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Should I have to pay for horrible restaurant food?


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Hoping this finds all healthy and socially distant ...

 

Forgive if the topic has already been broached. I just saw the Obsessed episode of No Reservations and didn't know you were here. I'm not by any stretch of the imagination a foodie, but the fact that Anthony Bourdain ate everything from $1k pre fixe in 3 star restaurants to hot dogs at food carts in neighborhoods with checkered histories and questionable sanitary practices and liked most everything (at least what showed up on the air) is pretty inspiring.

I'm not a picky eater and AFAIC a canned tuna salad sandwich on toast is as good as a steak to me, and while Bourdain level freedom is cool, it is a little further than I am prepared to go, both in terms of how risky the prep is and how affordable, plus I'm not into conspicuous consumption or ostentatious luxury for myself. I've gotten sick eating stuff that from the get go I clearly shouldn't have and food that had good provenance but was not cooked correctly. Once I got deathly sick after eating at a buffet in Reno with an insufficient sneeze bar, and been grossed out by people licking the service spoon at a wedding buffet.  And while Bourdain denied getting food poisoning except on one occasion, there were also plenty of hints he didn't really mean that. He made numerous mentions of days spent on or hovering over the toilet (the "thunder pot").

Anyway, I try new foods and new cuisines at restaurants from time to time and candidly had a lot of meh. Maybe because I'm not willing to pay for a Michelin star or maybe because the food was never going to bee all that no matter what ingredients or chef was behind it, though meh is neck and neck with surprisingly good for something unknown or an animal I never thought of eating previously. And there were times when I wondered "what's the big deal about that" (ie, caviar)?

 

Still, a series of adventures that land somewhere between good and meh in the restricted amount of traveling and eating out I can do as a self-employed person with a child in college is something I can enjoy as a lifestyle.

 

But on three distinct occasions, the food was horrible and beyond horrible. Should I have had to pay for the experience? And is there some legit way not to pay when that has occurred?

When I was growing up, I perceived the rule to be that if restaurant food was horrible, I didn't have to pay. Simple breach of contract. Now I'm not so sure that cops won't arrest you any time they are summoned to any "quality of life" incident that could manifest itself into a scene and drag you off to a coronavirus pokey. Or shoot you in the back or step on your neck for the slightest amount of guff when you protest your right not to pay for an inexcusably horrible meal. I guess it is possible nowadays to protest a bill for bad food later with the credit card company, though I have no idea if that affects your credit rating, and filing a case with the company and justifying your position for not wanting to pay is burdensome and comes with limits under the credit card agreement and Federal regulations. I'm not sure if you have any rights to protest a payment made by debit card or what happens if the merchant refuses to accept a card as payment given the likelihood of a protest to follow or what the police would do if that happened, or what you do if only part of the price is on the protestor's card.

Anybody have any ideas?

The three occasions were long ago, but they are the type of thing that may happen when closed bankrupt restaurants end up in new and less experienced hands after the pandemic break.

1. Indian food at a birthday party, something I had long wondered about but I didn't specifically recall having before that night.

 

The guest of honor is a vegetarian -- and possibly the least discriminating person I know about how food tastes and a terrible cook -- but I ordered a meat dish that, very graciously said in favor of the operator, was revolting in its every particular.

 

The various main ingredients had been stewed until they were not distinguishable by sight, taste or texture; I could not figure out what was meat, potato or carrots even after chomping down, and ultimately it seemed the expensive items that should have been the center of the meal were simply there to hold the overpowering curry, doled out in a thickly uniform gray/green lava of gravy? sauce? meltdown reduction? with none of the prized "balance" that cooking competition judges keep insisting on. It smelled like the Gowanus Canal at low tide and tasted worse. It was all I could do not to lose my lunch at the table after the first morsel or two.

Ok, it was about 20 years ago and being hauled off to jail or being the victim of police brutality was very unlikely, but had it been other than a family affair, I would have made a giant scene and left in a huff, and probably insulted the moron patrons who were eating literal garbage (overpriced even for passable food). Fortunately I was not paying the bill, but I almost took back the birthday present for forcing me to endure the event and continue to smell death warmed over.

