My wife and I were up in New York City this past weekend and had a few meals at the usual destination restaurants. Unfortunately, one of the meals was less than satisfactory, and as my wife and I drank ourselves back into a good mood during the post-mortem at a different location, we discussed how one goes about complaining about a tasting menu. Generally when I get bad food at restaurant I'll either send it back for a do-over or have it taken off of the check, depending on exactly what's wrong, but the circumstances of a tasting menu made my options a bit less clear. I'll try to pose my questions without revealing the restaurant in question:
1. What do you do if you can’t tell if the food is prepared properly or just not to your liking? I was expecting one course to come with a rich sauce, but when it arrived, I thought it was overwhelmingly buttery. Given the reputation of the place and that I’d never had the dish before I chalked this up to my own preferences. If this happened and I was ordering a la carte, I’d just order something else and expect to pay for both. If I’d told the waiter exactly why I didn’t like the dish, would they have likely brought me something else or a redone version of the same or just shrugged it off?
2. Is it worth complaining if you eat most of the food? I get a dish put in front of me and the first bite is underwhelming--perhaps I’m just not paying attention. A second bite is also underwhelming but as expensive as this dinner is, surely I’m missing something. Third bite, nope, something’s off. Fourth and fifth bites, problem found: the protein is tasteless, slightly overcooked, and not much more than a vehicle for the sauce. Unfortunately, five bites into a tasting menu portion means that there’s not much food left and it seems a ridiculous to complain at that point.
3. What are your options when you complain during a tasting menu? I don’t complain unless I have a clear idea of what I want and with a long tasting menu I don’t want more food or booze. Will restaurants comp part of a tasting or prix fixe menu?
4. How do you complain about service when the issue is that it’s generally clumsy? The meal was full of the sorts of things that shouldn't happen at that level of dining: I asked if they had a particular bourbon and was told “No, we don’t have that” without an offer to show me a spirits menu or even ask if there was something else I wanted instead; cocktail glasses were cleared without being asked if we wanted a refill; when our plates were cleared, one waiter would stand by my wife until he could wave over another waiter to clear my plate; at the table next to us, the waiter tried to clear the plate of a diner who had food in their hand (then did it again two courses later).
Has anyone ever bailed out of a tasting menu? We thought about calling it quits after four courses but the sunk cost of the meal kept us in our place.
Response to “You should have said something”: Besides not being sure how to complain effectively (or even if I should have) I’d heard that the service at this place was more formal than most. I thought that a more accurate description would be “aloof” and even the greeters were downright unfriendly. I didn’t think that the manager on duty would be receptive to anything I had to say and in all fairness, if I managed a highly-rated restaurant and got a complaint from a first-time diner who wasn’t a big spender, I’m not sure I’d pay him much attention. Also, as much as dinner costs here in both time and money, we’re not likely to revisit and gamble that things will be different on a return visit.
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