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Defensive Chefs


Randi
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maybe you should stop asking if you don't care. i'm not trying to be hostile, but i'm with halloweencat here. if i ask suzy how she is in the hallway of my office and she starts moaning about her in-laws and their bunions - i would sorely regret having asked, but i'd have no business blaming her for answering. i'd much rather not be asked than be asked by someone who doesn't care.

And that's a co-worker, not a customer. A customer has every reason to take that question at face value.

I'm in the middle on this issue. Personally, I don't complain unless food is uncooked or burned or clearly different from the way it was described on the menu, i.e. unless it seems like there was really some kind of mistake. If a dish I liked seemed to be different all of a sudden, I might ask, "Have you changed the way you make this?" as a matter of interest, not as a complaint. (I want to know if I should order it again.)

But I don't get what seems to be the idea that because chefs are professionals and their job is challenging, they shouldn't be questioned. What professional in this world has a job where his or her work is never under scrutiny from customers? And, yes, you do know more about your field than the average customer, but the customer is paying you. You're not in the business as a favor to the customer.

I'm teaching full time now. But up untill last year I was still a working chef. I had feedback cards that had pretty detailed questions. I would look at them once a week or so. (All perfect ratings by the way *ahem* :biggrin: ).

A single customer isn't paying my salary, not at a restaurant anyway. So in this sense a single customer is not my boss. And in extreme cases of rude or impossibly picky customers (which I've never encountered) I don't think it's reasonable for a restaurant to say, "we don't want or need your business." One customer or even a few are not going to make or break a business. Of course I want to know if something is wrong. The customer isn't dining in my restaurant as a favor either. There are expectations of quality and consistency commensurate with the price and context which a professional should be able to meet and if those aren't met well than critical feedback comes with the territory...

I can be reached via email chefzadi AT gmail DOT com

Dean of Culinary Arts

Ecole de Cuisine: Culinary School Los Angeles

http://ecolecuisine.com

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I got the impression that Timh made it clear that his examples were extreme....

Really? he sounded quite confrontational to me, hmmmm

Confrontational with those extreme customers yes. But I didn't get the impression that that's his usual style.

Maybe, I'm used to all the jokes about French chefs. :laugh:

I can be reached via email chefzadi AT gmail DOT com

Dean of Culinary Arts

Ecole de Cuisine: Culinary School Los Angeles

http://ecolecuisine.com

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I'm teaching full time now. But up untill last year I was still a working chef. I had feedback cards that had pretty detailed questions. I would look at them once a week or so. (All perfect ratings by the way *ahem*  :biggrin: ).

A single customer isn't paying my salary, not at a restaurant anyway. So in this sense a single customer is not my boss. And in extreme cases of rude or impossibly picky customers (which I've never encountered) I don't think it's reasonable for a restaurant to say, "we don't want or need your business." One customer or even a few are not going to make or break a business. Of course I want to know if something is wrong. The customer isn't dining in my restaurant as a favor either. There are expectations of quality and consistency commensurate with the price and context which a professional should be able to meet and if those aren't met well than critical feedback comes with the territory...

That strikes me as being just about exactly right!

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maybe you should stop asking if you don't care. i'm not trying to be hostile, but i'm with halloweencat here. if i ask suzy how she is in the hallway of my office and she starts moaning about her in-laws and their bunions - i would sorely regret having asked, but i'd have no business blaming her for answering. i'd much rather not be asked than be asked by someone who doesn't care.

And that's a co-worker, not a customer. A customer has every reason to take that question at face value.

I'm in the middle on this issue. Personally, I don't complain unless food is uncooked or burned or clearly different from the way it was described on the menu, i.e. unless it seems like there was really some kind of mistake. If a dish I liked seemed to be different all of a sudden, I might ask, "Have you changed the way you make this?" as a matter of interest, not as a complaint. (I want to know if I should order it again.)