 

Indian food immediately became a not on your life event.

The tricky part of this incident is that in the law of contracts, there is a distinction between items that are objectively and subjectively passable, and depending on the nature of the item, there may be different results if you claim breach.

 

There are people who really like that shit -- assuming what I had was what it was supposed to be -- and clearly there is no accounting for taste. Plenty of people also like The Grateful Dead, heroin, soccer, and diving out of airplanes. The French famously love Jerry Lewis. And there are the non-foodies like the guest of honor who seem not to have taste buds at all. And in some sense, had I been the ultimate customer rather than a party guest, ordering that food was simply an experiment for me and maybe it should be me, rather than the restaurateur, who takes the risk that I won't like it at all.

 

But IMHO, it was inedible to anyone not drunk or lobotomized, and possibly a violation of the Geneva Convention, which holds that POW's cannot be given food worse than their jailers get, and I can't see a jailer chowing down on that garbage without thoughts of mutiny.

 

Anybody know whether there is a breach of contract for a restaurant meal if the customer, as opposed to the rest of the screwy world, doesn't like it?

 

2. Seafood on a vacation trip with my in-laws in Washington, DC.

 

I ordered some kind of baked fish that may or may not have mentioned in the menu that it was seasoned with fennel. I had never had fennel. If I was aware it was coming, I surely not know what to expect, other than to figure it added some relatively small flavor notes to make an otherwise reasonably bland dish interesting.

When it came out, the fish had been covered in fennel leaves with the look and consistency of pine needles, and the fish tasted like it had lived its life in a vat of Vick's eucalyptus cough medicine (extra strong) and had been allowed to eat only Peppermint Lifesavers and the insides of Peppermint Patties. This is not a scenario in which some marginally insane person might have liked it. It was simply disgusting. I was not experimenting with food; what I ordered was common as sunshine, or so I thought. The chef was experimenting with me.

I tried sending it back and that was refused. Again I would have had more of a shit fit than I did, but I was with judgmental relatives and afraid of getting arrested and locked up overnight in a city that was then in the middle of the AIDS epidemic. I ultimately paid at a time when credit card protections were less generous, but since the waiter had a part in refusing to take the dish back, I left no tip. I had a burger at Roy Rogers after that; it was a million times better.

3. Baseball tournament disaster. We fell into a neighborhood fish place near Diamond Nation in Flemington NJ, and most of the items on the menu involved pasta which is off my diet because I am diabetic. The only plausible item for me was battered fish and "spiced" chips, and even that was going to be up against my carb limits if the dish was not mostly fish.

What came out was a relatively small morsel of fish and mound of waffle fries that were "spiced" with confectionery sugar, the kind of thing spread on donuts. When I protested, the waitress told me "sugar" is a spice notwithstanding the famously authoritative limerick ("Sugar and spice and everything nice...)" and declined to take them back. Eventually I saw the manager who concurred with the waitress on the "spice" issue but nonetheless sent me a batch of unsweetened fries. No tip for for the waitress for her collusion in the bullshit.

I get it that I live in the real world. Unplanned things happen. Bored cooks or cheap shops can send out crap. I don't mind paying to experiment with new food if it is what it is supposed to be and don't like it, but I don't like the idea of getting a plate of sewage, deception or being a guinea pig, and then risking arrest by undertrained and insufficiently discrete cops for the BS inflicted on me in a restaurant when I call the operators out on that stuff.

What do you all think about this?

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My opinion is, if the food is bad or badly prepared or not as ordered, then no, you should not have to pay for it. If it's properly prepared as ordered and you just don't like it, then yes, you should pay for it. If you really push that second one, you possibly won't have to pay because most restaurants know a happy customer tells 5 people, an unhappy customer tells 50.  But that doesn't make the customer right, it just means restaurants are a tough business to make a go of and you try to prevent unhappiness when you reasonably can.

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It's kinda like wrestling a gorilla... you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.

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Legally, I suppose that eating in a restaurant assumes that you'll pay the bill. Like getting in a taxi...ride in a taxi, pay the bill.

 

Should a crappy restaurant charge for their food?  I'd say yes. They should go out of business too, but that's a different matter.

