Wednesday, May 21, 2008

To Report a Non-Critical "Restaurant Violation?"

Whenever Karen and I fight about food, I run and tell you to find out who was right. The last time, it was over the price of coffee and brunch etiquette. This time, it's a matter of feedback: to speak up or stay quiet.

We went out for sushi today and there was a problem. Out of respect, I'm not going to tell you where we went. I'd like to blog about the place when I have a more complete impression. We both want to go back and we don't believe that today's experience is representative. Now, on with the story.

We ordered an entree and a high-end fancy roll, both to split. As with all fancy sushi rolls, the presentation was fabulous, with stuff cut into cute shapes and sauce artfully decorating the plate. I wasabi'd, soy dipped, and took a bite. ... ... hold on... ... still chewing... gulping... chewing some more... ... sipping some soda... and a final gulp. Deep breath.

Okay, what was that all about? The rice was like glue. It was dense, packed tightly, and sticky beyond belief. Sushi rice is supposed to be a little sticky, but it's also supposed to be light. This was more like rice glutten paste.

Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating. Karen didn't really wanna talk about the rice issue, hoping to have a pleasant meal. We soldiered through the arduous jaw workout, each with our divergent dispositions.

The entree also came with rice. At first we ignored it, because the dish was really tasty and we were getting our carb fix with the fancy roll. But, after I suggested that I say something about the rice in the roll, Karen decided to try the little bowl of rice... Oh man. Same deal. Sticky rice, only with out the mango and sweet coconut syrup. Not cool.

I really wanted to say something and Karen wished I wouldn't. Because I know that this is probably not a common mistake at any sushi place, I felt like they should be alerted.

This isn't normal, Karen.

"It's just rice."

They need to know about this.

"[eyes rolling, deep sighing]"

What we've eaten is not a $14 roll. It's just not.

"[blank stare]"

Well, if I don't say something, then I won't wanna come back.

"She already came by and asked if everything was alright."

Yeah, and my mouth was full of my first bite of food. All I did was shrug.

"Well, she came back after that."

And I was walking Jasper in the stroller to get him to go back to sleep.

"Then why'd you eat it all?"

There was a delicious sauce! Look, I left one piece in case the chef wants to inspect it.

"[tilts head and shrugs]"

Karen had given up and wanted to stop arguing. We removed and ate the pieces of raw fish that were left on top of our remaining piece of "evidence roll." When the waitress came by, she asked how we liked everything.

Um, the rice in the roll and here (pointing to the little bowl) was really really sticky.

"Okay, I'll tell the chef. Sorry about that."

It's no problem, I say as she leaves. Looking at Karen, I try to reassure her that we did the right thing (although, I did it on my own, right or not).

The server comes back and apologizes again, saying that the chef apologizes and took 20% off the bill. I say thanks. We pay (a 25% tip on the original price of the meal for the server), and we head out. We both decide not to keep talking about the rice/feedback issue, agreeing that we wanna go back and see how the next fancy roll measures up.

So, dear reader. Having gotten a very one-sided accounting of these events. What would you have done? For Karen and me, it's probably a matter of style. She doesn't and I do. So, what about you?


  1. It seems it was good enough to eat - or at least eat most of it. I would have said something more as an informational piece for the chef, he may not be aware of the sticky rice, with no expectation of it being removed from the bill at that point. That they did would have been a nice surprise and encouraged me to come back for another visit.

    I suppose both our spouses are a little gun shy when we give feedback as we have high expectations for our time and money.

  2. Even though I eat out too much and (sadly) have had several bad meals, I always feel guilty saying something. I mean, even if it's like raw scallops (not at a sushi restaurant). One time I did mention that things were unsatisfactory and the server actually thanked me saying, "If you hadn't said something, we might not have known. We'll make sure this doesn't happen again."

    This was both a good and bad answer. Makes sense if you think about a manager/head chef not being able to inspect every single dish that goes out every night. But falls flat when you realize at least one person in the kitchen should have noticed.

