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Should you answer honestly?

Last weekend the hubby and I went to a popular high end Yountville restaurant for brunch. The hubby ordered a lobster roll, the most expensive item on the menu. To his great disappointment it had absolutely NO flavor. The waiter, a very nice young man stopped by the table to ask us how we were enjoying the meal. I was shocked to hear my husband say that it was very good. Had he suddenly lost his mind? I think he was just too shy to tell the waiter what he really thought. When faced with this situation, how do you answer?

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  1. Not from the area but I think for major issues one should answer honestly yet diplomatically.

    If something it too sweet, too salty, too spicy, too bland then a simple "It was fine but too XYZ for me".

    If something is not cooked correctly than that should be pointed out right away.

    If something tastes off, is inedible, etc than that warrants talking to a manager.

    That said if you eat the whole thing then keep your mouth shut. It can't be all bad if you wiped the plate clean.

    2 Replies
    1. re: foodieX2

      A good answer that I totally agree with, but let me add my 2 cents. I think that if you are going to complain about anything, it has to be done in a constructive manner with specifics so that there could possibly be improvements in response to the criticism. If I'm asked if I'm enjoying my meal, I'll pretend that I am unless I have something specific to complain about more than just saying that the food is merely so-so. Telling a server that you are vaguely unhappy without providing the exact details needed for possible remedies will just spread bad sentiments without doing any good. I've had my share of mediocre restaurant meals where I've pretended to be perfectly happy simply because I didn't feel I had the time and energy to provide possibly unwelcome advice about how they could do things better.

      1. re: foodieX2

        Perfect answer, foodiex2. And in the OP's case, her husband should have used your first response.

        I'll also add my 2 cents and say bland or "no flavor" is highly subjective. Does the OP's husband smoke? If so, that fact alone would mask any subtle flavors. Does he regularly enjoy spicy foods? That too could be a factor. I'm not saying these specific things are true on his part, just throwing out a couple of examples. Also, I'd be curious to know if the OP tasted the lobster roll and what she thought.

      2. Depends.

        In most cases, I take the view that this is a perfunctory question that the restaurant feels it needs to ask and has no real intent to take on board any comments

        On the other side of the coin, I find that most "good" places I go to do not feel the need to do the check back. To my mind, they are right. They may well ask how was the dish, when they are clearing the plate. I tend to think there is some genuine interest here and I can usually get a sense of this from how the server asks the question. In such circumstances, I'll be honest. In other circumstances, my standard response is to say things were "fine".

        2 Replies
        1. re: Harters

          That could be.

          I take it to actually elicit feedback, and I will give that.

          I have had a few instances, where the chef wanted to defend their choices. That is fine, but I also want to defend my comments.


          1. re: Harters

            Yes, but that is a difference between where you live, Harters and the US. The check back, is to give people the chance to say something if they need to, in fact there are complaints that not checking implies not caring.

          2. Don't rave about it if you didn't like it... if you don't want to go into details just say it was 'okay'. There's absolutely no point in telling the waiter how wonderful it was when you found it mediocre. That just encourages them...

            1. I would have sent the lobster roll back because it had no taste and ordered something else (quickly). It is probably not the restaurants fault it lacked flavor but they should know about the problem.

              I rarely send anything back. I usually just eat it and say "fine" when it really wasn't that great. But not at a high end restaurant where I order the priciest item on the menu.

              2 Replies
              1. re: sedimental

                If it's not the restuarant's fault, as you state, why should they know about it? What is the "problem?" I the "no taste" lies totally within the customer's palate, that's the customer's "problem" and no need to tell the restaurant.

                1. re: ttoommyy

                  Many times lobster that is frozen has no taste (especially in CA). Not their fault, meaning not a prep issue. I wouldn't automatically assume it was " just me". My taster works pretty well unless I have a cold or something. I don't think a high end Yountville restaurant would want a customer not satisfied with the food but not saying anything and possibly not returning or telling others " the lobster rolls arent very good". YMMV.

