If you’re eating in a restaurant and the food tastes abysmal, should you complain? Or should you just suffer in silence?
A few weeks ago, while shopping late in the mall, my husband and I decided to eat in a small Japanese restaurant that had only a few tables. One of our orders was tempura—battered, deep-fried shrimps, fish and vegetables served with radish-ginger sauce. Since it was rather late, we were famished. I was really looking forward to enjoying this favorite Japanese dish.
However, when the food came, to say that I was disappointed is an understatement. Although we knew this restaurant serves not really great food, I didn’t expect the dish to be that bad.
The tempura was soggy and the sauce unfathomable. It tasted vaguely of old vinegar, although vinegar is not supposed to be a component of tempura sauce.
After a few bites I decided the dish wasn’t worth the calories and pushed it aside.
While I was ruminating whether or not I should complain, the lady manager passed by our table. Taking this as a sign that I should speak up, I called her attention and told her there was something terribly wrong with the dish. She was apologetic and said she’d tell the kitchen about it.
“Please do so,” I told her. At the very least I was hoping they’d take this as a sign to improve their cooking.
After a few minutes the manager returned and apologized again. She explained that since this was their last order, there was only little tempura sauce left. Although she didn’t say so, I think what happened was that the kitchen staff just mixed whatever sauces were available. Maybe they scraped the bottom of the saucepan (literally), then added whatever other sauces or seasonings they could grab from the shelves, vinegar being one of them.
It would probably also be safe to assume that they used old cooking oil to fry the tempura—oil they must have been using the whole day to fry other orders.
To their credit, the restaurant tried to make amends. The manager said they won’t be charging us for the dish and that next time the kitchen will be more careful in their preparation.
I suppose it was the least they could do.
So to go back to my question—should one complain if the dish is dreadful or should one just suffer in silence?
From the above experience, I think one should inform the waiter or manager if there’s something wrong with the food. After all, the reason customers go to a restaurant is that they expect to be served a good meal—the restaurant owes their customers that much. If the dish is unpalatable, one part of the equation is already askew.
Of course one shouldn’t make a scene either. Screaming and swearing (as some are wont to do) are counterproductive and can only exacerbate an already unpleasant situation.
But complain we must because for all we know, maybe the kitchen really did make a mistake.
I remember once dining in the restaurant of a four-star hotel. The food on the buffet was quite satisfactory, with fresh oysters, sushi, a variety of dim sum and baked ham among the choices.
The one dish they were really proud of, however, was the bread pudding. So when time came for dessert, I made sure to spoon some of it on my dessert plate. It looked very tempting, with perfectly browned top and a layer of custard-like filling that looked delectable.
However, to my dismay, instead of being sweet, the pudding was very, very salty.
It turned out that the cooks made a mistake—they had erroneously used salt instead of sugar while preparing the pudding. At least the chef was honest enough to admit it.
He promised that next time, the pudding will taste much better. And it did. The next time I ate there not long afterward, the bread pudding had the same perfectly browned top and just the right amount of sweetness.
Which just goes to show that restaurants—and chefs—are not infallible. They do make mistakes, and sometimes that mistake could land on your plate. It’s best, therefore, to be vigilant.
By pointing out that something is wrong, you could even be doing the restaurant a favor. It will help them rectify their errors and improve their service, thereby increasing customer satisfaction overall.
Sometimes restaurant mistakes can even turn out to be funny. I remember reading a joke (or perhaps it was a real life situation) about a man who ordered a sandwich called tuna surprise.
When the sandwich was served, it turned out to be ham. Nevertheless the man ate it dutifully.
When the waitress later asked him how he liked the tuna surprise, he said it was okay except that the filling was ham, not tuna.
“Why didn’t you say so?” the waitress asked.
“I thought that was the surprise,” the man replied.