Our Inaugural Q and A!

We have a special event today here at Waiternotes blog: Our first question to answer! Ivy asked:

. . . what would you do when you saw a lot of food left on the plates , and your guest gave you an ugly face and ask for check, and as a wait staff ,you ask if they want a to go box, they commented the food is too spicy. At this point, you will just bring them the check , or see their comment as a complaint and make a deduction of the bill or anything to compensate your guests ???

Waiters – and I am one – love this kind of question. There are variables here; this guest has presented a bit of a challenge; it’s definitely a judgment call; and we get to show off some of our narrow expertise.

Since all my readers are good, professional waiters (if they are waiters at all), we must assume he/she has done the ‘Check Back.’ This is one of the universal steps of service. No matter what level of dining, if a guest sits at a table and a waiter takes his order and delivers his food, the Check Back is part of the program. Check Back is, once the food is delivered, returning in a few minutes/bites to check that the meal has been prepared to the guest’s satisfaction. If not, steps are taken to remedy the situation before the meal is completely over. For the ‘problem’ to get to this stage Ivy describes, the Check Back checkpoint was passed successfully.

Now. I’d give 50-50 this guest is bucking for a free dinner. The alternative is that he is resigned he’s going to have to pay, and wants to take home the food anyway – maybe someone else will eat it. The server, first (and maybe later the manager), must make a judgment call. Is the guest a lowlife, a sleazy operator? Has he demonstrated other shifty behavior, like complaining about prices or the strength of his cocktail? Was he apparently eating and enjoying his meal up until the end? Is it likely he just got too full (from eating two loaves of bread), and that’s the real reason he didn’t finish? If so, he’s trying to scam you.

What you do with a scammer depends on your restaurant and how it’s run. If you work at TGIFridays or Outback Steakhouse or some big corporate chain, then you will most assuredly notify the manager. The manager, feet up on his desk, will look up at you through a haze of cigarette smoke and tell you, ‘Comp it.’ Chains don’t f-around with possible complaints. A complaint that gets into the corporate hierarchy is like a virus that incubates and multiplies at each stop. When the local manager hears about it again, it’s been blown so out of proportion he’s lucky if he has a job when things get settled. And the guest gets a bunch of free food anyway, when all is said and done. So they just buy the food and move on, living another day in the rat race.

If you work at a Mom ‘n Pop restaurant, as I do at Carney’s Corner, there’s a good chance that guest is going to eat that food – with his wallet if not his mouth. Carney would go to the table and say, saccharin-sweet, ‘I wish you had told us when we came back and asked how you liked it. We could have made you a new one.’ And she would walk away. Maybe she would try to buy them some after dinner drinks . . . but maybe not.

The waiter is going to get a crummy tip, but in this case it doesn’t feel that bad, because A) you feel satisfied that this jackass didn’t get over on you guys, and B) the tip would probably have been bad in any event. Mom ‘n Pop places don’t have to worry as much about BS complaints. As the saying goes, ‘If this is the way you behave, we don’t want your business.’ End of story. Guest never returns; Mom ‘n Pop get no more fake complaints from this a-hole.

On the other hand, sometimes spicy food builds up on you. By your fifth bite, your mouth is burning, and you can’t taste anymore. This guest might be being honest. If the guest passes the bullshit test, and has otherwise behaved well, the first step is to apologize. Pack it up to go.

At this point, I personally probably wouldn’t comp the entrée. After all, you did proper diligence to make sure things were okay, with the Check Back. Plus, he ate some, and is taking the food to go. I would be inclined to either discount it (if the system allows) or give away a free appetizer voucher or free drink chips (if your restaurant has such things) for their next visit.

After all, chain restaurants aren’t misguided in everything they do. Repeat business is what sustains restaurants. Making a guest happy now with a free $10 appetizer might well mean $500 or $1000 more business from him in the next 12 months.

And, also, let’s not overlook the human aspect. We all know what it’s like to be disappointed in a restaurant. If this guest is a good guy, he deserves some real sympathy. It sucks to go out expecting a great meal and a great time and have some aspect of it go sour (or spicy). Hell, I’ve never worked a place where there weren’t ‘Nice Guy’ perks given out just because people were cool – and they had no complaints at all. Hey, we’re in the business of fun and good times. Let’s do that.

Thanks for the question, Ivy.


5 thoughts on “Our Inaugural Q and A!

  1. waiterextraordinaire Wed, May 20, 2009 / 8:57 pm

    Great answer! Agree with everything you say especially between corporate and the mom and pop restaurant.

  2. GH Fri, May 22, 2009 / 1:55 am

    I’ve worked at both types of restaurants, and your absolutely right!!

  3. SkippyMom Fri, May 22, 2009 / 1:34 pm

    I have never worked corporate [thankfully it appears 🙂 ] but I would’ve responded the same since I did the checkback. I have a question tho’ – if you do take it off the check b/c it was too spicy/cooked wrong, whatnot do you still allow them to take it home?

    I say nay’ 🙂

  4. waiternotes Fri, May 22, 2009 / 5:06 pm

    Thanks for the comments, folks!

    SkippyMom – You’re right in principle. If the item is such that you couldn’t/didn’t eat it, and you accept having it comp’ed, there’s no logical reason you should want to take it home, right? But there are two mitigating possibilities:

    1. As I said in the post, perhaps the guest has someone at home who might be able to handle the spice?

    2. What is the restaurant gonna do with the half-eaten dish anyway? Might as well make the good will gesture to let the guest take it if they want – provided they are ‘cool’ people and have behaved well.

  5. Food Service Ninja Sat, May 23, 2009 / 6:01 pm

    My basic rule of thumb provided the scammer radar isnt going off is would I want to pay for it if tables were turned(pun intended).

    I will also out of view of the complaint guess confirm their complaint

    taste for a salty/spicy dish with sauces and soups if its not stirred regularly when it get to the bottom of the pot it will be salty as hell

    stick a finger into the middle of their cold side

    cut off a piece of gristly steak and try it

    In the corp chain segment of the industry its all about CYA-you tell the supervisor who does the comp even when you KNOW they are scamming (CYA=cover your ass). Those calls to corporate can be what keeps a manager from getting bonus so they will be happy to fire the employee generating the calls.

    And its CYA on offering to box it because if you throw it away w/o asking sure enough someone at the table will ask for it then use it to snag a new plate that you normally would refuse them since they didnt complain til the meal was over.

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