Take it back!

Today I raise a question that has preoccupied me since a dinner out with friends last summer. What should you do when you hate, hate, hate your entrée? (Or whatever dish, of course.)

At this dinner, one friend found her poussin (baby chicken) tough and bland. She requested and got a sharp knife, which cut it, but didn’t do anything for the lack of tenderness, much less the overall flavor. (I did not try it myself, because even if I didn’t agree, it was her perception that mattered here, not mine, and it was not a review dinner.)

She wasn’t going to mention it to the waiter, but when he stopped by to check on us a second time, he clearly noticed her untouched meal (our third friend and I had nearly finished ours), and asked how we were doing again, so I spoke up. He immediately apologized and offered to bring her something else, which she refused. Now, that seemed perverse to me, although of course, that was the end of it. But why turn down a chance to have a meal you’ll enjoy? True, the entrée options on this fixed price menu were limited, but I’d guess any of the more plentiful appetizer options would have been gladly substituted.

Nearly all of us have done the same thing, however. Why are we so shy about this kind of thing? I think nearly any establishment would rather make it right, rather than have a diner leave unhappy (and doubtless tell their friends). Sometimes the problem is with the dish itself, or it could be the a poor description on the menu, or maybe the diner just didn’t realize s/he would not like that food prepared that way. It happens, but no matter the reason, I firmly believe it is best to mention it promptly (promptness is key, here), and in a civil manner, and ask to have the dish replaced.

Not long after that, I was sort of guilty of the same thing myself. I had dinner with a friend whose mother had recently died. One of the worst dishes I’ve ever had in a restaurant was served to me that evening. It wasn’t spoiled, but was completely lacking in flavor (and texture), rather surprising considering it was fish tacos. I pretty much kept my mouth shut, not wanting to create the “drama” of a returned dish when I was trying to focus on my friend. Instead, I asked for a small cup of a sauce mentioned elsewhere on the menu that I thought might salvage the dish. The (slightly) piquant sauce did help some, so I left it at that. But, oh, how I longed to tell the management that that pitiful dish needed a lot of work. Maybe another time.

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