Ask the Critic: S. Irene Virbila
Question: My husband sometimes embarrasses me by sending food back to the kitchen. I’m not comfortable with it, so much so that it sometimes ruins the evening for me. Who’s right?
Virbila: Some restaurants don’t care -- the ones where nobody even asks if there is anything wrong when a plate goes untouched. Fortunately these are in the minority. Most restaurateurs, I’m sure, would rather have you tell them quietly that your steak -- ordered medium rare -- is actually medium than have you leave unhappy and never come back.
There’s a way to do this without being confrontational or abusive. Just state the facts politely. If, for some reason, they don’t want to do anything about it, well then, you already know you don’t want to come back. But if you like the restaurant and want to build a relationship with the staff, being honest helps both parties.
I’ve been served raw shellfish that was funky. What are you going to do, sit there and just not eat? Somebody has to tell the kitchen, even though it’s hard to believe nobody noticed before. I would never send something back just because I didn’t like the preparation. But I definitely would take the trouble if, for example, I had ordered my omelet runny and it came dry.
You might get a dish so salty it’s inedible. Because you are, in fact, paying good money for the food in the expectation of enjoying it, this is a case in which it’s perfectly acceptable to send the dish back to the kitchen. And if it’s not possible to correct the seasoning, order something else.
Mistakes happen, but it’s in the restaurant’s interest to make sure you leave happy. Think about it: If you just endure that overcooked steak, you won’t enjoy a bite, and the next time the occasion comes to go out, you won’t be racing back to that place. In that case, nobody wins.
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