First off, let me disclaimer this and say I’m not a “complainer.” Being brought up Asian, you are taught to respect your elders and authority. That’s why most Asians don’t complain. For instance, I don’t complain at Outback when I order a medium steak and they cook it medium-well. I just know for next time, I’m going to order it medium-rare (which btw is what I’m slowly moving up to these days anyway.) Just last week, I had dinner at a pho place, and the waiter actually gave me the wrong check, and I overpaid by about $10. I didn’t realize it until I left the restaurant. I could have taken 2 minutes to walk back to tell them, but I just let it slide. That’s how much of a non-complainer that I am. I think I rationalized it to myself by thinking that the meal was worth more than what I paid. I know, it makes no sense.
HOWEVER, when I go to a fancy restaurant and I am paying $40 for a steak, if I order a medium steak and it comes out medium-well, FOR SURE I am going to let the waiter know. I’m not doing it because I’m trying to get more free food or a possibility of a free steak, I generally do it because a) I have high expectations at fancy restaurants and b) I want the restaurant to know and learn so that they don’t screw it up for other customers. If you don’t tell them they are overcooking their steak, I think you’re actually doing them a disservice because if they don’t know they are overcooking it, they’ll just keep doing it and next thing you know, they are on Kitchen Nightmares. “Yes your farts DO STINK!”
I’ve had 2 incidents at “nice” steak restaurants in the past couple of years that I want to share with you guys.
Capital Grille “Generous Pour” event
The first incident happened at Capital Grille Seattle probably 2 years ago. They are owned by Darden Restaurants, which includes Olive Garden and Red Lobster. It’s great because you could then use those gift certificates that usually go on sale for 20% off at the fancier Capital Grille. I had heard of their “The Generous Pour” event somewhere, and at the time, it was only $25 a person. I then told my friends and the 6 of us went on a Tuesday night to try it out. When we got there, we asked our waiter about the details of the event, and he said that we had a choice of 7 wines and that it’d be a 2 oz pour of each. When I heard that, I made that face you’d make when you bite into a lemon. Perplexed, we all thought that wasn’t really “generous” because when I think “generous,” I think nearly unlimited or at least without restrictions. So we carried on with our dinner, which was good, and while the wine and wine pours were okay, we just didn’t think it was “generous.”
When I got home, I decided to go out to their web site and give my comments on the event. I don’t remember what I wrote verbatim, but the gist of it was that if they were going to have a “generous pour,” event, then that implies no restrictions. A day later, the general manager of the restaurant called me to apologize for the confusion. She informed me that the “generous pour” event did indeed have no restrictions, but for the safety of their customers, they try to limit it to 2oz pours. The waiter also should NOT have told me about any restrictions, especially the 2 oz restriction. That was meant for internal guidelines(e.g. the waiter should pour 2 oz portions; not the entire glass.) I agreed with her that customers should be responsible for how much they drink and how to get home, but that should be the responsibility of the customer, not the restaurant. Now if everyone at the table looks sloshed or are getting rowdy, then by all means, the restaurant should cut them off. Kinda like any bar would do. At the end of our call, she told me she’d send me 6 x $25 gift certificates and for us to try them again.
A couple of weeks later, my friends and I went back and we got VIP service. A manager came by to check up on us. We didn’t ask the details of the “generous pour” event since the new waiter knew about the first incident and said we’d have a great time. Sure enough, we had a great time. The following year and this year as well, they called me to remind me about the “generous pour” event. I don’t know if they’ve flagged me in their system, but I definitely feel more taken care of every time I go. I want to believe that I also helped the restaurant clear up the policy about the event, and in turn, helped satisfy future customers and hopefully generate more returning customers. That or I’ve been eating steaks that have been spit on.
Morton’s $1 Filet Mignon Sandwiches
This happened a couple of weeks ago. My 3 friends and I drove to the restaurant and valet our car at around 8pm. We had to wait a bit to find a table at the bar, but that was fine. We then ordered 4 sliders each. They were fine. A little too much bun (I only ate 1 bun out of my 4 sliders.) When 9pm hit, we then decided to order some drinks on the reverse happy hour menu. One of the specials was this pineapple infused vodka drink. They had a jar at the bar with pineapple slices in it, and so we ordered a round. The first round tasted great. When we ordered a 2nd round, it tasted like pure vodka. It was so harsh, we couldn’t drink it. We then told our waiter, and he said the 1st round was from a batch from a couple of days ago, and this round was a newer batch. We then asked for a can of pineapple juice to pour it into our drinks, which made it taste a lot better. When we got our check, we noticed they had charged us $4.25 for the can of pineapple. Now I could have complained to the waiter, but I just let it go. He was flustered all night due to the increased business that the promo brought on. When we left the restaurant at 10:30PM, the valet guy told us that we would have to pay a $35 fee for staying past 9:30PM. We told him that was absurd, and that someone should have told us beforehand. He pointed to the valet receipt. I told him no one reads those things. He wouldn’t budge so we paid him the extra $35.
I think if the valet incident didn’t happen, I would have left it there. When we got home though, I emailed Morton’s to tell them about the inconsistent pineapple vodka drink and charging a customer $4.25 to fix their product was ludicrous. I then told them about the valet incident, and suggested that they should have waiters telling people to pick up their cars at 10PM or have the valet guys verbally tell people they needed to be ready by 10PM. The next day, I got a call from the valet company who apologized about the valet incident, and it turns out there was a miscommunication – they usually do charge a late fee, but it’s not meant to be charged at Morton’s. He then told me he’d mail a check for the $35 fee. The funny thing is that I was expecting a call from Morton’s first, but apparently Morton’s forwarded the complaint to the valet company. Anyway, the following day, Morton’s finally called me about the pineapple incident. The manager apologized about it, and invited me to come back and he’d take care of a round of drinks. I would have preferred a gift card (maybe $10 or $20 since a drink there goes for about $15) instead just because for me to ‘redeem’ his offer, I’d need to talk to him or the assistant manager and give my name. What if he’s not there? What if he’s moved on? I haven’t decided whether I’ll be back or not
Like I said, I don’t usually complain, but I’ve found that complaining about legitimate reasons through official company channels do work. If you don’t complain, you’ll get nothing. This doesn’t just apply to fancy restaurants either. Does your non-smoking hotel room smell like an ashtray? Let them know! The hotel wifi was ridiculously slow? Let them know! Just don’t be THAT guy though that complains all the time.