              2. And then you have an astute staff. In Asheville, N.C. at a local mid to high end chain. She Who No Longer Must Be Obeyed ordered a Caeser salad as an entrée. And out comes a large bowl of mixed greens and croutons with the dressing in plastic containers.

                So She poked and prodded, ate a little, and then sat there in low dudgeon. Waitress came up and asked her what was wrong. What She was hoping for was a tableside mixing at the most, or pure romaine lettuce and fresh dressing at the least for that price. Waitress got the manager, he took the salad off the tab, gave her a chicken breast that did not come out of a bag, She was content.

                Please note that this was done without a complaint or query about the meal. We were obviously tourists and it was during the Sunday church crush, so it was not like they were sitting around bored. If I could remember the name of the place, I would be shouting it out. The tip was grotesque.

                And yes, if I am disappointed in what is offered, I either clean my plate if edible and worth the money,(my generation), or inform my waiter if not. Before I consume the whole thing.

                1. I find the question annoying, fishing for compliments. When I did my dining room training back in cul school, I was taught never to ask this, as bad as 'Hi, I'm Chad and I'll be your waiter tonight.' So my standard response is 'Fine', which I don't consider a compliment. If I have a complaint, I will say so. You have to decide if something like 'no flavor' is fixable---if not, just don't go back.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: mwhitmore

                    The fishing for compliments I can't stand is when they say "How awesome was the food?!" Ugh.

                  2. To quote one of my 25 YO daughter's current sayings:
                    "Would you? Should you?"
                    Would I?
                    yes if there is something to be gained, and I don't mean a comp. The server could take the item back and offer something else. The server could get mgt involved. This is important if the food is tasteless and mgt should taste the item and discuss seasoning with the chef.

                    Should I?
                    It depends who I'm with and if it's a place I'd like to visit again. With wife, yes, with business associates, no-might make them uncomfortable.
                    If I'm just passing through, why bother. I'll make a note in my blackberry not to return. In in an area I frequent, yes if I'd like to continue to dine here.

                    This week, I slammed a local resto on Yelp for it's tasteless food, The server asked the question, but ignored the answers. The owner didn't want to be bothered talking to customers when I approached him at the cash register--the ball game on TV was too important (TV under the counter, not for diners' use).
                    We won't return/

                    1. having been on the restaurant end of this question...
                      what should have happened was with the waiter: a well trained waiter would have seen that the customer was not eating, and THEN asked if there was a problem. At that point, an item sent back to the kitchen would be handled by the manager. And a smart manager would see that a lobster roll sandwich, while a high end item in the food cost department, would be cheap to replace compared to any negative publicity. As in life, a restaurant is only as good as it's reputation.

                      For a waiter to interrupt a diner (who, by the way, ALWAYS has my mouth full when the question is asked..) means he's not really expecting an honest answer. He would have been surprised at any negative response. especially if that food got eaten.

                      I would much rather that my yelp review say something like "..and they were only too happy to replace my meal when i complained of it being tasteless.." rather than "food sucks."

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: rmarisco

                        But I don't see anything in the OP that suggests he WASN'T eating. If I'd bought the mot expensive thing on the menu with no flavor, and didnt want to say anything, I'd probably just eat it. Maybe with some added salt and pepper.

                      2. I tend to be an "everything's fine" thank you, even when it's not totally fine for several reasons:

                        The question, when asked, is not a solicitation of a restaurant review. I could pick on a lot of things at almost any restaurant from the temperature of the room to some nuance with seasoning.

                        What kind of place am I eating in? My response might be way different at Olive Garden than at a fine dining restaurant. When the Olive Garden server asks "How is everything?” I think it would be a little unfair to say "It sucks, thank you." (Don’t mean to single out Olive Garden – I could have named many, many chains).

                        Sometimes the smaller things get a mention. In finer or newer restaurants where I think they might appreciate the feedback, I might say "it's a bit under seasoned" or "a bit too much salt."

