Posts Tagged ‘Michael Bauer Blog’

Sending back food you don’t like

At Zuni Cafe, the kitchen will replace a dish when diners aren't satisfied.

Eric Luse/The Chronicle

At Zuni Cafe, the kitchen will replace a dish when diners aren’t satisfied.

When dining at a good place, if you order something and you get what was described on the menu, but take a taste and don’t enjoy it (would not eat it) is it reasonable to ask the waiter to take it back and not be charged?


That’s an interesting and somewhat complicated question and goes to the core of an implied trust between the diner and the chef.

I remember talking to Judy Rodgers of Zuni Cafe about this subject more than a decade ago and her philosophy has stuck in my memory. She pointed out that a restaurant is one of the few businesses where the owner knows that when someone walks through the door, he or she will spend money. If you don’t like a sweater, for example, you don’t have to buy it. If you get home and don’t like it you can return it. Generally when you order a dish in a restaurant, you pay for it. Should you have to eat a dish you don’t really like?

She says no. If someone doesn’t like what they order, she will replace it; she wants diners to be happy with their meal. Most chefs feel the same way, and most patrons would never dream of sending back a dish simply because they don’t like the addition of red pepper in the sauce. That is where the trust comes in: a chef trusts that a diner knows his style of cooking and a diner trusts that the chef will deliver.

Sitting down and ordering is almost like a mutual understanding between the two parties. I think diners should be judicious in sending back food. It is fair to complain when the food is improperly cooked, or when the dish isn’t as described, or has an ingredient, not mentioned, that the diner is allergic to or doesn’t like.

Whatever the reason, a dish shouldn’t be sent back if half of it has been eaten. In most cases, instead of simply taking the dish off the check, the waiter will likely try to steer the diner to another dish on the menu.

Posted By: Michael Bauer (Email) | February 12 2009 at 05:11 AM

Original Post

Differences in bicoastal dining

Rubicon was restaurateur Drew Nieporent’s only West Coast business.
I’m fascinated by the subtle and not so subtle differences between the East and West coasts, and I’ve quoted Drew Nieporent several times in the blog about his observations as a bicoastal restaurateur.
I caught up with him in New York last week and found that some things he told me last year haven’t changed.
He said he’d like to open up in San Francisco again if the right opportunity comes along. While New York is home, he loves the vitality of the West Coast. He reiterated his beliefs about the differences between diners on either coast.
At Rubicon, few people complained about being seated upstairs; at Corton, the biggest complaint is seating. When I was at Corton, he took a customer to a table in the corner, next to the kitchen wall that has a long narrow glass insert so that diners are protected from, but still get a glimpse of cooking action. The customer refused to be by the kitchen, which in Nieporent’s mind was one of the best tables.
He says that in New York, there’s always a jockeying for position and that the food is often less important to diners than where they sit. In San Francisco, the food is by far the most important element.
Another aspect I found interesting is his experience with OpenTable. This online reservation service worked beautifully in San Francisco, but is a bust at Corton.
He said one night he had more than 20 no-shows, which is one-third of the restaurant. In San Francisco, most people honor the online reservations. In New York he finds that many people use fake names and numbers. There are even several online businesses that make reservations to sell them to last-minute diners and don’t bother to cancel if they can’t sell the reservation.
Because of these ongoing problems, he blocks out most of the tables on OpenTable, forcing diners to call the restaurant.
Posted By: Michael Bauer (Email) January 29 2009 at 05:18 AM
Listed Under: Reservations Comments (33) : Post Comment


Don’t show up for dinner? That will be $100

As a restaurant critic I thought you should know the outlandish charge that Coi charges if you cancel your reservation. $100 per person! In this economy, I would think that they would welcome any and all to their site, especially since they charge $125 per person in the dining room. I did cancel as a personal situation had arisen.
I emailed the reader back to get more information. here’s what he said:
Even if you cancel that day, there is a charge — no-shows should be charged but canceling five hours ahead at $100 per person is excessive. The reservation “agent” called about an hour later and said that a reservation came in and they filled it with our reserved space and we would not be charged.
I found that interesting; I’ve been to several new restaurants, including Bottega in Yountville, that require a credit card to reserve. But generally if diners call and cancel they aren’t charged. So I called Coi and talked to Elizabeth Mooney, chef-owner Daniel Patterson’s assistant.
She says that it’s true, if a party books and doesn’t cancel 48 hours in advance, they may be charged $100 per person if the restaurant isn’t able to fill the seats.Later in the day, I got an e-mail from Patterson explaing that he hated to impose the surcharge and that he tries to be sensitive to emergencies. Here’s his explanation:
First of all, I hate that we have to have it. But for two years we endured a 15 to 20 percent no-show or last-minute cancellation rate. At first we had a $25 charge, which did nothing. Then we tried a $50 charge, and the no-shows continued unabated. So we decided to raise it to $100, where it is now, and finally that had some effect — now people will actually call us if they can’t make it! The problem, especially acute for us, is that people will make reservations weeks or months in advance, and then dump it at the last minute. Because of the nature of our restaurant we do not get any walk-ins and very few last-minute reservation requests, so those tables went empty.
I do understand the problem and I’m sypathetic to the restaurants as all serious diners should be; no-shows end up increasing the price of what we all pay. More and more restaurants are finding that no-shows are a problem and are starting to take action.
Maybe restaurants should treat seats at the table like seats at the opera. If you don’t show, don’t expect a refund.
Posted By: Michael Bauer (Email) January 30 2009 at 05:04 AM
Listed Under: Reservations Comments (43) : Post Comment