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And Now for Some Unpleasant Aftertastes

February 07, 1988|COLMAN ANDREWS

A reader writes with this complaint: A family of four sits down at 6 p.m. on Valentine's Day at an Italian restaurant in Santa Monica. At 7:30 they are asked to leave because "we need your table."

My comment: I think it's OK for restaurants on busy nights to accept reservations with time limits attached ("I can let you have a table at 6, but we'll need it again at 8")--but unless this proviso has been agreed upon in advance, I think it's absolutely unforgivable for diners to be hustled out of a white-tablecloth restaurant on a special-occasion evening after a mere hour-and-a-half. It's stupid, too. If a restaurant keeps this kind of thing up, they won't be "needing tables" at all, because nobody will bother coming anymore.

And from other readers:

The complaint: A woman writes to the general manager of a top-rated hotel in Newport Beach, criticizing in great detail the quality of a New Year's Eve dinner she and six friends had eaten at the pricey French restaurant there. The hotel's food and beverage director responds by mail in less than coherent English (he is French-born) and with misspelled French (he is French-born), defending his chef's cuisine and suggesting snidely that the woman should avoid the place in the future since she so obviously prefers "the more serious restaurants" of France itself.

My comment: The customer is always right, period. Call this woman names and look down your nez at her if you wish, but do it in private. Only a jerk in the restaurant business antagonizes customers unnecessarily. Sometimes, maybe, it's necessary. But it wasn't this time. A simple noncommittal apology and a brief "I hope you will give us another chance" would have handled the problem nicely, and maybe even earned the restaurant a future faithful customer.

The complaint: A waiter at a venerable old Continental place in West Hollywood spills coffee on a woman's jacket. The restaurant offers to pay for cleaning or, if necessary, replacement of the jacket. Then, for two months, the restaurant refuses to respond to the woman's husband when he writes asking that they make good on their offer.

My comment: Restaurants should always respond to complaints, and quickly and politely too. If the complainer is somehow in the wrong, there are proper ways to deal with the situation. Silence isn't one of them.

The complaint: A young man takes his date to the movies in Century City. Waiting for the show to start, they decide to have dinner at the adjacent fast-food court. He buys three slices of pizza at a pizza place, she gets something from a nearby Chinese establishment. It is raining, so the outdoor tables are not looking particularly hospitable. She thus brings her Chinese food into the nearly empty pizza place to sit with her date. The manager tells her she can't bring somebody else's food into his establishment. The two leave in disgust.

My comment: I understand the basic rule here and sympathize with it. But flexibility is an essential quality in the restaurant game, and a rainy night ought to forgive many irregularities of procedure. The manager should have bent the rules. If he doesn't see why, then he'll probably be the night man at a pizza place for the rest of his life.

The complaint: A couple dines at an old-style Continental place in the Los Feliz area. They order angel hair pasta with bay shrimp. By mistake, they are served linguine with jumbo shrimp. They eat part of their meal, then compliment the waiter on the size and quality of the shrimp. The waiter looks troubled, disappears, then comes back to remove the plates and replace them with the angel hair dish--at the chef's command. The couple writes two letters to the restaurant's chef (who is also the owner), complaining of their treatment before receiving a reply. When it comes, it is a phone call, during which the owner/chef is "rude and belligerent." He says that he removed the linguine because, when mistakes like this have been made in the past, customers have refused to pay for the higher-priced dish. He adds that he gave the partially eaten food to his staff.

My comment: (1) When a restaurant serves someone the wrong food, that's their problem, and they have no right to charge a higher price for it; (2) There's something wrong with the basic communication between dining room and kitchen if neither the waiter nor the chef realizes that a wrong dish is being sent out; (3) If serving partially eaten food to the staff doesn't contravene local health laws, I should be very surprised; (4) Again, I just don't understand lack of response or rude response to a customer's complaint--it just seems plain stupid to me.

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