mein noodles would you be upset if they charged you the higher price for the udon even though you received the lo-mein noodles?

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: kurtt

                                    I wonder if they would have said "we're out of the udon noodles but can make the same dish with lo-mein noodles and charge you $2 less"? I doubt it.

                                  2. Disagree. Restaurants are not utilities.

                                    Udon noodles are more expensive, at least in my experience. So I see absolutely nothing wrong with what the restaurant did here.

                                    1. Will play devil's advocate... Not on the basis of what is "ethical" or "right" but on what is the smart business decision. Does the owner / order taker know you? It sounds like you go on a regular basis? If I'm the owner, I would have said, it would cost you $2, but for this time, it's free. I disagree with your arguing on principle, but if I were the owner, I would have made it seem like I'm doing you a favor to get your business in the future.

                                      9 Replies
                                      1. re: FattyDumplin

                                        I find that Asian food places generally operate on valuing cash now over goodwill later. I don't think it's unfair or bad, it's just a different mindset, because of the cash-intensive-low-debt approach to running such businesses. It used to be more common here before easy credit made a long-term approach viable for the past few decades until recently, btw.

                                        1. re: Karl S

                                          Totally agree. It's the same reason why many Chinese restaurants start out so well, build up a strong customer base and then start cutting corners to shave margin. It works for a little bit, but eventually, people catch on. When I look at the ones who've had staying power, it's the ones who haven't taken that short-term approach

                                          1. re: Karl S

                                            As the owner of an Asian restaurant I'll address this as best I can.
                                            There is a general perception amongst Americans that certain "ethnic foods" should be served in large quantities for very cheap. Again- I admit this is a generalization but it is a pretty fair one, putting aside some notable exceptions.

                                            That Americans expect Chinese food to come in huge portions for a very cheap price means that the margins tend to be a bit tighter than cuisines where this expectation is not present. Now- the first thing many people do when I say this is exclaim about how cheap rice is. But even rice in bulk has tripled in price over the past few years- the price on wholesale going up faster than retail even.

                                            So with much smaller margins there is less room for "freebies" which giving you a significantly costlier product for the price of the cheaper one would be, in essence.

                                            The OP wanted lo mein. They were out of those noodles.
                                            They could have just told the OP "no lo mein".
                                            Would they really have really been happier then?

                                            And I really agree with TeRReT's statement here:
                                            "While I understand this sentiment, there is nothing worse then doing a one time nice favour and subbing a more expensive ingredient for free and from then on the customer finding they prefer said ingredient and in the future request the substitution and expect it free everytime."

                                            I have run into this at my restaurant. It is a lose-lose situation for the business owner when a guest sets out to feel abused.

                                            1. re: FattyDumplin

                                              While I understand this sentiment, there is nothing worse then doing a one time nice favour and subbing a more expensive ingredient for free and from then on the customer finding they prefer said ingredient and in the future request the substitution and expect it free everytime.

                                              1. re: TeRReT

                                                Agreed. Or if they mention to their friends/co-workers etc that the great Chinese restaurant on the corner upgraded them to udon for free, others may expect similar treatment. When that treatment isn't received up goes a nasty online review about how they don't have a consistent pricing policy.

                                                1. re: pollymerase

                                                  yeah, fair point... that's why i was saying i'd make it clear that normally that substitution would be $x, but since i didn't have the normal noodles, i'd do it gratis this time. that being said, such subtlety is only heard when desired and could easily be missed and then result in the offense you describe above.

                                              2. Did you end up ordering the dish with udon?

                                                My take is the udon lo mein ends up being a different dish and the owner can charge what they want.

                                                However, a good owner would recognize regulars and not charge up. Also, you could have talked up the original dish and not sure if the udon is good to see if the owner would give you a break.

                                                If i really feel like the owner was being very petty, I would would have canceled the order and left.

                                                1. <since they were out of the advertised dish>

                                                  I find this interesting ~. Advertised how? At a lower price point??? .Will you elaborate?

                                                  1. The Chinese places I've been, if they're out of something, that's all they tell you. They don't suggest a replacement or substitution. It's up to you to find something else from the menu on your own (and pay the stated price on that other item). That may be their way of avoiding situations like yours.

                                                    1. Devil's Advocate again.

                                                      What if the restaurant was McDonald's. And you wanted a Happy Meal. But McDonald's was out of hamburgers. And was willing substitute a (for example) Filet-O-Fish, but wanted to charge you an extra $0.50?

                                                      4 Replies
                                                      1. re: ipsedixit

                                                        And the odds of McD's being out of hamburgers is much less likely than them being out of FoF.

                                                        1. re: escondido123

                                                          I know. But we're playing the advocate of the Devil here ...

                                                          1. re: ipsedixit

                                                            I believe you are ALSO an advocate of the Filet of Fish...

                                                        2. re: ipsedixit

                                                          For some reason I ended up at KFC twice within a couple of months in the early 90s. Both times they were out of chicken. They didn't offer a substitution :-)

                                                        3. Even though it is how they described it, they weren't charging extra. They offered you a different dish at a different price.

                                                          1 Reply
                                                          1. re: JRSD

                                                            That's exactly right - they suggested a different dish at a different price.

                                                          2. Disagree. They told you about the $2 fee in advance. It was your choice to order it or not. They were in no way obligated to price match for different dish.

                                                            1. I do think it's up to the restaurant's discretion.

                                                              However, I also think the experience would leave a bad taste in my mouth (no pun intended). If they said "We're out of lo-mein, but we can substitute udon at no extra charge" I wouldn't get the dish I had planned to order, but I'd still feel like I had been treated with consideration, and I'd leave with a good impression of the service.

                                                              But with what happened here, you feeling kind of annoyed at the restaurant. I'd probably feel less annoyed if they simply told me they were out of something, or offered to substitute something of the same price.

                                                              So, up to the restaurant's discretion, but not a particularly good PR move.

                                                              1. It would also matter to me how often this occurred. If it is a local spot you frequent and have never had this happen before, I'd write it off.

                                                                But if I got the "out of lo mein, you're welcome to fork over $2 for another noodle dish" too often, I'd start to suspect deceptive practices.