 

 

 

 

Edited by gfweb (log)
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Then again, there are instances where, due to my own fallibility, I was unable to eat some very excellent food. We were at Mary Mahoney's a legendary Creole seafood place in Biloxi, Miss. We shared an appetizer of mini-softshell crabs, six to an order, bodies about the size of half-dollars, and had a small side salad, mostly lettuce, a dab of tomato, with viniagrette. I had ordered my standard order there, shrimp and crab au gratin, which is tremendously, sinfully rich. I was about two days past recovery from a stomach virus.

 

I managed two bites of it and knew if I ate any more it would not be a good conclusion. The waiter was terribly concerned. "Is anything wrong with it? Did you not like it?" I assured him it was excellent, but that I was just past being indisposed with a stomach virus, and it was, regretfully, too rich for me to enjoy. 

 

They took it off my bill. I felt bad about that.

 

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Don't ask. Eat it.

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I quit reading when he dissed The Grateful Dead. Dude obviously has no taste. I had to conclude that he food was indeed good and he should pay. And tip well. 

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That's the thing about opposum inerds, they's just as tasty the next day.

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Perhaps Bourdain didn't see hovering above the toilet as food poisoning per se. I hear people say the same about Taco Bell (or eating at my place after absolutely assuring me that they really love spicy food) and have yet to hear anyone call that food poisoning.

 

By the way, welcome to eGullet @Rodk! I wish you health and social distance too.

 

 

Edited by CeeCee (log)
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We have all had meals that do not live up to our expectations. Most of us pay the bill and cross the place off our list. End of story. Only a few of us will hold a grudge for 20 years. 

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Anna Nielsen aka "Anna N"

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3 hours ago, Tri2Cook said:

My opinion is, if the food is bad or badly prepared or not as ordered, then no, you should not have to pay for it. If it's properly prepared as ordered and you just don't like it, then yes, you should pay for it.

@tri2cook

 

An argument that puts the cart before the horse. If the item is made perfectly according to a horrible recipe, is it "proper" or "not proper"? And how does one prove it one way or the other on the spot without having the recipe, knowing whether the food was properly killed, prepared and stored, and so forth?

 

I'm going to say that the Indian food was properly executed in all respects according to the recipe and the tradition but wholly bungled with respect to what an average first time diner would reasonably expect it to be. I'm going to say the food in Washington was properly executed according to a horrible plan to surprise me with garbage, which it did. I'm going to say the food in New Jersey was executed as the proprietor wanted it but without a plan to respect what they told me was coming, so fraud.

 

Your simplified argument doesn't seem to answer the issue of breach given the circumstances.

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51 minutes ago, Anna N said:

We have all had meals that do not live up to our expectations. Most of us pay the bill and cross the place off our list. End of story. Only a few of us will hold a grudge for 20 years. 

 

Exactly.  I would encourage the OP to provide a similar list of restaurant experiences that at least met or even exceeded expectations, I suspect more helpful recommendations to recapitulate those experiences might be forthcoming.  

 

Tipping policies differ worldwide but since US locations were referenced, I take particular exception to penalizing servers for income they will be taxed on for an entire table because their response to a single dish failed to meet expectations.    

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Not a contract in this country (USA). The concept of offer & acceptance has spun law student's heads for a long time.  The food and labor, and rnt - hello?!  I have never refused to pay. Getting pissy with a server just turns my stomach so if another diner does it,  I try to mediate. On one occasion I was served something so raw in a prep where it should have been fully cooked. Kitchen tried to fix and bungled it. I said "forget it" - they took it off the bill on their own. My experience in higher end restaurants is that a well trained server will notice your unhappiness and usually see what can be done. Usually just a diner educational experience. 

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2 hours ago, Rodk said:

An argument that puts the cart before the horse. If the item is made perfectly according to a horrible recipe, is it "proper" or "not proper"? And how does one prove it one way or the other on the spot without having the recipe, knowing whether the food was properly killed, prepared and stored, and so forth?


gfweb answered that one for you. You made the choice to eat there. pay the bill, chalk it up to a learning experience and don't go back. If you really feel the food was greatly inferior and not just not to your personal taste, tell everybody you know the place sucks. But if there's nothing wrong with the food other than you just didn't like it and you tell everybody the place sucks because they wouldn't give it to you for free, then you suck. 
 

