I was thinking about this thread tonight. I went to a medium-small chain family restaurant with my little daughter (she's 2 1/2). It's the sort of place that does burgers and third-rate fried chicken and "loaded" fries, and whenever possible they drown things in scads of plastic cheese and terrible BBQ or whatever sauces. But the prices are reasonable, there's lots of ice cream, and they're very welcoming to little children. Besides, lots of people like that kind of food -- otherwise it's hard to explain what goes on in most family restaurants in America, you know? Anyway, I digress...
We normally get efficient, friendly service and food that is well within the range of what it claims to be. I mean, it's never going to be any good -- how good can this sort of thing really be? -- but it can look and taste like you think it's supposed to.
Tonight, however, was different. The dining room was only half full, but it was clear that the cook doing most of the work was pretty seriously in the weeds. The other cook on -- you can just see into the kitchen from certain seats, and I was in one -- was letting the guy suffer, I think basically punishing him for making a mess of both stations simultaneously. The cook doing the work was sloppy and unfocused, his dishes were taking a long time, and every time he'd finally finish one he'd call for the server by barking her name in this nasty way that anyone paying any attention could hear across the restaurant. This, and the fact that he was a 40-something white guy, suggests to me that he was the manager covering for someone. But he was totally incompetent. He'd send the servers out to a four-top with one or sometimes two plates, and they'd have to come back to get the next when he finished it, and like that.
When our food came, mine was acceptably mediocre, but my daughter's was a disgrace. The hot dog was burnt black in two fat strips along the sides. The mac and cheese was so over-nuked that there was an orange block of hard crusty stuff on one side. From being at such places before, I know that everyone nukes mac and cheese, so I always feel it before my daughter burns herself. Well, this stuff was totally burnt, and blazing hot -- but then about half of it was dead cold.
So... did I complain? Not really. The server asked me, "how did everything come out?" which struck me as a funny way to put it, and not usual in this place, so I think what she meant was "I know it's not great, but is it OK?" I said, "I guess it's all right."
Why didn't I complain?
1. You do not, repeat not, serve a 2 1/2 year-old a plate of mac and cheese with hot dog and then take it away, unless you're quite sure that the food is actually inedible. She's not going to eat the grotesque portion anyway, so just remove the bad stuff and stir the mac to even the temperature through.
2. The server was perfectly fine, and clearly suffering with having to run back and forth one plate at a time, so why should I take it out on her?
3. As I say, I think the manager was the idiot cook, so complaining about the food was just going to screw up the dining room even more royally, making everyone suffer for nothing.
4. Based on the way he was barking at servers when everything was his fault, I think the guy could very well have taken it out on my server, who surely didn't deserve it.
And, last but CERTAINLY not least....
5. Because this restaurant is currently running a promo special where you complete an online survey about your dining experience and they give you a coupon. Somebody's going to read a scathing survey, and yes, I did everything I could to identify the moron and pinpoint his grossest failures. Either corporate management is going to give him a little yelling-at or they'll ignore it, but either way I've achieved as much as it's reasonably possible to achieve when complaining about a place like this.
I will say that I do have one complaint about the server, though I didn't mention it to her or on the survey. No server should have let a plate like that go into the dining room. No way. I'm betting that she didn't want her boss screaming at her, and besides it's not like he was going to do a whole lot better if he did it again.