1) Don’t Make a Big Scene
No matter how right a diner may be, it’s wrong to throw a shit-fit in the dining room, disrupting the flow of business. There’s a lot of truth to the old saying, “you get more bees with honey than you do with vinegar.” Plus, if you calmly yet firmly state your gripe, a pissed-off line cook is less likely to spit in your mashed potatoes, or throw your steak across the filthy floor before plating it. And never, I mean never, make a server cry. This could yield you a tongue-lashing from a stressed-out, irate chef. (Kitchen-types are rather surly! Don’t you know?)
2) Steak Wars
It’s true: many restaurants screw up steaks by either grossly undercooking them or overcooking them until they resemble shoe leather–the latter is more common than the former. The customer definitely is right if they order a medium-rare steak and receive a piece of overcooked meat, or visa versa. But they are definitely wrong if they insist on getting a medium-rare steak that’s pink in the center. (As a general rule of thumb, medium-rare equates to red and medium equates to pink.) I’ve seen servers on the brink of insanity because of this quandary, saying things like “he says he wants his medium steak red in the center, and he says he’ll send it back if it doesn’t come out that way!” The best thing to do then is just cook it to the requested color, not the temperature, and let them keep on thinking that red means medium. The chef can have the silent satisfaction of knowing he is right, or he could storm into the dining room and set the diner straight.
3) Pink Chicken
As a fundamental rule, chicken is done when the juices run clear, which is around 165 degrees with an internal thermometer. Yet no matter how long thighs and legs get cooked, there still can be some pink near the bone. One time, I had a customer send back his jerk chicken (no pun intended, but lots taken), saying that it was undercooked. So, I simply threw the chicken back on the grill and cooked it until it was 190 degrees. And guess what? It was still pink by the bone. I went ahead and sent it out, and sure enough, it came back about three minutes later. At that point, I nuked it in the microwave for five minutes, and it was still slightly pink near the bone! I think he ended up choosing the salmon instead. But he was definitely wrong about it being undercooked!
4) “I’ll Take My Salad Dressing On the Side”
Restaurant servers are asked daily to put the salad dressing on the side because many customers think that the greens will come drenched — it’s not an exaggeration that many restaurants overdress their salads. But it’s kind of ironic when people ask for a side of dressing (let’s say, a one-ounce ramekin of vinaigrette) and pour the entire thing over the mixed greens, which is usually about twice as much as the kitchen would have administered. (An average house salad gets tossed with about a half-ounce of dressing.) Even funnier, and completely wrong, by the way, is when a customer asks for additional dressing. Nice diet, pal!
5) “The Jalapeno Poppers Are Too Spicy”
There’s nothing more infuriating than when a customer orders spicy food and sends it back, complaining that the dish “burns my tongue.” What part of “jalapeno” or “habanero” don’t they get? Sometimes I think that people just like to be difficult, and this is their way of throwing the kitchen out of whack. (Of course, it’s always super-busy when shit like this happens.) Pretzel logic is widespread with diners, and if someone doesn’t like spicy food they should do all the cooks of the world a favor by not ordering the sweet potato fries with habanero ketchup or the spicy Thai salad. Duh!
6) “Take it Away! I Don’t Like it!”
Let’s not forget that chefs strive to please customers with their cuisine, or why even bother coming to work? But when a customer sends a dish back without an explanation, the wrongness definitely falls on them. (You can’t fix a problem if you don’t know what it is in the first place.) As I mentioned, most chefs want to get it right, but they need a little help with the specifics, like “the halibut was dry” or “the cioppino was too salty.” Saying things like “I just didn’t like it” doesn’t cut it. Follow the lead of a restaurant critic and clearly state why you didn’t like the dish, and then it’s up to the chef to take it to heart, or not.
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