Who’s Picking Up the Bill?

“We returned to our regular restaurant for the consistently good food and friendly service.
I ordered a medium-well burger.  It arrived charred and dry. I pointed to the burger and asked the waitress if this is considered ‘med-well’, and she said yes.  I told her to ask the manager.  Manager comes and says, “Yes, you were right. The burger is overcooked.  Let us make another one for you and we will comp this one on your ticket.

He asked us if we would like anything while we were waiting, and I couldn’t think of anything…  I waited 15 minutes. My husband had finished his dinner before my second burger came.

 When our bill came, it was ‘comped’ out.  I was charged for the original burger, and when the waitress put in the order for new burger, charged for that one also, and then subtracted the amount for one of the burgers.

We call the manager back.  We explained that ‘comp’ in our minds meant ‘the cost of the burger is removed and the second one is not charged either.’  In other words, we don’t pay for my meal at all, because of the wait,  and  not being able to enjoy  the dinner because my husband and I could not eat our meals together.

 The manager explained, “No, comp means we still charge you for serving you a burger, you just don’t have to pay for the burger we remade for you.”  We were dumbfounded–we have never heard of comp used in this way before.  What do you think?”

~ Jinny

Well,  Jinny, I think you are absolutely 100% right. I have never heard of a ‘comp’ being handled this way. It was the restaurant’s error, and the manager & waitress admitted to that. Had it been an undercooked burger they could have simply put it back on the grill, but their mistake was overcooking, which meant that they would have to cook another burger in order to get it right.

That’s not your fault as a guest.

It is also an oversight that they left you with nothing to eat while your husband had his food.  Ideally, your server should have asked if your husband would like for them to hold his burger and bring it back with yours so you could enjoy them together, or they should have brought your side items (french fries or salad) on a separate plate so you could enjoy them while waiting for your re-fired burger. At the restaurants where I have managed, we typically always have some item that we can send out quickly as a small complimentary course in these cases (salad, ceviche, bruschetta, etc.).

There could a couple of operational things that might have contributed to this kerfluffle, though.

There is a good reason to re-ring the burger on the check in the first place. In a busy kitchen, it cuts down on mis-communication to ring in the order, rather than verbally order it from the chef. Many restaurants won’t allow any verbal orders in the kitchen, and must have a ‘ticket’ for everything that leaves the kitchen. Both the original burger and the re-fired burger should have come off your check, however.

This manager also sounds very new to me.  It doesn’t make sense to split hairs over a single burger when the outcome is likely to make the guest question whether to return to that restaurant again.  You’ve also probably shared this negative experience with friends, thereby keeping them from patronizing this restaurant, as well.

If you do wish to return to the restaurant (you did mention it is a regular spot for you), I’d try to get in touch with the general manager or owner, and tell him about your experience.  As restaurateurs, if we don’t hear about these experiences, we cannot improve. If this manager really is a little green, then sharing your story with the general manager will likely help him in his further training in hospitality.

Thanks for sharing, and keep me posted on the outcome!

Restaurant 101: Bummer.

I was skeptical about the reality competition show “America’s Next Great Restaurant” from the first episode. Not only could they not manage to spell restaurateur correctly , they were not really talking about opening a restaurant. The fast-casual concepts they were exploring all fit much better under the category of Fast Food.

Even so, anyone who has ever opened a restaurant knows that a new concept is rarely profitable within the first 6 months. You are still figuring out your operations, how much staff you need on certain shifts, what items are going to be your best sellers, etc. The news that the ANGR investment team has closed all 3 contest-winning Soul Daddy locations after being open for only a month and a half just seems…. bizarre.

Shuttering after 6 weeks?

Either this was the plan the whole time, or something crazy happened behind the scenes. When things aren’t profitable after 6 weeks, you change the management, you alter staffing levels, and you negotiate with the vendors that supply your costliest products. If you are truly invested in making a concept work, you take more than 6 weeks to build business.

The saddest part of this is story is that winner Jamawn Woods seemed so emotionally invested in the win. It was “his dream” to open these places, to “show his kids what is possible in life,” and now he’s supposed to head back to his old job in Detroit?

It’s just sad. But Woods came from the automobile industry– he’s accustomed to dealing with adversity.  While I was skeptical of the show, he always seemed like a genuinely great guy pursuing the most American of dreams; owning his own business. I hope he lands on his feet.