But I don't get what seems to be the idea that because chefs are professionals and their job is challenging, they shouldn't be questioned. What professional in this world has a job where his or her work is never under scrutiny from customers? And, yes, you do know more about your field than the average customer, but the customer is paying you. You're not in the business as a favor to the customer.

yes, my example was perhaps not a very good one - though frankly i am irritated when anyone asks a question expecting a specific answer - be it "fine thanks" or "of course your ass doesn't look fat in those pants."

from overheard in new york:

Kid #1: Paper beats rock. BAM! Your rock is blowed up!

Kid #2: "Bam" doesn't blow up, "bam" makes it spicy. Now I got a SPICY ROCK! You can't defeat that!

--6 Train

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"fine thanks" or "of course your ass doesn't look fat in those pants."

:laugh::laugh:

I was thinking of that one too. I never answer that one honestly. I'm such a liar. :biggrin: I just say, "you look fine." Of course one time I told a friend she looked fine, except for the panty lines and she responded, "I'm wearing a thong". :blink:

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"How was your meal?"......

What I don't get is why ask if you don't want the answer. It is no different than if you ask how someone is and then tune them out when they answer more than "fine, how are you?"

I am mortified to find out that what I passed out the window isn't the best I could make it. I do not presume to be able to please everyone. However the complaint here had to do with product consistency. I would appreciate a comment like that since consitency keeps the me away from the bankruptcy lawyer.

**************************************************

Ah, it's been way too long since I did a butt. - Susan Fahning aka "snowangel"

--------------------

One summers evening drunk to hell, I sat there nearly lifeless…Warren

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Here is a story that is a little off topic but is an example of things gone bad. This happened at a restaurant I worked at long after I had left.

A couple had waited for ever (there was always an hour wait...no reservations) and had been passed up on the list. They finally got a table and had terrible service. It was one of those deals where everything went wrong. They left no tip and paid by check.

The waiter copied their phone number from the check. After getting hammered at the bar that night, the waiter called the customer to tell them to pound sand. The customer did not answer. That did not stop the waiter from leaving a rant on their answering machine. There was nothing annonymous about it. The customer not only played the tape for the restaurant owner but played the tape for the local radio restaurant show. Talk about stepping in it. We were dicussing this one night at a bar and it turns out I knew the customer.

Another time "at band camp" The floor manager came back and told me that a table had been waiting a long time to be seated and that they were good customers and to give their table extra attention. I asked who was handling the table so I could get on the same page. After a few minutes I had not seen a ticket come back for apps so I went out and found the waiter. He told me that they were going straight to the meal to save time. I asked him when the ticket would come back and got a blank stare in response. I then asked him how long ago he took the order. He said that they were almost done with their salads. I then told him to give me the notes and to enter the ticket into the computer later. Another blank stare. "Did you write down the order?"....."No". Ok, I'm not in a panic yet. Jim....what did they order. Blank stare. Now my pulse is beggining to rise a little. I said, "Jim, you have one minute to get that order into the computer". (At this point I wanted it on paper so if their was any question, it would be documented that the kitchen prepared what was ordered). Jim finally remembered the order, we rushed it out and everything was fine. Just another night.

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i think it's +slightly+ different.

i'm paying for a service and a product, when i'm asked that in a restaurant.

very similar to when i'm in a doctor's office and she/he askes me, "how's it going/how're you feeling?"

the reason i'm brought into the restaurant is an exchange of money for goods. we're not passing each other on the street outside, in which the "how was everything?" question might have a different social context.

cheers :)

hc

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OK I have a question after reading the above discussion:

I had heard that (here in the US) when the waitstaff asks you "how is everything?" that it is not in fact a social thing but a legal one. I was told that it is intended as a way for a restaurant to have checked with the customer so that if later the customer says there was a problem, sues them over something etc. the restaurant will have some recourse. The restaurant can then at least say they had checked & the customer hadn't mentioned any problems up to that point. Hence the prevalence of the waitress asking you two seconds after your meal arrives (and always mid bite) "how is everything so far?"

Is this not the case?

Do you suffer from Acute Culinary Syndrome? Maybe it's time to get help...

