Some months back a friend and I were at dinner in a restaurant that has, in several instances, designated side dishes with its entrees. My friend found the idea quite charming, saying that it was like having mom in the kitchen making dinner for you. His comment, of course, also referenced so many other restaurants that require customers to pair each part of their meal as they see fit, while also paying for each component.
In my friend's case, his mom-like chicken entrée came with mashed potatoes. But for some reason, he just wasn't in the mood for taters of the mashed variety. And since he wasn't at home with his mother preparing one meal and one meal only, he asked the server if he could have the sweet potato fries instead. “Of course you can,” she replied with a smile.
The meal arrived and everyone was happy — until the bill came. He noticed an additional charge of $1.50 for his replacement side. Here's what he said to me: “Hey, a buck fifty is no big deal. I can afford the stinkin' buck fifty. But what's the reason for the extra charge? Was the kitchen so put out that it had to place sweet potato fries on the plate as opposed to mashed potatoes? Are sweet potato fries $1.50 more expensive per serving than mashed potatoes?”
Unlike so many of my other friends I've written about following meals gone awry, this dinner companion was steamed, but in a cool, calculated manner. No servers cried or died during the making and presentation of this meal. Nevertheless, he was so expressive with his anguish that I suppressed my desire to laugh at him. Not long before this dinner, we crossed paths in Manhattan, specifically in the Meat Packing District, where we spent nearly $400 on dinner. Drinks were in the $18 range, and appetizers were $24-plus. This most recent meal, with the controversial sweet potato fries and everything else, cost us under $50.
“But, damn it! It's a matter of principle,” he said. He does have a point, particularly at the point of transaction. When my friend requested the side-dish exchange, why wasn't he told about the additional charge? And, if sweet potato fries are more costly than mashed potatoes, the server might have mentioned that then. And I know if the server had, my friend would have still ordered the fries because he “can afford the stinkin' buck fifty.”
One more comment from my friend: “I know margins are tight in the restaurant business, but is the additional $1.50 the restaurant makes from the change order worth the risk of alienating a customer?”
He wasn't kidding. We had talked about getting together for dinner again soon, but he immediately dismissed any thoughts of returning to the aforementioned restaurant.
I told him I would bring this matter up with RH readers to get your take on his response. If you'd like to weigh in, email me.