Restaurant 101: It’s Complicated

It’s a contentious question in the operation of a restaurant, when to comp or not to comp? Is it better to send an appetizer or dessert to a guest who dines with you frequently, or to bank those freebies to compensate for errors made during service?
Each restaurant is different. Sometimes, the policy is to make new guests and regulars feel incredibly welcome, by:
·      Sending a complimentary amuse bouche or appetizer to first time diners
·      Sending complimentary appetizer, or additional new dish to regulars to get their opinion on it.
·      Getting a freebie dessert on the table for birthdays or anniversaries (see more on that here)
It’s a preventative, positive reinforcement method. Other restaurants feel that consistently great food and service are enough to hit the right note of warmth and welcome.
So they reserve their comps to smooth over any multitude of kerfluffles that can occur tableside. With any human invention, errors are inevitable from time to time. When, in the course of human events, any of the following occurs,
·      The order ticket gets lost in the kitchen (yes, this does happen sometimes)
·      The establishment is out of the wine (dessert, entrée) the guest ordered
·      A guest waited more than 5 minutes for a table when they had a reservation
·      the server is rude, (awkward, sick, inattentive, overly familiar, etc.)
·      the busboy throws away the ½ of a $40 ribeye steak that you wanted to take home and cook up as steak and eggs in the morning
There should be some icing spread over the top of that awkward cake.

And that ‘something’ can take the form of a round of drinks, all the way up to comping the entire check. For the incidents above, respectively:
·      comping the entrees, or the entire check, (depending on how long it takes for the food to actually hit the table)
·      A round drinks, or 50% off a different bottle of wine (dessert, entree, etc.)
·      Appetizers on the house, or a round of drinks
·      Re-assign the table to another server, send apps or desserts, all the way up to taking care of the whole check (depending on how bad it got)
·      Gift card, or an entire new steak to-go (depending on how long the guest is comfortable waiting)
Then there are comps as bouncebacks—things that bring the guest back in, to experience the food and service that are more indicative of the establishment under normal conditions. These are things such as:
·      a promise to take care of drinks or desserts next time around (usually accompanied by the manager’s business card)
·      a giftcard or coupon for a discount when the guests return
So, if the owner or management of a restaurant is serious about guest satisfaction, there are myriad options for them to rectify the situation.  It gets really touchy as a manager, though, when you have done everything you can to catch a situation as it develops in the restaurant, to acknowledge the errors, and to compensate for them, only to be dinged later on Yelp, or similar review sites.
The guests leave happy, accept all the comps and adjustments you send, then go home to write a terrible review. Those reviews always fail to mention that the errors were acknowledged and compensated for by the restaurant.  It’s completely within these guests’ rights to do– free speech and all that– but it stings when we see it on the other side.

Who’s Picking up the Bill?

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

If you’ve had a weird experience at a restaurant, I’d love to hear about it! submit your story by clicking on the “Who’s Picking up the Bill” button on the right. 

>New Segment!


Three years ago, just after I moved to Los Angeles, a girlfriend invited me out to dinner in Silverlake. The space was gorgeous, with lots of character, and the menu hit all the right local-sustainable-farm-to-table notes.

It was early, because we had 8:00 plans, and so the dining room was empty when we arrived. After we were seated on a banquette table, and pulled the napkins onto our laps, my friend noticed the booths in the middle of the room and thought that maybe we should ask to moved. Since we had already ordered drinks, and handled all the linen and flatware, I demurred.

And things were going fine.

Until the busboys started setting up a monster table of 20 right beside us. When they finished, there was less that 6 inches of space between our table and head of the monster table. And when the party arrived, they brought a new baby in a car seat that they nestled right beside my friend on the banquette, creating a scene in which all 19 guests came over to coo at the new baby with their derrieres directly in my friend’s entree.

No manager came by to ask if we would like to be moved, there was no apology from the hostess, so my friend and I literally picked up our table and moved it down about 8 inches.

The food had been good. The drinks spectacular. But that incident kept us from staying for dessert, and I have not returned to the place since.

Any number of variables could have impacted our experience that night, (the party could have grown at the last minute, the hostess might have been new), but the real issue for us was the lack of acknowledgment.

Though it pains me to say it, the restaurant is stuck with the bill on this one. There is nothing we could have done as guests to have avoided the situation, and the manager should have dropped by the table to check on us after it was apparent the section was…. squished.

Which brings me to the new segment– “Who’s Picking Up the Bill?”

If you’ve had a weird experience while dining out, I’d love to hear about it. Just click on the link to the right, and submit your story. Then look out for the ruling on Where the Sidework Ends.

Thanks for reading!