A number of weeks ago I read the thread on Finding foreign objects in food With all due respect to those who've posted on this topic so far I would like to share, from my viewpoint as a longstanding career NYC waiter, where the true trouble lies. Sadly, it isn't scams. Scams are perpetrated by those clever enough to devise and carry out a plan. While childish in nature, scams take a certain maturation to plan and to execute. The crisis facing restaurateurs is the infantilization of the diner. Arrested adolescents who do not need a piece of glass in the salad to feel threatened or entitled. All they require is a perceived attack to sound the alarm of injury. Once sounded, a complimentary something is sure to follow. Some tableside examples:
A table of 3 diners looking over the desserts asks for my recommendations. I respond: If youre a chocolate person, you must try the Warm Valrohna cake. All 3 are people of color. But only one took such offense at the phrase chocolate person that he immediately called the manager over to complain about my latent racism. He was pacified with a full comp meal and asked to come back for another one on the house so that he could be assured of our compassion. (His mortified companions required no such handholding) When he did return for his free meal, he became enraged that I hadnt been fired and left. He was asked back again on a night when I wasnt working.
A degustation menu with both pork and shellfish on it is considered anti-Semitic and instead of asking for a menu that would accommodate dietary restrictions, the diner sat and steamed, writing a complaint letter weeks later. He and his party were invited back for a complimentary kosher tasting menu. (Out of our decidedly non kosher kitchen)
A certain man about restaurants demands that we open a bottle, sell him a glass, and then allow him to take the rest home. We comply because he knows a lot of people and we dont want him making a scene. WE BREAK THE LAW, RISK HEAVY FINES AND PERHAPS A SUSPENDED LIQUOR LICENSE in the name of what? Someone tell me. Because he might tell a lot of people Hey, guess what, The Quilted Giraffe wouldnt break the law for me!
These are three. There are dozens. If you want a comp meal, all that you need to do is claim that we hurt your feelings or offended your sensibilities and I can guarantee you a swift response. Restaurateurs have become spineless, afraid of any ill wind that might end up in Zagat. . (The chief offender being Tim Zagat himself, a boorish man who knows so very very little about how to behave in public and even less about food.) And we've certainly become unwilling to enforce certain behavior that used to be known as good manners." The restaurant endures outlandishly bad behavior lest we affront someone by asking him or her to lower his or her voice, refrain from profanity, or Would you please stop giving your date a massage under the table, its offensive to those around you who will undoubtedly complain about our lack of action and we will have to invite them back for a full comp! (This happens)
The ultimate absurdity in this childish world is the dependence some guests have on my fellow coworkers and me. We are the WAITERS for heavens sake, not the chef. You will be OK in someone elses section. But we all have those regulars that will not allow anyone else to interact with their table. They become visibly agitated when placed with someone else and on more than one occasion have stormed out when told their server wasnt available. In one bizarre incident, a guest had requested me when he made the reservation and was told that he would be in my section. For whatever reason, I took the night off. When he discovered I wasnt going to be there he attempted to sue the restaurant for breach of contract. We solved his dilemma with a comp meal of course, served by me at a later date.
These diners arent trumping up these transgressions on purpose. These diners are so frail of character that they actually believe in their grief. And the industry is indulging them. This is far more troublesome then a foreign object in the salad.