                        If it's edible I usually eat it but if it's not very good, that usually gets filed in my brain for when the question of "where are we going for dinner?" comes up again. I honestly believe that sending back food at a bad restaurant is just going to result in more bad food. Deal with it. This restaurant is not for you. Don't go back. An unseasoned lobster roll might get a - "could use some seasoning" and that would be it. Lesson here? Don't order the lobster roll in California and don't order the clam chowder in Oklahoma City.

                        The sending back of food for me or maybe an expectation of something being removed from a bill is reserved for only the most egregious errors, i.e., food was inedible, not what we ordered or maybe when the app comes out after the entree (and I didn't eat it).

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: bobbert

                          As Bobbert states, context matters. We were recently at a restaurant with another couple while we were visiting. They had selected the restaurant and, from our glancing at some online reviews in advance, we were not expecting much -- indeed Olive Garden might of been better. As expected the food was mediocre but of course we just answered "fine" when the waitress inquired, both because we did not want to embarrass our friends who had selected the restaurant and because, given the overall caliber of the place, it was to be expected. Had we been dining at a high-end establishment alone, where the foods is ordinarily excellent, we probably would have commented that the chef seemed to be having an off night and provided some detail of the reasons for the comment. And, in other situations where there is a particular menu item that disappoints might just mention the problem.

                          I've never sent food back except when the food delivered is not what I ordered -- e.g., not the menu item I requested or over-cooked steak beyond the ordered medium rare.

                          1. Always tell the truth.

                            If the chef comes out, discuss the issues with them.

                            Otherwise, they will make the same mistakes over, and over, thinking that they are doing things perfectly.

                            I try to use decorum, and explain what my issue(s) is/are, in non-judgmental terms. It is not about bringing the kitchen to their knees, but only communicating my displeasure.


                            2 Replies
                            1. re: Bill Hunt

                              I agree if something is executed incorrectly, but taste is pretty subjective. Just because something doesn't appeal to me doesn't mean it's a "mistake".

                              1. re: Bill Hunt

                                Yes, agree, always tell the truth, but not for the reasons you think.

                                While we want your honest opinions, we're not asking for a review or a critique and we're not soliciting suggestions on how to change our menu or recipes. We really want to know how YOU like it and if you don't, we want to fix it or bring you something else so you are satisfied, happy, delighted. Doesn't matter what anyone else thinks of the dish. What you tell us won't keep us from making the same mistakes over and over because what you don't like might not be a mistake. But if it's not to your liking we want to make it right.

                                What we don't want is for you to tell us it's fine and then go home and kill us on Yelp. So thanks, Bill, for being honest. We appreciate it.

                              2. I have said, "this is the worst meal I have ever had". Smiled politely,paid and tipped well.

                                1. As a restaurant manager, and a career hospo worker, i would absolutely want you to tell me the truth to this prickly question.
                                  By answering honestly, you are giving me a chance to perhaps rectify the issue, fix your meal, give you a fair discount or take on board your feedback for future menu decisions.

                                  By not mentioning it, and then running off to rip my business to shreds on Urbanspoon or TripAdviser, you are depriving me of an opportunity to make things right for you and unfairly tarnishing my reputation.

                                  A good restaurant, and service provider, will always try to fix problems there and then.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: cronker

                                    Last week, for the first and only time, I ripped a restaurant apart on line after a meal.
                                    The server managed toi disappear for most of the meal and never asked how things were. Three of four dishes were made incorrectly and had to be sent back. The server never delivered my veg and it took 10 minutes to get another server to find our server (and it was 5PM on a Tuesday with the restaurant 30% full). The owner was at the host stand/cash register yammering away on his cell phone as I paid and he couldn't be bothered to look at me, ask me how our meal was, etc. Obviously, the call was more important than customers. We won't return and a step by step accurate report of our horrid experience will hopefully keep others away. He doesn't deserve to take other diners' money. I read the other on-line posts and they mentioned another restaurant he owned. I then read those posts and see that he went bust and the comments were all similar to my experience at his new place.

                                    1. re: cronker

                                      Absolutely. Always, please, tell us. No good owner/manager would ever fail to try to make things right. We always want to know so we can fix things. Or at the very least comp you the meal. You should never have to pay for a meal you are unhappy with.