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OK I have a question after reading the above discussion: 

I had heard that (here in the US) when the waitstaff asks you "how is everything?" that it is not in fact a social thing but a legal one.  I was told that it is intended as a way for a restaurant to have checked with the customer so that if later the customer says there was a problem, sues them over something etc. the restaurant will have some recourse.  The restaurant can then at least say they had checked & the customer hadn't mentioned any problems up to that point.  Hence the prevalence of the waitress asking you two seconds after your meal arrives (and always mid bite) "how is everything so far?" 

Is this not the case?

I'm not a real lawyer, but I play one in law school. It sounds completely preposterous, a customer's offhand response to a common question won't be given any binding effect by a court. I don't even think that restaurant claims based on the quality of the food are very common, and when something does happen, the legitimate or fraudulent plaintiff will make a scene at the restaurant as "evidence" that something actually happened. I don't think there are enough lawsuits where the customer leaves the restaurant in peace and later sues over glass in their food to justify such a widespread custom.

real lawyers feel free to correct or agree with me

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If you don't want a response, maybe you should stop asking the question.  Or at least not be surprised when customers respond to it.

My point is that it's something that is asked all the time. It was also in response (look upthread) to someone stating that the owner probably wanted feedback because she asked Randi. Again, my point was that it's a standard question to ask. If a diner sees it as an invitation for detailed feedback that's fine.

To be honest, the reason I reiterated my disappointment about the crab cakes to the owner is that I suspected the waitress had already talked to her about my comment. It was my 3rd time there and she had never come over to me before, so I think it is likely that she was coming over specifically to diffuse the issue.

I would have felt silly expressing it to the waitress and then not having the nerve to express it to the owner, especially since I am pretty sure she knew already.

Randi

"Well," said Pooh, "what I like best --" and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn't know what it was called. - A.A. Milne

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I'm not a real lawyer, but I play one in law school.  It sounds completely preposterous, a customer's offhand response to a common question won't be given any binding effect by a court.  I don't even think that restaurant claims based on the quality of the food are very common, and when something does happen, the legitimate or fraudulent plaintiff will make a scene at the restaurant as "evidence" that something actually happened.  I don't think there are enough lawsuits where the customer leaves the restaurant in peace and later sues over glass in their food to justify such a widespread custom.

real lawyers feel free to correct or agree with me

yeah, as I was typing this up I did start to really doubt, but it's one of those "common knowledge" things that you just don't ever stop to question...

Do you suffer from Acute Culinary Syndrome? Maybe it's time to get help...

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I had heard that (here in the US) when the waitstaff asks you "how is everything?" that it is not in fact a social thing but a legal one.  I was told that it is intended as a way for a restaurant to have checked with the customer so that if later the customer says there was a problem, sues them over something etc. the restaurant will have some recourse.  The restaurant can then at least say they had checked & the customer hadn't mentioned any problems up to that point.  Hence the prevalence of the waitress asking you two seconds after your meal arrives (and always mid bite) "how is everything so far?" 

Is this not the case?

Well, I don't do it for legal reasons, but I do check as quickly as possible to make sure that everything is OK, the steak is cooked according to specifications, the kitchen hasn't forgotten to send out requested sides of sauce, etc. I genuinely do the quality check to make sure that everything is as expected, and that A-1 sauce, if needed, can be fetched (even if it's a loathesome request.) I try to stop by within 30 seconds of the meal being dropped for the quality check, just to make absolutely sure that there is enough ketchup for french fries, that all the food is hot and properly cooked, and that everything necessary for enjoying the meal is close at hand. When I come back to the kitchen, if a guest has asked for something special, it's a significant excuse to shout, "Guest request," in answer to their call for food runners, since I have something more important to do, so that the guest can enjoy his meal.

The fact that this thread was started about crab cakes, however, is significant to me, because of an experience I had a few months ago. I had a lady at a 2-top who ordered our crab cakes, which are considered some of the best around, and when I did the quality check, she said that everything was fine. When I did subsequent table stops to refill drinks (and we only have 3 table stations, so this is not infrequent) she said absolutely nothing as to the quality of her meal. Only when she had entirely finished nearly everything on her plate did she say to me, "My crab cakes were full of bits of shell, and I was unable to enjoy them." I looked down at her plate, and both of the crab cakes, plus most of the two side items, were almost completely devoured. There was perhaps a half a bite of crab cake left, a couple pieces of shell on the side of the plate, and a few french fries scattered on the plate. I asked her what she wanted me to do about her disappointment, asserting that I would bring a manager immediately if she wanted the entree comped, and she assured me that she "just wanted to let someone know."

