Dishin' That: Restaurants are human, too

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When an order comes out of the kitchen wrong, it usually results in a restaurant-wide, domino-like chain of chaos.

Much finger pointing (middle, and otherwise) ensues and it takes concerted organization and extra steps, both in the kitchen and out front, to get things squared away.

As far as the guest is concerned, various degrees of honesty are necessary (TMI is not appropriate here) to right the wrong. That, and maybe a free dessert.

Dan W. of Sacramento, California, emailed a horror story about “musical plates” being served to his rushed, pre-concert, eight-top, only to have the server snatch his stuffed veal chop off the table mid-bite because it belonged to someone else.

“How hard is it?” Dan W. asked. “The place was jamming and they had a ton of people running around. Twenty percent of just my dinner was something like $6.50 in tip money. Add all of us together with wine, and that server blew a good tip. How does something like that even happen?”

From a customer perspective, the whole experience, be it the McDonald’s drive-through or an upscale steak house, should be a seamless, positive chain of events. However, even for the tightest, well-tuned staffs, “something like that” can happen easily.

Perhaps the server or bartender didn’t hear the customer clearly and placed the order incorrectly on the computer system. Or, the order could have been an add-on to meals already served, but was mistakenly ordered under a different table number, and delivered by someone else.

Sometimes, more than one order is being put up by the kitchen at once. If no one is working the expediting position on a busy night, or if the expediter is off their game, a server may grab items that are part of another order.

Perhaps two servers order the same meal, with a slight difference. Server A orders the prime rib special done medium-rare, and the lamb shank special. Server B orders the prime-rib done medium-well, and the lamb shank special, too.

Eager to get the food out, the server or a food runner may grab the wrong prime rib. Even with colored toothpicks, or some other marking indicating the temperature, it’s an easy mistake. If you’re a well-done meat person, you’ll balk immediately at the medium-rare plate. But the deal is, once the plate has hit the table, it can’t be served to someone else (unless, of course, you know them well, and they agree.)

Now, two meals go back to the kitchen to be remade and replated, and the falling-behind begins. Everyone, from the host hoping to turn a table, to the diner like Dan W., is affected by the time and energy required to make two meals on the fly. And none of this even dabbles with the many errors a kitchen has the potential to make.

So, next time you impatiently wonder how hard it can be, remember: restaurants are human, service-driven entities. Wrong food is just one of many things that can offset the experience we hope to provide. But chances are pretty good they’ll be learning from their mistakes and it won’t happen again. You may end up with profuse apologies (and that free dessert) for your inconvenience. Give them another chance.

Peas & Q’s

Q — It seems many places have gotten away from bread. My boyfriend says bread should automatically be served with a full meal. Thoughts? — Sharon Giles, Portland.

A — Some people ask for bread immediately upon being seated, so, of course, I bring it. However, it is my experience that if bread service is provided prior to a drink being served, people will not order as much food.

In a perfect world, I like to greet the table and get a drink order while discussing menu specials and favorites. Ideally, the diners will be ready to order at least an appetizer, if not a whole meal, when I return with the beverages. Then, I’ll bring the bread.

If, as a matter of fact, a restaurant simply doesn’t offer pre-meal bread, go ahead and ask for it. The most accommodating places will find something to grill up and serve.

Lastly, for those of you who ask for refills of house-made bread (with intentions of turning it into French toast), don’t be surprised if there’s a nominal charge.

(Note: The new photo and guessing game of “Where’s Natalie?” is coming next week. A few mug shots were taken, but like the occasional meal, I had to send them back. They were unappealing, overpriced, and quite frankly, not what I ordered. I am reassured by the apologies and remake plans I received from the photographer. Let’s review it together, next week.)

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.