It’s happened to all of us. You’re out to dinner and something goes wrong. Maybe it’s something minor like the server accidentally bringing you a Chardonnay instead of a Chablis. Or perhaps it’s a bigger issue that threatens to derail your entire evening. No one wants to spend good money to have a bad time. So, how do you confront these problems to rectify the situation and ensure you have an enjoyable experience? From overdone steak to underwhelming service, we look at five top restaurant complaints along with tips from hospitality experts for preventing them from ruining your meal.
You’re seated at a table you don’t like.
It’s by a drafty door, so you keep feeling a chilly breeze. Or it’s next to the bar, which is particularly loud that evening, and you want to have a quiet date night. For whatever reason, the table just isn’t right for you.
Speak out immediately, advises Jonathan Crayne, the senior captain at Marcel’s in Washington, D.C. “You have a chance to save your night or ruin your night,” he says. “Just remember you’re never going to be happy if you spend the evening thinking, ‘Maybe we should have moved.’”
If you feel uncomfortable asking for a new table, use this graceful line from Antonella Rana, co-owner of Giovanni Rana Pastificio & Cucina in New York City. “I’m so sorry; you work here and you are used to this beautiful space,” she says. “However, it’s my first time and I truly would like to have the best memory of it. I don’t feel so comfortable at this table, could you bring me to your favorite?”
As they say, flattery will get you anywhere – including the best seat in the house.
The guests near you are behaving inappropriately.
There’s a couple next to you in the middle of a loud, profanity-laced breakup. Or the parents at the next booth brought their two-year-old son to dinner and he wants nothing more than to be a human catapult, so mushy French fries keep landing on your dinner plate.
It’s definitely not your job to police the situation. Sit tight and flag down a server or the manager. “We don’t want guests going to another table; that’s our job,” says David Fascitelli, general manager of Bourbon Steak in Washington, D.C. “We would like to intercede and make the situation right.”
Rana has another tactful line to use when you get the eye of a staffer. “Unfortunately I have a terrible ‘teacher’ syndrome,” she says. “Could you please help us and quiet this chaos next to our table before I do so myself?”
Your dish isn’t prepared properly.
The steak you requested medium rare is well done and your dining companion’s salad is packed with the tomatoes he asked the kitchen to hold. How do you politely send the food back?
“People are worried about making the chef upset or looking like they don’t appreciate his or her food,” says Fascitelli. “But the chef wants to make it right, too.”
Being open is your best bet. “It’s very easy to over-salt something,” says Crayne. “We sometimes don’t know it’s happened until we’re told. So, don’t hesitate to send something back.”
The food is made correctly, but you just don’t like it.
Sometimes a dish reads deliciously on the menu, but it doesn’t meet your expectations when you take that first bite. “Wait, there’s fennel in this?!” That changes the whole equation.
“You don’t want to appear rude or disrespectful,” says Fascitelli. “Just say, ‘I’m sure it’s a great dish, but it’s just not for me, and I would prefer something else.’”
If you feel too awkward telling the truth, Rana has a white lie that she has used before. “I tell the server I am following a diet and today is my cheat meal,” she says. “I’ll say, ‘I’m not the biggest fan of this dish, so would it be at all possible to prepare something else for me? I don’t want to waste my cheat day this way.”
You’re receiving bad service.
Your server doesn’t refill the water glasses, forgets your cocktails, and then fails to bring out two sides you ordered. If something isn’t done about their sloppy performance, you’re going to have a joyless experience — and then be asked for a tip at the end of it.
“If it’s a date, one of the diners should get up as if they’re going to the bathroom and stop at the host stand,” says Crayne. “Calmly explain the situation, and you’ll be surprised how quickly your evening turns around.”
Definitely politely raise the issue during the dining experience. Don’t silently fume and save your venting for when you’re sitting at home in front of your computer composing an angry review. “We want to deal with it in the restaurant and so do the guests, because no one wants to leave upset,” says Fascitelli.
Nevin Martell is a Washington, D.C.-based food and travel writer and the author of several books, including Freak Show Without A Tent: Swimming with Piranhas, Getting Stoned in Fiji and Other Family Vacations. Find him on Twitter @nevinmartell.