In the many decades that I’ve been conscious of my mother’s personality, I have never ever known her to (a) admit that she’s wrong, (b) say that she may have been wrong, or (c) tell anyone she’s sorry.
She’s just built that way and my siblings and I have learned to live with it.
We grew up in the eastern part of the United States and, like many regions of this country, we had our own names for sandwiches and other kinds of food. For example, a submarine sandwich is called a grinder in New England, a hero in the Midwest, and so forth.
Where my mother grew up, a grilled cheese sandwich was often called a toasted cheese sandwich. So that’s what we called it at home. I remember asking her if there was a difference when my high school cafeteria posted grilled cheese on its menu. And she told me then that there was no difference.
Fast forward several decades to the present day to a restaurant that shall remain nameless because I would like to continue going there. Their lunch menu lists a sandwich as follows: “Grilled Cheese with Bacon and Tomato on your choice of breads.” So my mother, after perusing the bill of fare, closed the menu and ordered a “Toasted Cheese Sandwich with Bacon and Tomato.”
The waitress duly noted her order and placed it with the kitchen. About 10 or 12 minutes later, the waitress delivered a sandwich of unmelted cheese, bacon and tomato slices between two pieces of toasted bread.
As the mother of a culinary professional, she knows that if something comes out of a restaurant kitchen and it is not cooked correctly or to her liking, that it gets sent back. I actually have encouraged her – and everyone else who asks – to do this. If you don’t, my theory is, how will the kitchen staff know that they got your order wrong? And if you are displeased with what you got from the kitchen, you’ll probably tell friends and family of your negative experience which may influence whether or not they go to that restaurant.
The waitress took the sandwich back and in a few moments reappeared with the original ticket and showed it to my mother, in order to prove that she had communicated to the kitchen staff exactly what she ordered. Wrong move. A polite – ahem – disagreement ensued, with my mother asking for a copy of the menu and pointing out that this is what she had ordered; that it was not a special order; and it was a listed menu item.
You see where this is going, don’t you?
She eventually got the grilled cheese sandwich with actual melted cheese as well as the bacon and tomato, as advertised.
In every restaurant kitchen I’ve run, I always made it a point to look at the plates that came back to the dishwashing station from tables that had just been cleared. If I saw a plate with more than half the food uneaten, I always made it a point to go to that table and ask if the food was not to their liking.
If the diner told me that the food was not what they ordered, expected, or liked, I would ask why they wouldn’t send it back to have it made to their liking. And I always offered to make it right, either with a new dish or a complimentary meal for a future visit.
More often than not, the person would say that they didn’t want to cause a scene or make trouble for anyone.
Every cook that I’ve trained and every waitperson I’ve hired gets the same lecture from me: Remember who the customer is. It’s not you. It’s not the kitchen. It’s the diner. And if you’ve made something or served something that they don’t like and you see that the plate has uneaten food, be proactive and offer to make it right.
As you might imagine, I eat out a lot. And I see too many plates of food going back to the kitchen uneaten. So by means of this column, I hereby give you permission to send back your food if it’s not right. How else will the chef and the kitchen staff know? Negative comments about restaurants far outnumber positive. Word of mouth cuts both ways. You don’t want the buzz to be negative.
Believe me, any chef worth his whites wants to know. We don’t want to serve food that you don’t want to eat. And why would you meekly pay for it if you didn’t like it?
And if you own or run a restaurant and you see my mother come in for lunch or dinner, fear not. Just give her what she orders. She’s a very lovely, entertaining woman. And she tips well, too.
Follow me on Twitter @KitchenGuyMT
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