Dishin' That: Bad things happen when restaurant communication fails

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I once worked at a place where the in-house, restaurant communication was about as effective the low-tech, children’s game of Telephone.

When it truly was a game, a bunch of us would sit around in a circle. Someone would whisper a funny or clever phrase into the ear of the kid next to them. Then, continuing to whisper, a softly uttered sentence would make it’s way around the group until finally, the last kid would blurt out what he thought he heard. Be it a string of gibberish or correctly enunciated words, the end result was rarely close to what the person who started the phrase originally said.

Fun and funny as a child, it was neither when it happened at work. With management, staff and customers – especially customers – communicating poorly, the fairly upscale restaurant underwent a series of blunders that were costly and unprofessional.

Here are a couple of biggies that come to mind:

• “The Shower Shambles.” Coming in to book a Jack-and-Jill bridal shower, a disapproving mother let us know she thought the concept was absurd. “My daughter should have a lovely, relaxing time with just her family and girlfriends,” she started. “Why should men be there? It’s double the expense for us and I doubt his family will pay for anything. The way his father drinks, they should at least pay for the alcohol.”

Interpreting the venting as specific instructions, the manager prepared two sets of itemized bills as the shower was winding down. One was for the food and room service charge, and the other, an equally hefty tab from the bar. The automatic gratuity was split accordingly. Discreetly presenting the two checks to the respective in-laws-to-be, the successful bridal shower turned into a stage four hurricane.

The groom’s predictably inebriated father spoke in anything but a whisper. “What the hell is this?” he asked everyone in particular. “I’m footing an overpriced rehearsal dinner on a boat next month, and didn’t even want to come to this thing. Who invites men to a bridal shower?”

Everyone left embarrassed. No one more so than the manager.

• “Law and Disorder.” Taking accurate kitchen inventory to ensure profitable food cost is a non-negotiable step in running a tight ship. Several different restaurant software programs are designed to break down what was sold and consumed, and the hope is the two balance. But there is typically a discrepancy in what remains on the shelves compared to what was used.

Poor inventory practice turns into incorrect ordering, which means running out of things, having too much of something on hand, or ending up with product incorrectly ordered. All of the above was the case during a major benefit the restaurant was supporting.

Agreeing to bring a favorite signature appetizer to one of the city’s toniest fundraisers, the executive chef walked into a kitchen void of most of the items necessary for that evening’s soiree. Being the third week of delegating the ordering to his new understudy, the chef had been confident nothing would go wrong.

Both unable and unwilling (participating in a fundraiser is a costly and time-consuming endeavor offset by community goodwill and support of a worthy cause) to obtain the correct product, he created something completely different with items on hand.

Once at the benefit, the organizers were gracious and appreciative, but a crowd of regular attendees on the fundraising circuit questioned his offerings. “Wow, these are great,” one woman said. “But we always look so forward to your (missing signature appetizer). In fact, I was just talking about them to someone from a Food Network show. Look, he’s over there talking to the chief of police.”

Peas & Q’s

Q — You may have answered this question before, but which is worse? Leaving a really bad tip or not tipping anything at all? My friend and I have different opinions on this. — Sasha D., Gorham.

A — Both options stink, but assuming the service was good, I’d rather receive no tip at all than a poor tip. Being stiffed completely happens rarely, and I choose to think it is done in error. Maybe one person thought the other was leaving the tip, or an important phone call came in and distracted the diner. I also choose to think no one could live with himself if not tipping at all is a daily practice.

But a crappy tip for good service? That’s obviously done out of ignorance or intention, and both leave a bad taste in my mouth.

Natalie Ladd lives in Portland. When not pecking away, she can be found serving the masses at a busy eatery, or tirelessly conducting happy-hour field research. Hospitality questions or comments should be sent to, and may be featured in a future column. Follow Natalie on Twitter: @Nhladd.