    I think there's always a polite way of saying something. And after that one server's reaction (gracious, happy, appreciative), I've been more willing to say something...nicely. Everyone makes mistakes, and usually people don't want to do it again.

  3. sketchy9:33 AM

    hrm.. that's a tough one. If I'm planning on doing a review of a restaurant, I don't send anything back. If they send out bad food, it shows that they don't care what gets sent out.

    Each batch of sushi rice and sticky rice should be tasted before they send it out. It's obvious that they have quality control issues. the real question: is this a common problem, or did you show up on a bad day?

  4. Believe it or not, I really don't relish giving constructive feedback (instead, I just tattle to all of you). It's kind of a buzz-kill and it can put a damper on an otherwise upbeat dynamic with the server. When I go out, I probably over-engage my server with enthusiastic conversation and questions, often only to find out that they're not half as excited about food as I am. Doh!

    For the record, I didn't really send it back. I just gave them my opinion before asking for the check and left a piece uneaten as a statement . I'm learning that meals out with a kid are a struggle, and it's an accomplishment to get it all down before an erruption of screams (the kid's, not mine). So, that's what I did, juggled a fussy baby and scarfed down some food trying not to piss off my wife (again, yummy sauce can really make up for cooking mistakes).

    The place that will remain nameless probably doesn't serve rice like this regularly. But, when I find out for sure, I'll let you know.

  5. Squeezy10:28 AM

    I'd rather let someone know I'm upset than to quietly resent them forever. I feel the same for businesses. I usually only complain or point out issues at places that I care about.

  6. I think that as long as the criticism is worded constructively that it's fine. In your case, it wasn't inedible or dangerous so when you made your comment was appropriate and they showed great customer service by taking some off of your bill. If it had been inedible or dangerously prepared then I think that it's very appropriate to send it back. Doing it courteously is the key though. I agree with what you did.

  7. As a former server, I always appreciate Piet's angle. If the food truly was good enough to eat nearly all of and you didn't get a chance to say anything the first two times your server came by (assuming they were appropriately spaced table visits) then you really shouldn't expect a discout after the fact. I think you have a couple acceptable options:
    1. send the food back when you first try it and get it replaced or order something different. Maybe they have a better batch of rice in the back. I know you have a kid and time is of the essence, but (ugly truth) most kitchens and wait staff can't always factor your baby-bouncing breaks into their service cycle. It's their job to bring you food, hopefully good food and help you enjoy your experience. Therefore, if you don't help them help you, there's no help.
    2. eat your food, pay your bill, and if you really do just want them to know about the issue, mention it as an FYI tidbit on the way out. In my experience, when people eat all of something and then seemingly want a discount for it - bad form.
    If you're debating not going back because of the issue - ask the server if she thinks the rice is usually served that way or if it's a little off today. So, yeah, say something! But Karen was absolutely right in her objections.
    I rarely speak up when there's just a little something wrong with my meal, cause I'm gonna eat it anyway, so I nearly always let it slide. If my dining partner wants to do the dirty work, though, why not?

  8. Maybe I should change the name of this site to: Exercises in Bad Form. You all do get that I'm trying to press a few buttons, here, right?

    Thanks Cousin Cassie (she's really my cousin, yall). For the record, I didn't really expect a discount. I expected an explanation.

  9. Sounds like you handled it perfectly. The positive response makes me wish I spoke up more often about food that's just a bit off.

  10. know me: i'm usually not afraid to tell people how i feel. and bad rice at a sushi restaurant? that's just wrong.
    for me, sometimes it depends on the place - if i actually care about it that is. i've seen a few places in my town that i used to really like go downhill and if i feel like a comment/criticism might help improve things or bring them back around (round here it usually has more to do with the service) then i go ahead and say it and try to be nice about it (which it sounds like you were). so, i don't think there is any harm in giving them feedback, esp if they are getting the tasty sauce right. right?
    for the record, i don't make a habit of it. and i never expect it to result in a discount.
    does it do any good?
    i have no idea.

  11. let me guess? Umi?

    I had horrible rice there. I think you did a good thing.

    I did the silent thing; I just won't return. The rice is an essential part of their business. It should be right.


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