Have you ever experienced a restaurant meal so bad you refused to pay for dinner?
Last night was the first time that I have refused to pay. That’s not to say it was the first bad meal I have eaten, but it was the first time I dug my heals in and said enough is enough.
Which is how I found myself sitting at a table for four in the middle of a restaurant while my wife and kids picked up their stuff and legged it out the door after telling the waitress that I wanted to speak to the manager . As I sat there, surrounded by uneaten food and the eyes of other diners, who maybe did like their meals, the owner approached me to discuss the problem.
Eating out as a Family is a Big Deal
Rewind to the afternoon, my tenth wedding anniversary. With 2 young children we don’t go out as much as we used to. Not, as some imagine, due to the hassle of it all but because it’s expensive. Seriously, how do two kids with a combined weight of half of me eat so much?
My wife and I love Indian food but for the last few years we haven’t been able to have one as the nearest restaurant was nearly 60km away. That all changed recently when a local Indian restaurant started trading.
We decided that it was time to hit the town and paint it red, well maybe half the town, we had kids in tow and didn’t have all night.
First up we grabbed some drinks overlooking the marina. This area caters for the reef boats and has amazing views across the mountains and water. Picture perfect at sunset. Suitably in the mood we decided to move on to a restaurant for dinner. Normally overflowing with choices, we found that nearly everywhere was shut due to the quiet season.
Rather disappointed, we decided to try the new restaurant. Ever the optimist, I wasn’t putting too much weight on two reviews I’d heard recently that pointed to mediocre at best. I was looking forward to getting stuck in to a lovely curry. While northern Indian is heavier than its southern counterpart I love both styles and wasn’t put off by the fact that the menu was all looking rather heavy. Finding out it was a BYO I ran up the road to the bottle shop for a bottle of Sav Blanc to celebrate our special day.
It was on my return that things started going south. First up, the complimentary poppadoms and minted yoghurt. Supermarket variety with a dip that was mint jelly and yoghurt mixed together. Still, I ignore the warning signs, I desperately want to believe that the mains will be good. We don’t eat out often so I am like a deer in the headlights, I can’t turn away, offering the company line “very good thank you” when the plates were cleared.
The End of the Indian Dream
Soon the mains come out and I know that this big eyed deer is going to get run over here. Three totally different dishes all looking the same colour with what I am sure is the same base sauce. Quite possibly a packet mix from the local supermarket. The garlic naan was actually good and was eaten by all. That was where it stopped. My wife wasn’t happy about the sub standard slop we were served. Now this was our tenth anniversary and I didn’t want it to be ruined so was tight lipped. The food was beyond terrible but what do you do? Well my wife knew what to do.
She made it clear that leaving wouldn’t ruin her night but paying for this food would.
I’ve eaten on numerous railway stations across India, every one of those meals was vastly superior to this slop. It was decided, I agreed and she got up with hand bag to speak to the waitress. She doesn’t normally do confrontation so I was surprised by her speaking until she walked right past and collected the children and said the manager would be out to speak with me. Ah, I see.
The manager approached and I explained that the food wasn’t worth paying for. Sitting there, telling someone that what is cooked and served isn’t worth paying for isn’t as easy as one thinks. Until I look him in the eye and realise he knows what I am saying is true. He puts out the usual line that everyone else has been happy, even though I know that isn’t true. I explain and go through each dish and its merits, or lack of. Nothing is denied, and when I refused to pay for dinner he is fine, if that is what I want.
Yes it is what I want, because I won’t pay $70 for a meal that I wouldn’t want to eat.
I leave and get into the already running car and we head for some fish and chips. Surely that can’t be ruined. Surely.
Is it OK to Complain?
So what does the average punter do when faced with a dish or meal that isn’t what they expected or is clearly lacking in quality? Complain!
You see as a chef, nothing pleases me more than happy customers loving my food. Lets face it, everyone loves their ego stroked. But if we have dropped the ball then we need to know. I have always had a belief that if the customer genuinely doesn’t feel that they should pay, then they won’t. People with a genuine issue will explain the issues and not make a big scene. I don’t nibble every steak that goes out, so if there is a problem with a batch the only way I will know is from customer feedback.
The bottom line is, don’t be afraid, talk to the manager about a refund. If it helps, think how long it took you to work for the money to pay that bill. It’s what I do, you would be amazed at how that steels your reserve to put your hand up.
What about you? Have you ever refused to pay for dinner?