Sunday, June 21, 2009

Hey Guys, So How is Everything? Dealing with a Bad Restaurant Meal

I am just back from one of the worst meals, in fact, worst restaurant experiences I've had in years. It's a new place called Country Kabob #2 in Pt. Loma. My parents had read Caroline Dipping's review of it in the San Diego Union-Tribune on Thursday and wanted to try it. I read it as well, and it sounded pretty good so we went there for a Father's Day lunch.

Briefly, the avgolemono soup was so sour my mom's mouth literally puckered after she took a sip. Her chicken kabob was so undercooked -- raw, really -- she had to send it back. I ordered the spanikopita after reading Caroline's take on it. Her one criticism was that the phyllo topping needed to be "a tad more flaky." I thought I'd see if the chef had paid attention. The phyllo was soggy. I sent it back and the server returned it upside down. It was a mess. The topping -- now the bottom -- was still soggy and the filling was dreadful -- the nutmeg overwhelmed everything and the texture was gummy and chewy. I even had to spit out an olive from the accompanying Greek salad because it was too bitter to eat. And, they have a thing about limes -- on the salad, in the iced tea and the water glasses. Fortunately, it being Father's Day, my dad was happy with his lamb kebab plate.

OK. Things happen and not everyplace you dine is going to live up to expectations. But I didn't expect the server to tell the chef I didn't like the meal and that the chef -- it turns out, chef/owner -- would come flying out to confront me. (By the way, he didn't know me or that I am a food writer; I was simply a paying customer.)

He asked why I didn't like his spanikopita and when I started to explain about the phyllo and the nutmeg, he yelled at me that he had been a chef for 26 years and that no one had ever complained about his cooking and what did I know. I told him I didn't want to argue, but he kept at it; my mom's word for him is "aggressive." What was wrong with the chicken kabob? What was wrong with the soup? Then said he wanted to make us something to take home for dinner. Obviously, his pride was hurt and he wanted to show us how good his food is. He wasn't going to let us leave without something so my folks settled on two Greek salads. The server brought out the two salads to go and the owner came out again, and pulled the top salad out of the plastic bag. He wanted us to admire how beautiful it was. And, yes, he charged us for the meals. (My mom just called to say that it turns out instead of providing them with the dressing on the side to be tossed together later, he mixed the salads with the dressing, which leaked on the way home; by dinner the salads will be limp and soggy.)

Okay, enough of that place. We've all had bad experiences. My question to you is do you take it on the chin (and in the wallet) or do you speak up? What do you do when you are served lousy food? How do you answer your server when she says, "Hey guys, so how is everything?" (We won't even go into the fact that I'm not a guy and this bugs me no end...) Do you ask for another dish? Do you just say everything's fine? If you do complain (politely, I hope), how do you want the staff to deal with it? Should an undercooked dish be returned to the kitchen for more cooking and brought back to you? Do you want to order something different? Will a free glass of wine or a free dessert do it for you? A free meal? A gift certificate to dine there again? What are your expectations? And what have been your experiences when you've complained?

If someone is going to charge you for a meal, you should get your money's worth. This is true in good economic times and times like today, when for many of us, dining out is a splurge and we feel it in the bank account. So, when you have an unsatisfactory experience, I'd like to know how you handle it. Think of this as an opportunity to enlighten restaurant owners and assist fellow diners when they go out to eat. And, even vent a little!

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