Musings of a cranky chef: “What do you expect?”

Sometimes as chefs we want someone else to cook for us, you know: shed the apron, ‘iron our shorts’, and transport ourselves to the other side of the swinging door, where food magically appears on tables. But, where to go? When we cook for ourselves we know what we’re getting into.

So we’ve gotta decide where we are going, what we’re having, and finally, we need to manage our expectations. The poor kitchen is already at a disadvantage since it isn’t ‘ME’ in there, right? (You know what I mean.)

Shall we start with a beverage?

As customers, we really have to think carefully about things before critiquing any restaurant. What kind of restaurant is it? Fine dining, quick service, Mom & Pop style, ethnic, etc. Each one of these choices should modify our expectations. We shouldn’t expect wine suggestions at a diner, the same way we shouldn’t get a sticky squeeze bottle at a fine restaurant. We’ve got to be realistic, reasonable, and know that our right to criticize or complain diminishes with the size of the cheque.

It’s a simple scale.

We shouldn’t have anything to say if our cheque is less than $15 for our meal. For that price it’s a miracle there is anything good on the plate at all! And if it’s less than $10, we best be content with our ‘whatever you got for almost nothing special’. Think of the costs: to staff a restaurant, purchase and prepare the food, plus all the overhead costs—if it’s great, these people need to be revered. If it’s not so great, what did we expect? Even the burger meals at fast food joints will cost about $15.

It’s when we start paying a little more, that things can become contentious. If we’re in a ‘nice’ restaurant—a place with dedicated wait staff (yes, wait staff, not servers), maybe a host or hostess, and a restaurant manager on the scene, this is where we begin to expect more. Candles on the table, maybe a little ‘Frank’ playing in the background, knowledgeable, engaged staff and good food-solid, well-executed plates that make the kitchen seem like they ‘give a *&%#’. When this happens, it’s bliss, followed by a chain reaction of smiles, compliments, belly rubbing, and generous tipping.

When it doesn’t happen, what is the recourse? There’s a number of ways that can go.

For example, you’ve ordered a $30 main course and it doesn’t come the way you’ve ordered it: it’s overcooked or maybe it’s cold. Send it back, by all means. At the very least, it’s a mistake or possibly ineptitude, either way, it shouldn’t be your problem. Inform your waiter of the problem and if you’re not under time constraints have it re-done. BUT, and this is a very BIG but, you cannot eat it, then expect it for free. It is always in the best interest of the house to make it right however they can, but we should never expect a free dinner for it. Maybe they ‘comp’ a drink or a dessert, that’s appropriate. Expecting more than that is greedy and unfair.

However, what if you don’t like how it tastes, I mean, it’s not ‘spoiled’ or anything, but you just don’t like the flavor. Well that’s on you. Maybe you should order a safer choice next time, presuming the menu described the ingredients in the dish accurately. But, if it didn’t describe the Habanero Peppers in the dish, you can feel justified in sending it back. FEEL NO GUILT. The chef and management need to be aware of these things. That’s how they can maintain a standard and improve on it. Just don’t be a schmuck about it.

Me? Depending on what’s happened, I would voice my concerns clearly to management/owner(s). I would pay only for what I have eaten. Then if nothing is rectified, I’d write an accurate review on any number of platforms; FB, Yelp, Trip Advisor, etc. The worst thing that can happen to a business is for customers to pass along their bad experiences. Gaining a bad reputation is accomplished far faster than building a good one.

But be sure your review is based in fact, not just a bad day. If the restaurant makes it right, there is no reason to rehash what went wrong with your experience. Instead, praise them for their customer service and give them your repeat business. The restaurant business is incredibly tough, with very thin margins. Let’s not make it any harder for the ones who are trying.

Complaining isn’t wrong, but there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it. You can be courteous and constructive or you can be an a**.

Just sayin’



About John Pritchard

John Pritchard has been ‘chefing it up’ for the best part of three decades.
Starting his cooking career in PEI at the Dune’s, in their opening year, John fell in love with the farm to table approach employed there…before it was called Farm to Table’. Yup, he’s really that old.
It’s this approach that’s been his focus wherever he has travelled. His relationships with local farmers and producers have inspired his cuisine and formed the backbone of his philosophy in, and out of the kitchen.
Several years, countries, restaurants, hotels, awards and three Islands later, Chef John is here in PEI with his family, keeping his food fresh and local with Pure Kitchen Catering and Pure2Go Meal Pan Service. When the day is done, he enjoys fine spirits, wine, cigars and jazz.…and when he finds the time, he likes to ‘grumble’ about the food industry…and sometimes writes it down.

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