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August 14, 2009

When you just don't like your dish

Elizabeth in Ellicott City wrote me yesterday with this question: When a dish isn't spoiled, oversalted or not fixed the way you ordered it, but you still can't eat it, what to do? As she says, you can't expect the restaurant to absorb the loss. here's her e-mail: ...

I was wondering if any other of your blog readers have run into this ... My husband is a very picky eater and occasionally finds the dishes he orders inedible -- not because they were prepared improperly, but often because he doesn't like the flavor. For instance, we recently ate at the new Diamondback Tavern in Ellicott City. He tried a sandwich that is essentially a Thanksgiving leftovers dish -- a sub with turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, etc. The cranberry sauce was so sour, he couldn't enjoy the sandwich. He tried his best to scrape it off and salvage the meal. It is unfortunate to pay for a dish you didn't enjoy and go home still hungry, but it also seems unreasonable to expect the restaurant comp the dish. What do you readers do in this situation?

Thank you,

Elizabeth in Ellicott City

I, too, am a picky eater. (Duh.) And I know I can be a pain in the neck when I'm not reviewing. I try not to leave anything to chance so I'm not in the situation described above -- although worrying about sour cranberry sauce wouldn't have occurred to me.

The fact of the matter is, though, that good servers will notice if you aren't eating something, and will offer to bring you something else. Good restaurants won't charge you for the uneaten food. They figure generosity will pay off in the long run.

If that doesn't happen, though, I'd still order something else. Going home still hungry wouldn't be an option for me.

Posted by Elizabeth Large at 4:55 PM | | Comments (45)


I eat it.

If there is something on a menu I've never had, especially if I have no clue what it is, I'll order it. Nearly all the time, this works out great. Sometimes...not so much.

I'm lucky that I like most everything, but I was raised that, if I was in public or at someone's house, you must smile and eat it. Like the "no short sleeves at work" rule, it stuck.

The one exception is things that taste of alcohol. I cannot safely eat anything like that. If I didn't ask the server, it's my fault, I'll pay for it. Doesn't happen very often, though, as I usually ask in the kinds of places that cook with alcohol and I don't order stuff like coq au vin. However, that is a health issue, not a "don't like the taste" issue.

suck it up. if it was prepared properly, the restaurant did their job and you simply ordered the wrong thing. expecting to be reimbursed is a childish sense of entitlement.

the only time I would expect a restaurant to comp a meal would be if the food was actually spoiled or it was inedible because of excessive salt, seasoning, etc. that was prepared improperly. I would expectt o pay for a meal that I just didn't care for.

I'm not sure that that the problem here is Elizabeth's finicky husband. Cranberry sauce is supposed to be sweet. If it's so sour that it spoils the sandwich, perhaps it was either stale or poorly prepared. Nothing wrong with telling the server that you weren't happy with what you ordered, requesting something else and deciding, based on how the situation is handled, whether you'll patronize the restaurant again. I rarely send food back but when something tastes really dreadful, I'll ask the server or manager to give it a try. More often than not, they agree that something went amiss in the kitchen.

Never go to a restaurant on a weekend, therefore you can hit them with a long list of "mods" to satify your palate. Better yet, get the boiled chicken.

If I order something adventurous and don't like it, I'll usually make do or sometimes order something else. I wouldn't EXPECT them to comp it, but if they did I'd be much more likely to come back. That's not a "sense of entitlement", but if a restaurant is trying to please its customers and get them to come back, it should be alert and accommodating.

let's remember that this was written in the context of an icky peter.

i meant picky eater.

I read this over and over to see if I am reading it correctly. Just another example of people not wanting to take responsibility
for there actions. It is not the restaurants problem. DON'T EXPECT THEM TO FIX IT!
Suck it up, leave hungry, or order something new and pay for it

Cranberry sauce is supposed to be sweet.

i don't know where you're from but cranberry sauce ain't supposed to be jelly and it mos def ain't more sweet than bitter.

try it some time.

Unbelievaboh pretty much summed it up. Your an adult, eat like one.

