Do you ever feel like a bratty kid when you don't get the meal you expected?

Lately, I’ve had some disappointing dining out experiences in South Tampa.

In frustration, earlier this week, I wrote a post venting about a bad experience at a certain restaurant under the guise of “opening a dialogue” on how to handle sticky dining situations. Truth be told, the last few “nice” dinners I’ve had in South Tampa have been underwhelming and in one instance, I was treated downright offensively. I think I really just wanted to complain.

But, after I stepped back to think about it, Zest has never been about posting bad reviews, so I took the post down, realizing that maybe my personal experience was clouding my judgment on recognizing the merits of that particular establishment. I’m human, what can I say?

I think the root of that misstep is that food is really personal to everyone involved. It’s personal to the owner because it’s connected to their livelihood. But on the flip side, food is also very personal to me- after all, I’m the one putting my hard-earned cash on the table in the hope that the product promised is the one that’s delivered. Up until this point, I’ve opted to be the Merry Sunshine of Florida restaurant reviews – and that’s a good place to be as there is plenty of great food to promote. And, there’s no guilt and no drama. (If only the same could be said for my personal life!)

Now that I have that off my chest (thanks for indulging me), I’m curious how foodies handle situations when they have a subpar dining experience. And I’d really love to know how restaurant owners and managers think is an equitable way to handle these dilemmas—and the most effective way for to dinners to wage complaints. What are your feelings on these scenarios?

At one new upscale South Tampa restaurant late last year, four of us waited for nearly an hour for our table (in a parking lot after making a reservation), watched many people be seated before us–only to be seated at a high top table in the bar. (Clearly our reservation was forgotten as other patrons got to sit in swanky booths). Drinks and dinner were very slow – but delicious. No one ever apologized for the mix up and they did not take anything off our check. It took us 4 hours to have drinks and heavy apps. We did complain to the Maître D about the wait, but did not address it with the server. (price per person with two cocktails= $80)

Or, how about last weekend, when we went to another higher-end South Tampa restaurant. Unfortunately, my rack of lamb came out pretty much rare, fatty and practically inedible. It was a huge serving of eight chops- two sets of four chops. The first half, I was able to work with by eating the lamb farthest from the bone, still leaving a lot of waste. The second set of chops were so rare that there was blood on the plate and I couldn’t get my steak knife through the meat to cut it. And there was the issue of the hair. There was a hair on my carrots. The kitchen fired up a new meal but by that point, Mister M was done eating and it was pointless. They gave me a doggie bag for the new lamb and both the lamb and our dessert was on the bill. (price of dinner for two with tip and two glasses of wine= $180)

In these situations, could I have been more assertive? Absolutely. I should have asked for the lamb chops to be taken off the bill and talked to the manager when we were seated an hour after our reservation time. But I loathe being THAT picky restaurant-goer and didn’t want to be a fussy you-know-what—even though, in these situations I feel like I had every right to be.

If I’m going to drop two Benjamins on dinner for two, my expectations are higher than if I’m grabbing Thai food at a Mom and Pop place. Is that reasonable? Does the management’s response to an issue change if you are dining at a more upscale place?

If the main part of your meal is ruined does offering a free dessert really fix anything?

Owners and managers, what is the best way for customers to address a complaint? What is an equitable way of handling mistakes at expensive restaurants?

Talk to me…

  1. Carlos on Sunday 9, 2011

    Normally I don’t send things back if they are still edible, but the way you described the lamb…there is no way I could have eaten that. I would have probably just asked them to take it off the check and declined a re-fire of it…since I think the point was to enjoy your dinner with Mister M.

  2. Zest Foodie on Sunday 9, 2011

    Thanks for your thoughts Carlos. Mister M thought the same thing. I should have been more assertive! Hope to see you soon!