Q: I have been to this “fine dining” restaurant a bunch of times. The owner knows me and my usual dinner-date. We almost always have a bottle of wine, two entrees and either an app or a dessert. We tip well.
We went last week, and my date ordered the same thing as always. It was great, as always. I am the adventurer, and I will often try the special or newest item on the menu. I’ve had “hits” and I’ve had “misses.” This time it was “seitan steak.” The owner is vegetarian, and I always order vegetarian items. I trust him, and I want to support culinary creativity. The seitan steak was HORRIBLE. So bad that McDonald’s would not have put it on a bun. I was hungry and stomached about half of it.
When the very friendly waiter came to check, we explained to him (politely) that the seitan was not the best addition to the menu. In fact, I offered a bite, and he took it. He agreed. It was HORRIBLE. He even said that the chef (not the owner, who was out of town), when plating the food, said “I don’t even know why we serve seitan.”
Instead of comp-ing the $19 entree, he offered free dessert. We accepted. Dessert was fine – nothing remarkable. He should have comp-ed the entree…no?
A: First off, let me say, that you sound like an absolutely delightful diner. A regular, great tipper, open to a new experience… I’d love to have you in my dining room anytime!
On to the server, though….there is a difference between being friendly and overly familiar. I’m going to assume that the server recognized you as a regular, but he should never hate on the menu like that at a table. Apologize, definitely, but don’t get the guests involved in what sounds like a personal power-struggle between the owner and the chef; just take the dish back to the kitchen, and send a manager to the table.
It’s also strange that a manager didn’t seem to drop by your table. Anytime a dish goes back to the kitchen, a front of house manager should come by the table to apologize, and try to gain some feedback for the chef to possibly improve the dish.
To comp or not to comp? It’s one of the murkiest areas in hospitality. Some owners have extremely conservative comp policies, while others are more generous. But the ultimate goal should be to satisfy the guest. You didn’t go out to play menu-roulette; you wanted to have a great meal. It’s perfectly reasonable to expect that everything on their menu is tasty. It’s generally accepted that if a dish is “under-enjoyed”; it should come off the check. Sending dessert or any additional comp is up for debate (but I usually err on the side of generosity).
Since you are still thinking about this incident days later, this restaurant missed an opportunity to make you feel like the welcome regular you are.
Considering all of the variables above, I would say the Restaurant is stuck with the Bill on this one. The manager should have taken the Seitan steak off the check, definitely, in addition to sending out a dessert or a round of after-dinner drinks. -m
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