A Sub with Turkey, Stuffing, Cranberry Sauce, a Picky Eater. Seriously, If you are going out to the "New Diamondback Tavern in Ellicott" for basically a hyped up Turkey Sub, Wow....I guess it is what it is.

Unbelievaboh, with all due respect, I'll take 'tart,' 'tangy,' and several other adjectives for cranberry sauce. But 'sour' isn't one of them. And if the sauce is bitter without a hint of sweetness, it doesn't contribute much to a turkey dinner. Or sandwich.

sas, unbelieveaboh and others attacking EiEC for "entitlement," and not acting like an adult, please read the original email where she specifically says " it also seems unreasonable to expect the restaurant comp the dish."

When you're through reading that, please read this:

Jon, thank you so much for this. I should have stepped in myself sooner. EL

I am not a picky eater. However this post reminded me a of an incident a year ago at a small Italian restaurant I was frequenting. I never had the same wait staff, so I don't think this was based on repeat business.

I ordered a pasta dish that was described at being made with chopped tomato. I like tomato. This dish sounded appealing. There is only one tomato I dislike, being cherry tomatoes. The dish arrived with whole, cherry tomatoes. I was not happy because the menu said chopped not whole cherry tomatoes. I gave it a go. I added some more cheese. I chopped a couple of the tomatoes up. It was awful. After the decent interval, the server came back to check on us. I had eaten maybe 4 bites of the dinner. He asked and I told him what was wrong. He asked if I wanted something in place of it. As my date was well along I asked for more salad. Another dish would take too long and we did not have time to wait. The waiter took the dish away, brought out more salad, and removed the cost of the dish (without me asking specifically about that). I thanked him a lot, he got a good tip. He did say that the restaurant changed the dish and never changed the menu.

Once, at Austin Grill, I ordered a spicy corn chowder. I believe the description mentioned jalapeno peppers. Well, I like hot food and can eat things that are pretty incendiary, but that soup was truly inedible. They very graciously exchanged it for something else.

uh, helloooo? cranberry sauce comes in a can that says Ocean Spray, comes out of the can in the shape of the can, and is very sweet. Hmmmpf. Some people don't know anything about food!

(I'm joking before anybody goes for the switchblade!) That has been my lifelong cranberry sauce reality though!

Joyce, if that's your sauce reality, you have to try Eddie's cranberry-orange compote this coming holiday season. (I dont think it's available right now.) You'll never look at Ocean Spray the same way again.

Joyce I have several whole berry cranberry sauce recipes that are far superior to anything in a can. Cranberries with orange or ginger--mmmmm.

Cranberry sauce can be canned or fresh, and it can be jellied or closer to a liquid state. No matter how it's presented, though, it had better be sweetened or flavored with something. Once, I decided to try boiling fresh cranberries to make a juice with less sugar than commercial brands. I quickly learned that plain cranberries are bitter -- yea, even sour (and I don't just mean tart).

yeah - actual, real cranberries are terrible (sour, tart, just not good). I love fruit but I had to compost my cranberries last year when I tried them for the first time.

as a bartender who sherves alot of food at the bar, I would never allow that to happen. please if you do not like something, say so. I will notice if you are not eating what you ordered and ask if everything is okay. I have had people who insist everything is fine and do not eat their meal or even take it home with them but insist on paying for it (that always baffels me) so if you do not like your food, speak up! I will replace it, no harm no foul! now drinks on the other hand, thats different. if you do not like my margarita, drink it anyway; JUST KIDDING! say so, i'll make you something else. just dont ask for another margarita. that would be stupid. at the bar we have a "dump" check, an unnasigned check to put what was spilled, dropped or sent back. it's not uncommon to have 5 or 6 drinks on that check on a busy shift, unless it's my shift then there might be 1 if i'm having a bad day. (jk)!

Man, I am never making my special cranberry sauce for any of you.

Lissa, it is scented with patchouli?

No, Dahlink, it's scented with English Leather. ;-)

Dahlink you shoulda scented it with stamps!!

Hey Jon read my response EiEC asked our opinion and I gave her mine
Suck it up, leave hungry, or order something new and pay for it. Not attacking her just giving my "opinion" Sorry if it is not sugar coated for you. Honesty is always the best even if it is not "politically correct"

I find that when I'm tempted to say, "read what I said," it means the way in which I said something distracted from what I said to the extend that no one actually saw what I said.