2 hours ago, Rodk said:

I'm going to say that the Indian food was properly executed in all respects according to the recipe and the tradition but wholly bungled with respect to what an average first time diner would reasonably expect it to be.


If they serve authentic Indian food made well and to tradition, it's not their responsibility to figure out if the average first time diner will like authentic Indian food or not. If you're advertising you sell authentic Indian food, you're making that food for people you assume recognize and enjoy authentic Indian food. If you dumb it down, people who enjoy authentic Indian food will be doing their own version of your rant.

 

2 hours ago, Rodk said:

I'm going to say the food in Washington was properly executed according to a horrible plan to surprise me with garbage, which it did.


You said the menu may or may not have told you what was coming but it didn't adequately prepare you for what arrived. In that situation, even if it was prepared as they intended it to be, they should have taken it back. But I wouldn't say they were obligated to if the menu did describe the dish accurately, I just think it would have been the smart call in that situation. "I didn't realize seasoned with fennel was going to mean it would taste like peppermint patty filling" (which I find odd because fennel fronds taste much more like anise/licorice to me) was easily remedied with "Can we bring you something else?" and you would have left happy instead of still being angry over it for however long it's been.

 

2 hours ago, Rodk said:

I'm going to say the food in New Jersey was executed as the proprietor wanted it but without a plan to respect what they told me was coming, so fraud.


I'm going to say, if they served you fish on a bed of potatoes covered in confectioner's sugar and that sugar wasn't mentioned in the description, you were within reasonable right to object... health issues or not. Certainly, when you explained you are diabetic and wouldn't have ordered it if you had known it would be served that way, they should have offered a replacement. I'd classify that as badly prepared, whether it was according to their plan or not, but that aside, you made them aware that there was a valid reason you couldn't eat it. They should have done the right thing.

 

2 hours ago, Rodk said:

Your simplified argument doesn't seem to answer the issue of breach given the circumstances.


I just said the same thing I said before, just in a much more long-winded form... can we be friends now? :D

Edited by Tri2Cook (log)
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It's kinda like wrestling a gorilla... you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.

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If you try a new flavour of potato chips from the grocery and don't like it, you pay for it and feed the rest to the dog. Same thing.

 

That being said, there is nothing wrong with letting the restaurant know that you didn't like the food but it is up to them to decide whether to take it off the bill or not. If the food was actually spoiled I think you would have a case. But ultimately, pay the bill and absolutely tip the waitress.

 

I let a very nice restaurant know that one of the dishes was really excessively salty to our taste - really to let them know rather than expecting anything. It was nice of them to take it off the bill, but they didn't have to. I mean why else would they ask, "How was everything?"*

 

*I had friends who liked to choose a pretty ordinary pizza place for lunch. So when asked how the food was, my answer was always, "Up to your usual standards." 

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It's almost never bad to feed someone.

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Is there a person who eats out even once in a while who hasn't encountered inedible food? And you are still annoyed about an incident 20 years ago? Don't eat at "The Tides" restaurant in Gowanus. When we moved into the house we are in now more than thirty years ago we walked over to a funky little Chinese restaurant a few blocks away. I think it was very likely the food came directly out of a Chun King can. I don't think I took a second bite. Within a year the place closed and remained a dusty museum of tables for several more years. Rumors of two brothers and a murder bubbled up, but the truth has remained a mystery. So the moral is if you can get a story out it you are ahead of the game. 

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2 hours ago, haresfur said:

I let a very nice restaurant know that one of the dishes was really excessively salty to our taste - really to let them know rather than expecting anything. It was nice of them to take it off the bill, but they didn't have to. I mean why else would they ask, "How was everything?"*

I don't know if I agree with this.  Excessively salty is a problem I've run into (well, when we were dining out) every once in a while.  And, depending on the place, I will let them know.   Sadly, most restaurant cooks don't salt properly.

