Wednesday, 25 April 2007

What happens when you send your food back


chicken ding! the chefs favourite

Ever wondered what happens when you, the almighty customer, forget, or are too drunk, stupid, incompetent [delete as appropriate] to tell your waiter that you didn't want the noisettes of lamb to come with the red wine reduction? Or that you don't really like the anchovies in your salad despite it being listed in the menu description? Or that you are allergic to the pine nuts in the pasta sauce?

Let me share the dirty little secrets of what happens next. Vanquish ideas of your food being remade in it's entirety. It's not going to happen. Head chefs are accountants with aprons, the very description of bean counters. A new steak will only get thrown onto the char grill if there is no way the errant one can be saved. Two, three, even four chefs will gather round the plate in a scene reminiscent of an episode of "ER", all pushing, probing, and offering analysis on the best way forward. Like vets in a dog shelter, a good meal will never be put down if it can be saved.

But we haven't got as far as the kitchen yet. So you are upset that something is "wrong" with your food so you call the waiter over and explain your problem. This is normally conveyed with a "my world has just collapsed" sort of attitude. Knock it off. Seriously, getting on like someone has just shat in your lap isn't going to make the waiter move with any greater urgency. Especially if the waiter knows it's your fault. This sort of attitude will have the opposite effect. If you messed up, admit it! The rest of your dining experience will be better for being an adult. Don't forget it is the waiter who has to explain to the Puka Fukas in the kitchen why you are sending your food back and a lot of what happens next depends on how the waiter explains this to the kitchen. Piss the waiter off by blaming him for your mistake and you may as well just pack up and go home, you are not getting your food anytime soon.

The kitchen don't plan for food coming back. So when you send it back you are throwing a massive spanner in the works. They have moved on to other orders and don't have time to change the sauce on your steak, or re make your pasta. So if they can get away with not remaking it they will. So here are the three main methods for dealing with returned food:
  1. The pick it out and fluff method. Used when there is something in your salad you don't want, for example croutons, olives, etc. The chef, KP, even the waiter will remove the undesired ingredient, add extra lettuce, bob into a new bowl, add extra dressing and return to table. You would be better advised to remove the unwanted yourself. Do you really want the kid who's doing the dishes pawing over your food.
  2. Nuke it, zap it, ding it. Soup cold? Stew not as hot as you expected? It ain't going back in a pot it's getting a reworking in a microwave. Also used when something is needed in a hurry, for example a chicken fillet takes as long as a well done steak to cook. But his time can be halved with the use of the trusty microwave and a spell in a "proper" oven.
  3. Wash it! Order the wrong sauce for your steak? Does your definition of "medium" differ from that of the chef's? If your steak has to be changed in some way you can expect it to be washed. The offending sauce is scraped off, the steak is dropped in the fryer (the washing) to remove any traces of the sauce, and if needed put back on the char grill. Steaks are often washed under water too, in order not to cook it any further. The only time this doesn't happen is when the steak is over cooked.
This happens everywhere, from the best restaurants to shitty little dives. My advice is to suck it up and if you have to send something back ask for it to be re-done. You'll wait but it is worth it.

Next week: what does "homemade" actually mean and where does that locally reared beef actually come from.

16 People trying to get Manuel's attention:

Kav said...

Having worked as a kitchen porter for three years, I can confirm all of these practices. I've learned many things from working there, including the fact that waiters are the most powerful people in the room. That goes even if Ken Barlow is visiting, as happened us once.

Charlie said...

This is all too true, My favourite is probably the "washing it" process. Its fun to watch it being "cleaned" lol

Conortje said...

This is valuable advice! I really hate seeing people in restaurants treat waiters like they were put on this earth soley to make the customer happy. I'm sure with some of these people a lot worse than 'washing' takes place behind closed doors. I'm also reminded of that scene in Fawlty Towers where the cat has been eating the meat and they all gather round in the kitchen to cut away the bad bits before sending it out again - Brilliant stuff!

JD said...

Picking up on something a bit left-field, I do think the trusty microwave gets a bit of a hard time. In my Pierre Victoire days they used to prepare all the veg in the morning, stick them in the fridge and then whenever they were needed they just stuck some in a bowl and heated them on full for a couple of minutes. Nothing wrong with them - perfectly presentable carrott and mashed swede. Then when I'd finished washing up/mopping the floor/wiping the head chef's arse, I got to pick a bit of leftover chicken with a funny-coloured sauce out of the fridge and heat that through for my tea.

Manuel said...

Kav: correct! we are giants amongst men...

Charlie: they tried to hide this process from me, distracting me with exotic swear words, but i saw what was happening...

conortje: the world is chock full of cunts. Fawlty towers is my bible, my reality check if you will.

jd: i know what you are saying bout micros but a pot of hot water works better and keeps the veg's colour. Our lot couldn't live without their micro.

Sam, Problem-Child-Bride said...

I was a kitchen porter for a year in the QM union at Glasgow Uni. If there's a bunch of filthier human beings on the planet than students, I don't know who they are: cigarettes stubbed out in the fried egg or in the tea; ketchup sachets opened and smeared all over the tables so people can finger paint in it; muck everywhere. I was a student too and saw both sides of the place. In my civvies nobody noticed me but in my boilersuit and my hair up under my blue-cap I got yelled at often to come with my trolley and clean up all sorts, including vomit (the union bar was downstairs). Fair enough, it's a union, and that's my job. But people treated me like a piece of shit.

Back in the kitchen, the boss was an arse, but the chefs were OK actually. I did see the boss picking ham off a pizza that was meant to go to a vegetarian.

It was an eye-opener though, that place.

paddy said...

I would go to another restaurant rather than send anything back.
I once worked washing dishes in a restaurant: I saw things that would turn your stomach.
If I was going to eat out, I would pick a place where I can see the chef cooking; just like I would sit at the bar to make sure I don't get a pint mixes with tray slop.

Happy Knudsen said...

Hearing this makes me feel sad, only kidding, what about the extras that gets put into the food of difficult customers?

I know it gets done.

EmmaK said...

Actually, that didn't make me feel too bad...I thought you were going to tell me the usual tales of send back food and I will spit in your salad or put boogers in your soup. Or are you just being coy?

Manuel said...

Sam problem child bride: In a way its the same in all restaurants, its the just fancier sauce getting smeared on the tables. There are few humans who can manage to open a sugar portion and put it in their cup without spilling at least half over the table..

Paddy: the professional approach to drinking, i like that.

Old/happy/old k: no comment

emmak: as above

banquet manager thatsme said...

From my years as a banquet manager and restaurant manager, everything you said is true. It's good the the guests don't know...

Manuel said...

bmtm: damn true......

helenalex said...

What do we do when we get served the wrong thing, then the waiter denies there's a problem? I once had dinner at an excruciatingly expensive Belfast restaurant (you know the one) and ordered green tea. Waiter brings out pot of normal tea. I say 'excuse me, there's been a mistake, this isn't green tea'. Waiter takes pot away. Brings it back. 'This is green tea, it just needs to sit longer'. Tea continues not to be green tea. What the hell do I do? Order a chemical analysis? Point out that green tea is green? Demand to see the packet? Ruined my night, considering how much it cost.

Manuel said...

helenalex: welcome! I'm sorry but that really made me laugh.....and really there is very little you can do when the waiter is being such a tool about things...I wondered for a moment if it was me.....Still if it or something similar was to happen again just ask for a manager....they shit at the first sign of trouble....

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Blair said...

I have been working in a restaurant for three and this is so true! People seriously think food is cooked by magic and that anything they want changed should be instant!