Open Letter to a Restaurant Owner

This is a letter that I might or might not send to a restaurant owner based on an experience I had over a week ago:

Dear [Restaurant Owner],

A friend and I had an unfortunate experience at your restaurant for dinner on March 5:

One of your specials – a short rib dish – was served room temperature and the way that the kitchen staff addressed the issue when we sent it back was atrocious.

A short while after returning it to the kitchen our lovely waitress ([name withheld]) brought it back to the table, hands protected with a towel, noting that it was hot. Peering into the dish we discovered that the dish that came back was the same dish of food, reheated rather than replaced. This in itself is offensive. To me, it’s the equivalent of spitting in the food only more hygienic.

When we first got the dish we each took a short rib, some of the crunchy rice, some sauce and a leek. This is how we discovered that the ribs were lukewarm and the rest wasn’t much warmer than that. Aside from the issue with temperature, we enjoyed the taste and texture of the dish – it just wasn’t right. When the dish was returned to us the sauce was adhering to the side of the dish in a blob and the rice was mushy. The leeks had not been replaced, nor had the ribs which we had put on our plates, had a couple of bites of, and left. See that beautiful egg in the photo? Gone, except for some rubbery, stringy bits of albumen.

Before: Wrong temperature but looking nice.

As originally presented. (No photo taken of the returned dish.)

The returned dish was much worse than the dish that we were originally served.  It is not appropriate to serve a customer a cold – or lukewarm – dish, nor is it appropriate heat up a dish after it’s been returned. That type of behaviour is disgusting.

I realize that busy kitchen staff don’t want to deal with returned food. I also know that “The customer is always right” is a customer service phrase that does not literally mean that the customer is always right. Sometimes the customer is wrong. However, the spirit of that maxim is that customer service is #1 priority. Even if the food was supposed to be served at room temperature the actions would not be appropriate.

My friend and I have both worked in the culinary industry. She’s a trained chef who spent several years working in kitchens. I’ve worked in catering and dabbled in a restaurant kitchen. I have many friends who are chefs and restaurant owners. I think they would all agree, that’s not how you treat an unhappy customer.

The dish was comped upon our insistence. This was the doing of our waitress, who we tipped well despite our discomfort knowing that she’d be required to share that tip with kitchen staff that had insulted us.

In addition to that, the manager didn’t come over to offer any apology or compensation. The waitress informed us that he was busy serving a section as one server had called in sick. I was understanding and sympathetic about that until he failed to acknowledge my friend, who left the restaurant moments before I did and saw him sitting in the front alcove reception area. He saw her, but didn’t say a word. Even if I were to give him the benefit of the doubt and suppose that he didn’t know that she was one of the people who complained, he should have said goodbye and thanked her for visiting. Customer service begins when a customer enters and ends when the customer exits.

I won’t address the dishes that we simply didn’t like. Taste is subjective. For example, there was one appetizer that neither of us liked and there was one that one of us liked and the other didn’t. We would be happy to offer our constructive feedback another time, though.

In the end we went for a “second dinner” nearby because two apps just weren’t filling and we needed a good restaurant experience to reverse a disappointing evening. The lobster mac ‘n’ cheese I ordered there was spectacular and the leftovers were lunch the next day. I’ll give my money to that second restaurant any day.

I’ll also add this: My friend had, earlier that day, accepted a job as food reviewer for a community newspaper, telling her new boss that she’d only write about experiences she enjoyed. She had been looking forward to writing about your restaurant. Though both of us are quite active on social media, neither is the type of person to take negative experiences public. I won’t name you in my blog, nor will I call you out on other blogs, review sites or social media. I think that offering constructive criticism at the time of the offence is more polite, useful and mature than using public online forms anonymously and passive aggressively to air grievances. Restaurants should have a chance to make it right.

What do you have to say for yourself?

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