                                    2. For a $20+ lobster roll I would have been candid and sent it back after one bite if it had "no flavor."
                                      If it tasted ok but different to what you are accustomed to I'd eat it and remember not to order that next time.
                                      I love lobster rolls and there are so many different ways to prepare them with many different "garnishes" that I have my preferences but "no flavor" is a deal breaker.

                                      1. Absolutely answer honestly when asked, especially given where you were. I would think someone working in a high-end restaurant isn't there just to earn a living. Mistakes happen, and someone could've forgotten to season the food or the cook isn't seasoning enough. My husband is one of those "everything tastes fine" sorts thinking that it is better to always have something nice to say so I can't rely on him, usually, to give me constructive feedback on my baking/cooking.

                                        1. Most of the responses above make me want to tear my hair out. There's nothing worse than hearing everything's fine and then getting slammed on Yelp. Not saying you would do this, but it happens all the time.

                                          We have signs on every table and on all four walls saying we have a 100% satisfaction guarantee and if everything isn't perfect, just tell someone and we'll fix it or replace it with something else or give you your money back, because you should never have to pay for a bad meal. And I personally go around to every table and check on people and I am certainly not fishing for compliments; I genuinely want to know because I really want you to enjoy your evening and if I fail at that, I would rather give you your money back now than have you slam me on Yelp tomorrow.

                                          Yet people still ignore the signs and tell me things are great and once in a while we get slammed. Why? When we could have fixed things in two seconds? It's the height of passive-aggressive cowardice. Is it really that hard to say, "you know, I really didn't care for the XXX; it was too XXX, could I get something else"? Sure, it's easier to vent from behind a keyboard than face-to-face (or else Chowhound wouldn't exist; witness this very post) but wouldn't you rather have a nice dinner than a bad one if just a couple of words can fix it? I guess no one believes that they can.

                                          7 Replies
                                          1. re: acgold7

                                            I agree with a lot of what you say, acgold7.
                                            I also find it interesting that the OP has not commented once since she asked her question. I'd love to know if she tasted the lobster roll and if she too found it to have "no flavor."

                                            1. re: acgold7

                                              Well, there is culture to deal with, too. In certain parts of the US and the world, it is culturally acceptable to be forthright about the quality of food and service in a restaurant. In other places, less so - the culture of Nice is dominant, and people who give forthright feedback are viewed like unwelcome unicorns. (Oh, my memories of standing dripping wet in the lobby of a hotel in Tucson after learning their pool was not heated in mid-November, despite affirmations when I made the reservation and the night before that it would be . . . the hotel staff were definitely not used to people who would *not* be brushed off by the imperative to Be Nice.)

                                              1. re: Karl S

                                                What you say is true. We do business with a large company in So Carolina. They never say "NO!" even when they say no. It's frustrating for us when we need and answer on something quick.
                                                On the other hand, their representatives have often said how much they love dealing with the Northeastern clients. "You Yankees never beat around the bush. We always know aht you are thinking."

                                              2. re: acgold7

                                                There are many reasons someone might not want to complain about a meal that isn't to their personal taste: a business dinner, a first date, meeting the in-laws, etc. Sometimes it's about a diner wanting to keep the peace.

                                                Of course running to Yelp because you were disappointed is ridiculous, but some people (like me!) are capable of being disappointed by a meal from time to time and staying quiet, if you don't want the meal to suddenly become All About You.

                                                1. re: LeoLioness

                                                  LeoLioness, you bring to mind another story told to me by a dear friend who went on a first date.
                                                  It was a very casual first date so she suggested the back dining room at Nathan's Coney Island. Not too many people knew about the dining room with waiter service @ Nathan's. The date was not "in the know" so she gave him directions to meet her there.
                                                  Her favorite waiter, a John Garfield look alike, took their order. She chatted with her date and all seemed well until the food came. He took one bite of his French fry, called the waiter over and said, loud enough for everyone to hear: "These fries are cold. I like my French fries and my women HOTTTTTTTT!!"
                                                  Needless to say, no second date.
                                                  FYI: The dining room is long gone.

