Recently I’ve been watching Ramsay’s Best Restaurant, a 2010 series hosted by Gordon Ramsay , the enfant terrible of restaurant chefs. The concept is simple : two restaurants in a particular category ( French , Italian , Indian etc ) are chosen by popular acclaim and go head-to-head against each other under the watchful eye of Gordon Ramsay .He observes how the restaurant’s food and service holds up under trying conditions such as when thirty diners descend on it at once . Ramsay also sends in mystery diners who make special requests to test how the restaurant staff respond to the unexpected. The winner advances to the next round until finally one restaurant is crowned The Best Restaurant in Britain. It is a good series , worth watching for the creations of the chefs and its views of Britain . For home cooks like me , it also gives us ideas on how to cook and present dishes not in our repertoire.
The episode I watched had two Thai restaurants , Nahm Jim ( St. Andrews ) and The Mango Tree ( London ) squaring off against each other. At Nahm Jim , the mystery diner asked for a glass of Thai wine but was politely told that it was only available in full bottles . He insisted that he only wanted a glass , not a full bottle ,brushing aside the server’s explanation that the restaurant did not want to be stuck with the rest of the bottle. After some inconclusive back and forth , the waiter gave him the requested glassful of wine and then informed him that he would have to pay for the whole bottle. The diner refused to do so and the waiter threatened to call the police. Luckily , cooler heads prevailed and the waiter came back and struck a compromise in which the customer agreed to for half the cost of the bottle.This whole confrontation was being secretly videotaped and it was replayed for the Nahm Jim owners who were mortified by the waiter’s faux pas and declared that they would see that it never happened again .
Was the diner’s request reasonable ?
I don’t think so. When the menu states that wine is only available by the bottle , I don’t feel the diner is entitled to ask for and get it by the glass.As the waiter at Nahm Jim pointed out , what is the restaurant supposed to do with the rest of the bottle ? It’s all very well for Gordon Ramsay to throw up his hands in horror but I wonder what would have happened if such a request had been made at one of Ramsay’s own restaurants. I think Nahm Jim would have been justified in firmly telling the recalcitrant diner that that particular wine was only available by the bottle but that there were other similar wines that were available by the glass and that they would be happy to recommend some alternative choices.
At the Mango Tree , another mystery diner sent back a dish saying that it was too spicy and the restaurant promptly and smartly brought back another portion with the sauce on the side. That request was reasonable and it was handled correctly but it reminded me of an incident that I observed some years ago right here , at a Chinese restaurant in Edison. At a neighboring table , a man ordered a lobster dish with instructions that he wanted it spicy. He ate it all and then announced that he wasn’t going to pay for it because it was too spicy. A heated argument ensued and the poor restaurant owner stormed to the kitchen threatening to call the cops. The diner’s wife followed him to the kitchen and , out of sight of her husband , begged the restaurant owner to suggest to her husband that he pay half the cost of the dish and that she herself would pay him the other half then and there, unbeknownst to her husband. The husband must have pulled this stunt before and she was ready for him this time . The owner did as she requested and a nasty scene was averted.
One of the maxims of customer service is that ” The customer is always right ” but I think such thinking has to be revised . There is a small, but growing, minority of customers who will take every advantage they can . With some , it is not merely that they are saving a few pennies , it is a way of showing how ” smart” they are. These are the people who buy dresses , use them once , and then return them saying that they don’t like them . Such returns cause losses , and not always to the store that takes them back. One of my cousins used to supply garments to department stores , many of them prestigious ones known for their tony clientele. He is out of the business now , in part because of the stores return policies. He bitterly told me once that it was all very well for stores to trumpet their ” No Questions asked ” return policy since they were not the ones paying for it . All their supplier’s clothes are accepted on consignment and , when anything is returned , the price is simply charged to what is due to the supplier.
At least now there is a thirty-day limit on returns ; previously, returns were open-ended and you had some customers who returned clothes six months or more after they had bought them.