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Feeling guilty for comped food?

I'm feeling confused after a recent restaurant experience. The entire experience was such a bizarre intersection of high expectations for the food, sitting in a weird corner in the restaurant, and the kitchen making an honest mistake on a busy night. Emotions are still running high and it's difficult for me to figure out how I should feel after all of this...

My significant other and I ordered our drinks, appetizers, entrees, and dessert all at once because we knew what we wanted. Our cocktails arrive with minimal wait, but I start to get worried when the couple seated next to us, who arrived a few minutes after us, received their appetizers before us (and one of the appetizers they ordered was what we had asked for). I notice that the waitress who took our order is also making drinks behind the bar, and several other waitstaff are bringing food to the tables near us.

45 minutes later, we are angry and hungry and getting tipsy from sipping our cocktails with no food, so my significant other gets up from his seat to find our waitress, with no success. A waiter comes by to tell us the kitchen is backed up and offered us free glasses of wine--we refused because we typically don't drink wine. A few minutes later, a different waitress comes over and tells us the kitchen is backed up. I point out that the couple next to us had already finished eating their entrees. The waitress apologizes again and leaves. Our appetizer finally arrives (hand-cut calamari pan-fried with jalapenos and garlic--pretty good). While we are eating, the second waitress (not the one who took our order) comes by with a huge bowl of shoestring fries on the house. We eat a few, but they are unseasoned, and we leave the bowl pretty much untouched on the table. Our original waitress finally swings by again to tell us what we've heard before: she apologizes for the kitchen being backed up. I ask her why other tables who ordered at the same time as us are already done with their meals. She admits that our ticket fell somewhere...

So now we knew that the kitchen made a mistake that set the tone for the evening. On the one hand, it's understandable that mishaps like that are common in a busy kitchen, but for the customer, it's just bad service. Why did no one notice that we were sitting, waiting at our tables with no food close to an hour? If we hadn't gotten up to inquire about our meal, would the kitchen ever had noticed? Was it because we were sitting in the far front corner of the restaurant? While we were waiting, my significant other and I even thought that maybe we looked too young so the waitstaff didn't think we were worth their time. We just had no idea what was going on.

By the end of the meal, we'd received shoestring fries, two glasses of wine, and an extra dessert on the house. The food was good, but not stellar. When we got our check, everything but our entrees were comped. I was confused--and still am--because is free food supposed to make up for an honest mistake or bad service? I understand that what happened could not be righted without going back in time, and the free food did make us feel better, but.. I also feel guilty. Were we supposed to tip generously enough to cover what was comped? Is it wrong for me to still feel like it was an overall bad experience that particular night? Am I overthinking all of this?

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  1. What did you want them to do instead, other than not messing up in the first place?

    If the service had been stellar and it was just a kitchen mistake than yes I would have tipped on the comped food. In your case it was a server mistake, not kitchen a one and I would have tipped accordingly but would have also spoken to manager/owner on the way out to let them know why.

    I am curious why you waited 45 minutes before saying anything? As soon as I saw the table next to mine getting their appetizers I would done something. And since the tables right next you were getting their food in a timely manner I doubt it had anything to do with where you were located.

    2 Replies
    1. re: foodieX2

      That's why I'm confused. Comped food, I guess, is the best that restaurants can do when they mess up.

      We waited 45 minutes for a few reasons. We thought that our food would be coming out shortly, so we just kept talking and lost track of time. We also thought that maybe one of the several waiters and waitresses would notice that we had been sitting there for so long--but not even our original waitress noticed. When we finally decided to say something, it was impossible to flag anyone down so we had to get up and search for someone to talk to.

      1. re: foodieX2

        foodiex2 - it was not just a server's mistake. They finally admitted that their ticket had been lost.

      2. This sort of thing seems to be happening more and more. Used to be that restaurants had Front of House managers to prevent incidents like this. Have they all been sacked in an attempt to save money?

        2 Replies
        1. re: pikawicca

          Pika, you reminded me of my grandfather's counsel: "the shortcut is the long way home".

          1. re: pikawicca

            We were pretty surprised because the restaurant is well-known and recommended by friends.

          2. Yes, you are overthinking it. Mistakes were made. You had a bad experience. The restaurant made a gesture to compensate, to some extent, but they can't turn back the clock and start over.

            Such is life. Move on.

            1 Reply
            1. re: GH1618

              True. I just had high expectations, I guess, so it's hard let go.

            2. Your post reminded me of the worst service experience of my restaurant going life, which occurred about 6 months ago at a well-regarded modern American, farm-to-table type place. Busy Saturday night, party of 3. Suffice it to say that the service went from inattentive and distracted to a whole other level of bad - bizarre, inappropriate, get this person away from our table bad. Bottom line is that when the owner/manager realized what was going on, he took over serving us himself and then comped our entire bill - a couple cocktails, a bottle of wine, apps and entrees (the food, btw, when we finally got it was excellent). We actually protested to him that that was too much and he should at least let us pay for the wine. He said no, what had happened to us was inexcusable and he wanted to take care of everything. We then debated amongst ourselves over what to tip, and ultimately concluded that even though our server was terrible, we didn't want to punish the bus boys, bartenders, etc. so we tipped 15% on what the bill would have been. Still feeling guilty about the comp, a few days later I emailed the owner/manager to thank him again for going above and beyond. He wrote back promptly, apologizing again and saying he hoped we would come back and he would take extra special care of us. I haven't been back to the restaurant yet because it's several cities away, but I will happily return the next time I'm in the area. No that's customer service.

              1. I will lean toward overthinking, probably because I understand that things happen, especially in a busy restaurant. If it seems like they are trying to make me happy, I'm fine. But I do feel that they should have comped the entire order. I'd tip based on my original order because it wasn't the fault of the waitress.

                Beyond that, I'd just move on. Bigger things happen in life that will take it's toll on us. So forget about it.