Dining out as frequently as we do—for me, it’s three to five nights a week—it’s inevitable that my fellow staffers and I eat our share of unhappy meals.
Usually, it’s just crummy food we have to deal with. But what do you do when it’s a service glitch threatening to ruin your meal? When a restaurant flubs and knows it, what’s the appropriate course of action? Not everyone seems to agree. Consider these recent incidents:
Flub #1: The Faux Fix
With a 9:00 reservation at a North End restaurant known for its cozy ambience and neighborhood appeal, we showed up on time and were told our table wasn’t yet cleared. No worries, we said; we’re in no rush.
But 9:00 became 9:10, and then 9:30. Noticing our irritation—or maybe hearing our stomachs growling—the hostess apologized. “I am sooo sorry,” she gushed. “Your table will be up soon. Can we offer you a glass of wine while you wait?” she asked, handing us a wine list and ushering us to a bench outside. “I can bring it out to you. Again, we’re so sorry about this.”
Satisfied with the gesture, we took a seat and waited; five minutes later she emerged with prosecco in plastic Solo cups—a little bit ghetto, sure, but we’d take it—and apologized again. “Don’t worry,” she said with a wink. “Once you’re seated, I can assure you that you’ll be well taken care of.”
At 9:50 we were finally seated, and our server rushed over with a “gift for our patience,” a $15 flatbread we appreciated, but didn’t particularly like. And the wait was never mentioned again. Scanning the bill after dinner, we noted a charge for two glasses of Prosecco, at $8 each.
Flub #2: The Pseudo-Generous Fix
Checking out a restaurant/bar in Dorchester recently, my dining companions and I sat down in a mostly empty dining room, placed our orders, sipped cocktails, and nibbled on apps while we waited for our entrees to arrive. As the minutes passed, we began to notice groups being seated and served all around us, their main dishes appearing with no apparent delays. We picked at our empty plates; we ordered another round of drinks. When we hit the 40-minute mark between courses, our server appeared, explaining that the kitchen had fallen behind; we grunted our thanks for the update and nursed our martinis.
Ten more minutes went by, and finally a manager appeared at the table. “My sincere apologies,” he cooed. “We’re having a little backup in the kitchen. But we’d like to make it up to you,” he continued. “What would you like?”
“Uh, our entrees?” suggested my husband. “They’re coming,” the manager replied. “But what else? Anything! What would you like?” Confused, we mulled the possibilities: a round of drinks? Comped dinners? Free dessert? A bottle of Veuve Clicquot, perhaps? What—pardon the pun—was on the table?
“We’re fine, thanks,” I mumbled, unsure of the proper etiquette in a situation like this. When the food finally came, we ate, paid our bill in full, tipped well, and left.
Flub #2: The Fast Fix
Halfway through an impromptu meal at a Southwestern-inflected restaurant, our waiter had a little accident. Clearing a nearby table, he lost his balance, bobbled the tray he was carrying, and dropped a bottle of hot sauce on the tile floor. It smashed, leaving our feet splattered with sauce and my toes tingling from the vinegar and cayenne.
As we hopped up from our table, he quickly dropped to the ground, apologizing, while a busboy materialized out of nowhere to dispatch of the mess while we dabbed the spicy sauce off our shoes. And as we settled back down at our table, laughing—you had to laugh, really—fresh napkins appeared, along with glasses brimming with tequila for the table. And in a matter of moments, our dinner was right back where we left off.
Now, chefs and restaurant owners, what do you think? If any of these situations had happened in your restaurants, would you have handled them differently? Diners, do you feel the restaurants responded adequately?
Your thoughts and stories—no restaurant names, please!—are welcome.