So I took her nearly empty plate over to the expo window, showed it to 3 managers on duty, and told them exactly what she said. They looked at the empty plate, and they all said, "She ate them, so she's bought them."

When I presented the check, she called me back over and said she was upset that I hadn't comped the crab cakes, so I fetched a manager immediately. The manager discussed the issue at length with her, and eventually comped an amount half of what the crab cakes would cost.

Incidentally, her companion had actually authorized his credit card to pay for the meal before the manager table visit, and he'd written in a tip of 15% on the total bill. After the comp took place, he authorized another credit card charge for the bill plus a 15% tip on the amount after the discount. So giving this extra attention to the table actually cost me money. My tip went down because I took extra pains to bring management into the situation, and give them a discount on a meal that they chose to complain about.

If any of you out there can think of situations where your income goes down when you pay more attention to doing your job exactly to the customer's satisfaction, I'd love to hear about them. Please.

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Make it a Us vs Them case:

Them: How was the food?

Us: Sucks.

Them: Why?

Us: reason #1, reason #2. Doesnt taste the same as it did three weeks ago.

Them: Ok

(They go back to the kitchen and convey reasons #1 and #2)

They return with the chef.

We are mortified.

Them(Chef): I heard about your reason #1 and reason #2. reason #1 is wrong. reason #2 happened because my supplier screwed up and I had to 'fix' the dish.

Us: Gosh!! Arent these chef defensive!

Us: I am not coming back again. The food is SOOO not consistent!

Us: Just because I gave reasons #1 and #2 because THEY asked for it doesnt mean that I need a comeback! It is not like I NEED to be part of a to and fro conversation. Afterall, *I* PAY the bill! It is not consistent because I say so and I dont need no bleeping justification.

This is how I read it.

You ask me, I will tell you. If I really did not find it satisfactory, I tell you anyway. Listening is the price of getting my money. Fixing it will bring me back. We had a place in town where I liked the food but the red wine was always 70 degrees. I told them 3 times and then stopped going. They agreed with me but did not fix it. They are now closed and it's a shame. :shock:  :shock:

Dead on the spot. I agree 100 %. If it sucks, rock their world!

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For many people biting into a steak and hitting a chunk of rock salt is annoying, especially if they have dentures. You may prove your point but the customer will bitch about the event to all of their friends you will lose much more than she will in the end.

Swiss fleur de sel is hard as rock? They must be sourcing theirs from the Alps. :raz:

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For many people biting into a steak and hitting a chunk of rock salt is annoying, especially if they have dentures. You may prove your point but the customer will bitch about the event to all of their friends you will lose much more than she will in the end.

Swiss fleur de sel is hard as rock? They must be sourcing theirs from the Alps. :raz:

I use the grey French stuff and my wife always complains when she hits a hard bit, especially in salads.

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For many people biting into a steak and hitting a chunk of rock salt is annoying, especially if they have dentures. You may prove your point but the customer will bitch about the event to all of their friends you will lose much more than she will in the end.

Swiss fleur de sel is hard as rock? They must be sourcing theirs from the Alps. :raz:

I use the grey French stuff and my wife always complains when she hits a hard bit, especially in salads.

Maybe thats why she never tips! :sad:

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As to the consistency issue...if I order a menu item at a restaurant and order it again on another occasion, I expect it to be very similar. If it tasted quite different I would be surprised. I guess I don't view the role of the chef in the same way as FaustianBargain does (and yes, I do have restaurant kitchen experience). When someone orders a menu item, I feel it is the role of the chef to deliver that item in a quality manner, as consistently as possible. Why have a menu if every dish is going to come out differently?

I feel that I am being misconstrued re the consistency issue. As far as I am concerned, I was crystal clear about the limits of inconsistency that are clearly reasonable/acceptable. I cannot translate and expand upon every word I utter everytime I am being beckoned in a post. I refuse to engage in any further discussion that is parked on the road to nowhere because of obvious misunderstanding.