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20 hours ago, gfweb said:

Legally, I suppose that eating in a restaurant assumes that you'll pay the bill. Like getting in a taxi...ride in a taxi, pay the bill.

 

Not exactly. If I get in a taxi and ask them to take me to the airport but they take me to the railways station, I sure as hell ain't paying. If they take me to the airport, but drive like a lunatic, I may say something but would stil pay. They have fulfilled the contract.

Same with restaurants.  If I ask for chicken curry, for example, and they bring me fish, I ain't paying. If they bring me chicken which I don't enjoy, I pay.

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...your dancing child with his Chinese suit.

 

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Do you know the episode of Mr. Bean, where he orders “steak tartare” and the waiters asks him specifically “steak tartare” and he answers “yes, steak !” ?


If you know exactly what you order - especially in the context of the restaurant you are in - there is no doubt about the responsibility for your food choice. If you don’t know about dish and preparation, I feel it is up to you to ask your waiter about it. If the dish comes out very different to what you know of the dish and what have been explained to you, you may start to argue about whether you have been served inadequate food. Elsewise, you need to pay for what you have received.

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I wouldn’t even bother to take laws into this. America is litigious enough.
 

One example, you didn’t know what fennel was. Well, why not ask your server? Why just... blindly order?  Especially being diabetic. If I had an allergy or health reason to avoid anything, I would tell my server to give them a fair chance. Tell me while I think Z sounds good, it won’t work for me entrees Y, W, etc would work or they could omit xyz. 
 

 The restaurant in Jersey was wrong, absolutely. But from your description it was not a costly loss. 
 

  Shit happens. It happens when you think you bought a perfect tomato and it’s mealy inside. Or you buy fresh corn and the critters got to it. Or you spend a ton of money on a cut of meat and follow cooking instructions/ recipe and it comes out poorly. 
 

it happens in all aspects of life. I just chalk it up to, things happen. Of course it’s upsetting. But I never ever take it out on the waitstaff. I haven’t ever not left a tip and in America, to me, there has to something really wrong to not tip your waiter— it’s a shitty thing to do. 
 

Also? I wish I could recall bad meals like you can. God knows my bad recollections are a lot more significant. 
 

Pay your bill, write a Yelp review and move on. Anyone who would even contemplate the concept of pursuing legal action against restaurants, which are among the hardest hit by COVID has way too much time on their hands. 

Edited by MetsFan5 (log)
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Step 1: Join cooking forum

Step 2: Use this amazing resource to write a screed about a meal or three you didn't like. From decades ago.

Step 3: ??????

 

I can hardly think of anything I haven't forgiven of this world after 20 years, much less a meal I didn't enjoy/have the palate for. And I'm an effin' Greek for god's sake, like Anonymous, we do not forget, we do not forgive. For some reason, maybe it's the retsina, I dunno 🤷‍♀️

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2 hours ago, Yiannos said:

Step 1: Join cooking forum

Step 2: Use this amazing resource to write a screed about a meal or three you didn't like. From decades ago.

Step 3: ??????

 

I can hardly think of anything I haven't forgiven of this world after 20 years, much less a meal I didn't enjoy/have the palate for. And I'm an effin' Greek for god's sake, like Anonymous, we do not forget, we do not forgive. For some reason, maybe it's the retsina, I dunno 🤷‍♀️

 

The occasions I've had retsina I forgot.

 

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I think OP should only eat food he already likes. The risk of disappointment is too great. In particular I'd like him to stay away from ethnic food places, including Italian, French or Spanish places. Malice aside, I think you've missed the point of Bourdain. Please enjoy the show, but don't try his way of eating, and all will be well for you.

 

The rant about Indian food is incredible.

 

I've eaten andouilette in France, Florentine tripe and Keralan bitter gourd curry, and nearly vomited after each one, but I would never assume the problem was with the restaurant. I was trying something new, and it was not to my taste. In fact I know I just haven't had enough of it yet. Sometimes the palate needs the education. Just think of the first time you had whiskey. What the OP is describing is like being taken to a bar, being served a Jameson's and complaining about the establishment.

 

I will try bitter gourd again. I might try trippa alla fiorantina. Andouilette, though... that will be my test.

 

 

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