The only place I know that makes a Thanksgiving sandwich is Krause's Deli in Lexington Market, and it's DIVINE. It's warm fresh-sliced turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce on your choice of bread or roll. Cranberry sauce should be sweetly tart (or vice versa), but NEVER sour! Its sharpness should complement the richness of the turkey and stuffing. I'd say if the cranberry tasted sour (as opposed to tart), it was a badly batch, and I'd take the sandwich back.

Wow, now I see why EL wanted to go to the Fairy Food post.

EiEC was reasonable in her post, and didn't expect any special treatment from the restaurant. Its happened to me or who I was dining with (Mom, mostly) on rare occasions. Sometimes, the server did note that she wasn't eating her meal and offered to bring something else. Other times, we've "sucked it up" and ate it anyway.
But I think that is rather harsh to say to another poster, especially since they weren't writing about getting any special service.
I have also learned not to order something I might not like.

I laugh about stuff like this because my friends who work in food service tell me that there's one thing you can always be assured of getting on your replacement dish if you complain or act obnoxious about the food in a restaurant: fresh spit. LOL Go ahaed, act out, complain, and eat hearty.

I'm fortunate because if I don't like the dish I've ordered, usually my frequent dining companion does and will finish it for me. He's like Mikey, he eats almost anything.

Usually there's something on the plate I do like, so I don't starve. Plus, unless I'm ravenous, which hasn't been the case recently, it doesn't take much to satisfy my appetite.

Last night was a perfect example: the pork belly appetizer I ordered was far from tender (at least for my taste), so I gave it to him and ate the vegetables. My entree, a grilled porterhouse pork chop (yes, it was an All-Pork, All the Time Dinner-- surprised?) had a tasty glaze, but was so tough I couldn't saw through it with my steak knife. After only a bite or two, I pushed it aside and polished off all the vegetables. The pork chop went home with him in the doggie bag. Win-win for him.

I actually had this happen recently. I ordered something that sounded divine (was in New Orleans) and the actuality was that while it may have been divine to some, it wasn't to me. Luckily, it was a sampler type meal so I did have something to eat, but did leave most of it behind.

It was my fault. I debated ordering it because I wasn't sure I'd like it, but was feeling adventurous. Oh well, now I know not to get it next time!

I am not a picky eater and have only ever sent food back one time, but I was really tempted when I was out with a large group for dinner last Fall and ordered what seemed to be a rather simple chicken dish that ended up being inedible. I was not the only one that felt this way, however there were several in the group raving about the same dishes. I ate maybe two bites and declined a box, as did two or three others. I probably should have asked for something else, but to be honest, none of the food looked even remotely good to me. So I paid my $30+ share of the bill and went home and made dinner. It was a pretty horrible night.

I haven't weighed in on the actual topic here, but I'd handle it this way.

I'd politely point out to the server that I really didn't like the dish and why -- too salty, my BBQ tastes like cantaloupe, whatever. If the server offers to replace the dish for free, that's great. If not, I've at least offered constructive criticism.

We actually just ran into this situation last week, as a Mt. Vernon restaurant. (Not naming it because no one was at fault.)

My girlfriend ordered their mussels with saffron. The waitress very dutifully told us it was more of a soup than an appetizer, which suited my girlfriend fine.

Well, when the soup came out, it was cream-based, typically not a problem, but my girlfriend is on a strict low-fat diet. We both expected a tomato- or broth-based soup, not something like a chowder.

I urged her to send it back--simply because the description from the server was not complete, as well as the description on the menu being misleading--and get another appetizer, but she snacked on the mussels and sipped a little of the liquid.

So how would you have handled this?

I should add to that that I've been known to make clear to management up front that I'm not asking for or willing accept a comp, but that something was indeed a problem that I wish they'd look at.

Then I follow through with that even when they offer, which they invariably do. I don't do that for serious issues, but for minor ones it really gets their attention and often leads to resolution on future visits.

