The clams were sandy. The more I ate the more grit I chomped. The spaghetti was a little salty, but edible. Wait. Nope. The more I ate, the saltier it got and the thirstier I got. Spaghetti with clams seems simple, but clams are very sandy and very briny. So they need to be scrubbed really well and take very little salt if any. Halfway through my lunch, I pushed my dish aside and went back to reading. My waiter asked how everything was. Do I say something? This restaurant is new to my neighborhood and I want to be able to come back without being labeled as a fussy regular.
As a diner, how many times have you found yourself in this dilemma? When in doubt, the answer is yes, say something. Any chef worth his/ her salt would want to know. Sometimes as a chef, you can do everything right and a customer simply won’t like a dish. Sometimes they insist that they ordered medium steak when the waiter insists they ordered medium rare. Other times you just have to own up to a mistake that went out to a table.
Often customers won’t say anything at all. That’s why I like a kitchen with the dish pit right next to the line so I can keep an eye out for plates not licked clean. If I see the same item coming back unfinished, it sends up a red flag for corrective action. I might have to correct a line cook who’s heavy handed with salt, or a prep cook who doesn’t wash the greens properly. I might have to revisit the dish myself or take it off the menu altogether. The success of a restaurant rests on how you address each complaint and build lasting relationships with your clientele.
I told my waiter why I didn’t finish my meal, and he showed the chef. He offered me a complimentary cup of coffee or tea, which I accepted. I never expect a free meal and I don’t think anyone should. If it’s truly inedible, I at least give the kitchen an opportunity to make it again or order something else in it’s place. As I was sipping my coffee, the chef came out to apologize to me. I explained that I hated to complain, but as one chef to another, I thought he would want to know. He was a stout Italian man who, upon hearing that I was also a chef smiled broadly and graciously shook my hand. Restaurant redeemed.