What is the best protocol to follow when a customer orders a menu item with ingredients clearly stated (example: the shrimp sauté with mushrooms and tomatoes) and then wants to send it back because they don’t like one of the ingredients like mushrooms?
– Paul Fidrych, Owner, Paul’s Pasta Shop, Groton, Conn.
First, be sure that what you think is obvious on the menu is equally obvious to the guest. My wife recently ordered a chocolate dacquoise at a celebrity chef restaurant and what emerged from the kitchen was a very good example of a chocolate mousse cake but not a dacquoise in any sense of the word. She picked at it and the server appropriately took it off the bill when she mentioned it was not what she expected. Similarly, you may take it as a given that a pasta arrabiata will be spicy but if a guest is not familiar with the term or the server is not knowledgeable, the plate may come back.
In this buzzing social media environment, where everyone can instantly reach thousands of friends and acquaintances and where what is posted online in a fit of anger may be prominent in a search result for your restaurant years later, my first piece of advice is to tighten up your menu descriptions as much as possible, even listing ingredients that you think may be obvious. Next, price with enough of a cushion that you can deal with a few plates sent back. Finally, yes, offer to replace the dish that displeases the guest at your expense.
One caveat: Read the situation. Most restaurateurs can sense the scamming, chronically unsatisfied guest. If a guest eats three quarters of an entrée and then asks for a replacement because of mushrooms in her shrimp sauté with mushrooms, bill, baby, bill.