Hello all,
I am one of the owners of The Diamondback Tavern. Let me just say that I never envisioned one of our sandwiches sparking such a heated debate!

We had a few similar complaints about the cranberry sauce one evening, and figured out that the cranberry sauce was definitely too tart and destroyed the taste of the sandwich (as the original emailer suggested). As has been mentioned, cranberries are a very tart fruit by nature, and it takes some slow cooking (to bring out the sugars) and the addition of ingredients to counteract that tartness. Our cranberry sauce is meant to have a slightly tart, but also sweet flavor. For some reason with this particular batch it did not, most likely due to not getting enough time on the stove. Once this was brought to our attention we 86'd the Thanksgiving Between the Bread (restaurant speak for no longer offering it) until the following day when we were able to make a proper batch of cranberry sauce.

Let me also say that no restaurant should ever make somebody pay for a meal they did not enjoy, so please mention it to your server/bartender/manager if something is not to your taste. Most establishments would rather have an opportunity to correct a problem, even if it may not be on their end (e.g. different expectations, misunderstanding of menu description, etc...). I can't speak for every restaurant, but most would rather see someone leave happy and not make a dime on their meal than someone leave disappointed and never come back.

Lastly, I do want to apologize to Elizabeth (the emailer) and her husband for this unfortunate circumstance that effected their dining experience, and would happily reimburse the cost of their meal or send them out a gift card they could use towards their next dinner (if they are willing to give us another shot). Just email me at and I will take care of it. We were completely at fault and it had nothing to do with her husband being "too picky" or anything of that nature.

Thanks for taking the time to listen and feel free to shoot over any questions.

Lee Biars
Managing Partner
The Diamondback Tavern

Many thanks, Mr. Biars, for your informative response!

Lee, so long as you don't take the Scotch Eggs off the menu everything else will be ok.

Robert, you have my word that the Scotch Eggs will never be touched. In fact, it seems to have become our signature item.

Btw, if you're ever entertaining people at your home and don't know what to serve, Scotch Eggs will always be the hit of the party. Can anybody think of a reason why a hard-boiled egg that's wrapped in sausage and breadcrumbs and deepfried would not be amazing? Sure you'll be shaving years off people's lives, but I still think it's worth it.


This just brings home the point that you have to taste everything before serving it to customers.

I agree with you 1000%. Our managers should be doing nightly line checks and tasting all the items before they are to be served. Why this was not done on that particular evening I am not sure, but I can tell you with certainty it will not happen again.

Believe it or not I am happy when somebody brings something like this to a public forum because it allows me to show my employees in black and white how damaging missteps can be and how much business it could potentially cost us. Every restaurant will make mistakes, especially in their infancy. It's how they react to those mistakes and improve their operations that is the key to their success. My expectation is that we will continue to improve everything we do and situations like this will not occur.


I recently ordered gazpacho, and found it inedible. It tasted of nothing but vinegar and jalapenos. If the owner had been there, I would have said something to her, but I didn't see any point in saying something to the server. I'd ordered a full bowl, and the server just said, "Oh, do you want to take it?" when she saw it was uneaten. I didn't think she'd react to feedback by trying to correct the problem for me or anyone else.

Based on the comments, servers and restaurant staff think that customers have no business giving negative feedback, and deserve retaliation if they dare to complain. Owners, on the other hand, want feedback so they can correct problems. I'm glad to see Mr. Biars's comments, and I'll put Diamondback Tavern on my list of places to try. Of course, some owners don't want to hear any feedback that doesn't match their own ideas; I wonder how they're weathering the current economic climate?

I am very impressed with the response by Mr. Biars to this situation. I live on the other side of town (Harford County) but if I ever find myself looking for a meal in Ellicott City, I will seek out the Diamondback Tavern. Bravo!

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About this blog
Richard Gorelick was appointed The Baltimore Sun's restaurant critic in September 2010. Before joining the paper staff fulltime, he contributed freelance criticism and features articles about food to area and regional publications. Along the way, he dispatched for short-distance trucking companies, shilled for cultural non-profits, and assisted in cognitive neurology research – never the subject, always the control.

He takes restaurants seriously but not himself, and his favorite restaurant is the one you love, too.

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