Darcie B, I quoted you because yours was the last post I saw re my views on acceptable levels of consistency. My message is meant for everyone who commented before you about reasonable levels of consistency.

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so what is the appropriate response? take the complaints and smile away?

isnt feedback normal when a complaint is made?

The complaint in this case was basically your crabcakes aren't consistent. That's a management issue. If the owner had brought out the recipe, along with records showing the quantity of each ingredient consumed per day for the last few weeks, that would show that at least they understood that they had two people making the crab cakes in two different ways.

Huh? Bringing out the recipe with records showing quantity of each ingredient?

Arent we taking ourselves a widdle too seriously?

We? I know I don't take myself too seriously, and I have a tough time taking anyone who uses the word widdle seriously at all.

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The complaint in this case was basically your crabcakes aren't consistent. That's a management issue. If the owner had brought out the recipe, along with records showing the quantity of each ingredient consumed per day for the last few weeks, that would show that at least they understood that they had two people making the crab cakes in two different ways.

All of this for crabcakes? :blink::huh::unsure::wacko: (searching for more emoticons)

EDIT: not just for crabcakes...

Records showing quantity of each ingredient consumed.....

If anyone here has never been in a kitchen, it would be a real eye opener for them to spend and evening in a busy kitchen.

All the the owner had to do is smile, assure you that she would check into the matter with the chef give you a bowl of ice cream. End of story.

I am still curious as to if the beverages where the same on each visit. Wine or cocktail selection can make the same dish taste like night and day.

I didn't mean to imply that they should do that, just that if they did, it would show that they understood the complaint was about consistency, not what the raw crabcakes look like :huh:

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Hmm...expecting consistency is reasonable? Consistency of quality is reasonable. Consistency in the freshness of ingredients used is reasonable. Expecting edible food is completely reasonable. The kind of rigid consistency from visit to visit is what makes restaurant food boring. This severely limits the range of tastes/flavours/recipes that a chef can create in his kitchen.[...]

A story I like to tell is the time I stayed in a dormitory of a hotel just south of West Lake (Xi Hu) in Hangzhou for three nights in the summer of 1987. One of the people I was travelling with was on a macrobiotic diet, so one of the dishes we ordered for dinner each night was Buddha's Delight. It was terrific, like most other food I had in Hangzhou, but it was different each time, and I thought that was wonderful and showed creativity on the part of an inspired chef. Considering that the dish was probably equally excellent every time, it would have been really absurd if I had found fault with the chef's using a different combination of vegetables, resulting in a different combination of tastes and textures each night. But that's the point, isn't it? First of all, he was making a dish that by its nature consists of a combination of vegetables, and presumably using the best vegetables he had available each day. Secondly, it was just as good each time, and I have no doubt that had I stayed another week and ordered the dish seven more times, it would have been different and equally great each time. I tend to think that crab cakes are not like that. They use a recognized set of ingredients much less free than "bunch of assorted vegetables," which is essentially what Buddha's Delight is. If you're as flexible as you sound, I think that's a very good thing for you, because it increases the chances that you'll enjoy your meal. But I don't think that's the only reasonable way to approach things. And different is not always equally good, which is the point here.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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I don't think I would have offered a criticism just because the owner or anyone else asked me how everything was. That's a pretty standard line at any restaurant, isn't it? I see it as a social gesture rather than an invitation for criticism or detailed feedback.[...]

Perhaps it's because I'm from New York, but my attitude is, if you don't want my opinion, don't ask for it. If someone asks "Is everything alright?", there's something not entirely satisfactory, and I think it might possibly be worth being honest, I'll tell them. (If I've determined that the place is totally hopeless, I may just give up and say "Fine.") If they then demonstrate that they were insincere in asking the question, whoops -- there goes that good tip I might have given them, if it's a waiter/waitress. If it's someone higher up in management, so long and bad luck to your business.

I should add that I eat out really frequently and seldom complain, and that my most common answer to "How is everything" is "Fine." But probably 99% of the time, it's a sincere answer to what I hope was a sincere question.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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