                                                2. re: acgold7

                                                  I admit, I almost never complain about the food in a restaurant unless it's egregiously bad and inedible -- uncooked chicken or so much salt I can't eat it or something in that vein. Why not?

                                                  On the rare occasions, I do complain, it always becomes a big "thing". Even if the restaurant is happy to replace it, it's never a low key event. At best, I sit and wait for a new meal to be cooked while whoever I'm dining with is finishing their meal and we end up completely off-pace with each other. More often, there's a whole production with the manager coming over and a big discussion and the menu coming back and blah blah blah that eats up 10 minutes before we get to having a new meal be cooked. And sometimes, it's even worse, and you get treated with anger or suspicion and no one agrees that there could possibly be a problem with your dish.

                                                  If I'm having a nice evening out with friends, I don't want to deal with that -- even when it's done in a friendly manner, it's still aggravating. I'd rather eat as much of the problem food as I can manage, push the rest around on my plate, and enjoy the company of my dining companions.

                                                  If there's something send-back worthy about a dish, I'll flag a waiter and send it back. But if it's okay enough to just pick at it, then when I get asked if everything is okay, I'm going to mutter 'fine, thanks' without making eye contact so I can go back to chatting with my friends.

                                                  I won't slam the restaurant for bad service for not noticing I didn't eat my food, and I try not to "slam" restaurants in general when I post about them on Chowhound, but I do think consistently putting out good food is pretty much the business a restaurant is in. If you're sending out bad dishes, then that's valid information for people to know. If it's only occasional, then my one bad report should be drowning in a sea of good reports. If it's frequent, then you have a problem that isn't going to be solved by me ruining my evening to provide feedback.

                                                  1. re: Jacquilynne

                                                    I totally get what you mean and when I'm in the diner's seat I frequently do as you do because of the inevitable delay. But this notion that the place is in the business of putting out perfect food all the time and if you don't like it, it's a bad dish, is where the problem comes in. If it's not to your taste we want to know about it so we can bring you something that is, because your night out, right then and there, is of paramount importance to us. But obviously if we are putting out consistently crappy food we should be busted for it and shouldn't be in business.

                                                    99% of all problems are minor, transitory and easily fixed if someone just knows about them. It's only when someone stews over them that they get blown all out of proportion and result in screeching Yelp screeds. And yes, one negative review does matter, even in a sea of superlatives, as people tend to latch onto that one negative and that often makes the decision for them. I know it has for me as a consumer and I hear it from other reviewers, who often review the reviews, and owners' responses to them.

                                                    Even before I got into this business, which was most of my life until now, I've always believed we are pretty much responsible for our own happiness, and I just do not get people who would rather be unhappy with their dinner than just say a quick word or two and get it fixed. But I also get that there are different cultural norms depending upon where in the country or world you live, and while I currently live in a city known for its politeness and courtesy, I used to live in (and my family is from) a place where eating out is a constant battle of wills between the customers and the staff, and it's hard to tell who treats the other worse. So I can see where someone might want to just suffer through it and take their revenge on the Interwebs.

                                                3. Forgot to add another reason for the "check in" by the server. I'm sure this has happened to all of us... you don't have a fork or knife and your food is getting cold as you're trying to flag down someone - this usually happens when you're especially hungry and the food looks especially good. A side order might also have been forgotten. I know that with really good service this shouldn't happen in the first place but I quick check in after the first bite or two should mitigate the impact on the entire meal. It's not always "how's the food?" but more often, "how's everything?"

                                                  1. Went to popular restaurat in Cape May... along waterfront... Lobster-XYZ.. with brother's family and friends. Another person at table and I ordered fried flounder. We BOTH thought immediately... this is NOT flounder?? MUCH too thick for a flounder filet and "wet" inside. I ate mine cuz pretty tasty no matter WHAT it was. Other person person stopped eating it after about 1/3 thru. When server stopped by to see how everything was, I asked what kinda fish it was... cuz knew it wasn't flounder. Was assured it was??? I don't think so!?!