Restaurant Mistakes are Fine; Ignoring Them Isn’t
A great restaurant doesn’t distinguish itself by how few mistakes it makes, but by how well they handle those mistakes.
— Danny Meyer (Restauratuer)
I’ve sledgehammered many restaurants in my reviews. Virtually all instances of bad food or service — or in some rare cases, both — could easily have been cleared up with just a bit of attention and effort from the waitstaff and/or management.
What lit my fuse and set me off enough to write several blistering reviews wasn’t the unsatisfactory food nor the disappointing service. In virtually all instances, what usually triggered my anger was the restaurant’s indifference to the situation.
That’s what’s both unforgettable and unforgivable. Indifference. In other words, not caring.
For example, here are some examples of restaurants that were indifferent to problems with food and service:
READ: Limoncello (Las Vegas)
This brings us now to what happened at lunch today. At Nittaya’s Secret Garden, a popular westside Thai restaurant in Summerlin, we had a bad experience. What distinguished this encounter from so many others was the professional and courteous way the staff handled the mishap. Even though we’re regulars at Nittaya, there was no indication the courtesies extended to us were the result of being frequent guests (or reviewers). Since the waitress was new and did not know us, this made the final outcome all the more satisfactory.
For lunch, Marieta decided to order something new. She asked the waitress if the dish was spicy. She was told the dish was mild. Marieta, sensitive to very spicy food, stressed the critical importance of mild heat. Meanwhile, I love hot food. So, I told the waitress to make mine hot. Many Thai restaurants use the 1-5 heat scale. Marieta wanted a 0. I wanted a 4.
When our food arrived, Marieta took a bite and it was so spicy she couldn’t even eat a second. I sampled her dish and couldn’t believe it. I teared up it was so hot. The dish was even hotter than mine, and I ordered a 4. Clearly, the waitress (or more likely, the chef) made a serious mistake.
The waitress immediately sensed something was wrong. She insisted the dish be substituted. Not only that, but she also brought Marieta a complimentary Thai tea while we waited. We were not expecting this. We didn’t even register a complaint. But the server was so aware of her customers and so willing to help that she wanted to make things right. That’s what I call customer service.
This was a rare instance of a bad experience that was handled so well, that we came away with a better appreciation of Nittaya’s. In a sense, I was more impressed with the way the error was fixed than had we simply enjoyed a regular meal.
So, the bottom line is — mistakes are understandable. Even expected. Especially if you eat out frequently, as we do. Mistakes should be forgiven when there’s any effort made to correct them.
What isn’t so forgivable is when a restaurant doesn’t care. That’s when a bad review is warranted. Other customers should be warned to stay away from businesses that don’t take care of their customers.
Naturally, we left a generous tip. We also vowed to return.
As restaurateur Danny Meyer said, “A great restaurant doesn’t distinguish itself by how few mistakes it makes, but by how well they handle those mistakes.”
Now that I think about it, that same philosophy can apply to many, many more things in life. Mistakes happen. It’s how we deal with them that really matters.