The customer is (not) always right

On The Atlatic‘s food blog, an experienced voice in Daniel Meyer’s restaurant empire offers this on the nature of hospitality:

 Once, when I was a junior manager, a guest loudly berated me for an overcooked steak. I asked him why, if the steak was so poorly cooked, he ate the entire meal before expressing his dissatisfaction. The next morning, Danny Meyer called me into his office to let me know that he had received a call from the guest complaining about how I handled the situation. As a mea culpa of sorts, Danny invited him and his wife back for another meal, entirely on the house. Echoing the wisdom of my grandfather, Danny helped me understand how short-sighted my approach was, and why taking the high road by either replacing the steak or removing it from the bill would have been the far better choice (and a much smaller investment).

Now, I’m not a restauranteur, but I find this to be utter bullshit. Berated by the same empty-plated, freebie-seeking customer as he, I hope I’d respond with a more politic “I’m sorry to hear your meal wasn’t to your liking,” and then offer dessert menus to the table. Outside of sarcasm in the server’s actual response, there’s absolutely no rationale, no excuse, even, to comp anything in this case.

But perhaps that is why I’m not cut out for the industry.


Author: Scott

I am a married father of two. I graduated from Rock Bridge High School and then Mizzou before spending six years in the Washington, D.C. area. We returned to Columbia, Missouri in 2006.

4 thoughts

  1. I am going to have to disagree with you slightly here. Do I think they should have comped the steak? No. Do I think the waiter should have replied like that? No.

    We don’t know the story here. Did the waiter double check how it should be cooked since medium rare means different things at different places? Did he check back to make sure their steaks were cooked correctly? I have sat and eaten a wrongly cooked meal simply because the waiter never came back to check and I was hungry.

    When a restaurant makes a mistake, they should correct it. That could mean a lot of different things. A visit from the manager, a dessert or a glass of wine are the things that make me forget the problem. More so, they keep me coming back to the restaurant.

  2. I think we’re mostly in agreement here. I think that when a restaurant makes a mistake the diner should complain before they eat the entire meal…even if that means waiting a bit. If it’s effed up enough to send back why are you eating it? 😉

    Server should have handled better too.

  3. The customer’s behavior is not at issue here (although social justice would seem to say otherwise)– it’s what the restaurant, and its representative the waiter, do in the situation, and what the restaurant wants in the long run…which I think would be to make the customer want to return, and to tell others of his positive experience there. Most adults realize that steaks can come out other than how they were ordered (which is why most adults simply eat the steak and don’t complain, but fume about it). I’ll complain about a dish at the end of the meal, usually in response to the waiter or manager asking how it was, but I’ll never ask for the cost of the meal to be deducted from the check. But smart restaurant managers will deduct it anyway (as Christian did at La Terraza a couple of months ago, when I told him that the mole sauce was kinda bland) (and I continue to LOVE La Terraza). It’s the willingness to address problems that builds good relationships.

    I think there’s also an implicit assumption in your original post that the customer was angling to have his meal comped. I didn’t see in the original article that he even asked for a comp. Yeah, people do that, but I think most people don’t, and the restaurant’s attitude towards its customers– are they partners in a shared commercial enterprise, or are they out to screw us at every opportunity?

  4. Interesting viewpoint, but you must remember there’s no “n” in the word restaurateur. Just something to consider in your future (and very credible) writing style. Also, kudos to you on your BBQ endeavors over the weekend. I bet it WAS delicious! On Saturday, we strolled by and should have stopped to say hello as we saw Mrs. SME and Master SME playing catch in the street, working up an appetite for your “Q”…yum 🙂 I daresay I bet your brisket was better than Shotgun Pete’s on the Business Loop….I’ve tried everything there and love it (their ribs are wonderful), but the brisket has been overly tough and hard on both occasions I’ve had it (and I love burnt ends). Pulled pork, ribs, and burgers are the way to go at SG Pete’s.

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