Sunday, 15 February 2009

A question for restaurant staff

I was posed a question recently which I answered with what I myself would do in the situation, but wanted to ask of those amongst us who are in the restaurant business, so here goes…..

You’re a diner in a restaurant who orders a meal off the menu, but requests it without the main meat component, for instance, a roast without the meat. The full meal could be priced at anything from $15 to $40 depending on where you’re eating. When the time comes to pay, you’re charged full price for the dish, notwithstanding the fact that you actually ordered and ate it without the meat.

My question – is it fair for the restaurant to charge the full price for this dish? If not, what should the person do about it?

This person has eaten out countless times in Hobart over the years, and generally orders this way, and only on two occasions has ever been offered some money taken off the dish price at bill-paying time to account for the lack of the meat component.

Posted on by Rita


Stephen said...

Clearly the meal should be more expensive.

The customer clearly wants a mutually fair outcome. So, the restaurant would need to pass on to the customer the extra cost of purchasing the sophisticated accounting systems capable of properly calculating the true price of the meal less the slice of beef, less a pro-rata proportion of the labour, cooking energy and seasoning ingredients etc.

So when the diner gets the bill it would be something like:

$30 Mains less beef,
-15 cents pro-rata,
+$45,000 for new accounting system.

Total: $45,029.75 + GST

ut si said...

Geez Steve,
What would a double skinny x-tra hot caramel organic soy macchi in a mug facing south cost?

jerine said...

i'm working in a restaurant, and i always get request to take off the price when customer request for less food on their mains. the cash registry work this way, all the items on the menu are listed on the database. we can't take off the price as when we like because we have to select the ordered item on the computer. sometimes i hope customers understand that we would like to reduce the price, unfortunately we can't because the registry system doesn't allow us to do that. it might be a different case if the boss deals with the matter, as he or she aware where the missing money is going. as a staff, nothing much we can do

Anonymous said...

Thats true Jerine. I have a task and a half re-programming when we adjust the menu.
I have lost count of the amount of times that a member of staff has dragged me away to overide or make a snap judgement as to how much to charge when the dish is altered.
I think the public sometimes expect a significant discount when something is taken off a dish, particulary the meat as it is percieved as the most expensive.

A few things for a customer to consider:

My labour & that of the staff is not any less.

The Rent and power are no less etc

In the old days, you gave it to one of your guests. If its a vegetarian issue.... C'mon.

I find it difficult to raise this with customers as it may come accross as rude. In general, our software allows for a 10 -15% discount, or surcharge. This generally deals with alterations or the odd stuff up.
One thing we never do is charge half price, its ridiculous, we have to make a living and pay the bills.


steve said...

I agree that a discount may be reasonable but agree with cartouche that 50% is unreasonable.
Another view of this discount conundrum, last week I was asked to serve one portion of soup (8.90 with home made bread) split four ways! This means 4 bowls, four sets of cutlery etc.
I was then told that each portion was 'too small' & they complained that each portion didn't have a full slice of bread on it.
Another issue that gets raised Rita is when a main course, such as a chicken breast or beef fillet is ordered but the customer only want a half serve. this creates an issue because you are then compelled to find another buyer for the remaining halves.

Blue Mtns Chef said...

it's certainly a complex issue, there's no blanket 'rule of thumb'. I feel you have to take each situation individually.

we usually try to compromise if a major component is asked to be left off, say, sausages from the 'big brekky'. usually a buck or two off the bill is enough to placate the customer.

but if they're out to be an arse, there's no winning.

steve, re the soup order - I'd quietly and politely give them the address of the nearest salvos soup kitchen.

side question - anyone ever thrown a customer out? I've come very, very close...

Stephen said...

The fundamental problem is that both customers and staff grossly over estimate the size of the change in price. They end up agreeing 10% discounts when the actual saving to the business is more likely to be a fraction of that.

A better solution is for front of house to have a standing instruction - "At the time you take the order, tell the customer that the menu price will stay the same."

sir grumpy said...

Why do customers go to places where the dishes don't suit, Rita?
I'm with the owners and staff on this one. Tell the customers it can't be done.
Sure, the kitchen can leave off a bit of dressing, a poached egg etc but to fundamentally change the dish is just a pain in the arse.
Owners: just say no, politely and if you do agree to their demand point out the full price will still be charged. If it pisses them off, too bad.
They might not return, so that is a win.

Maggie said...

This is a complex issue. Personally I think it is bloody rude to totally overhaul a menu dish to your own liking, with a million modifications, dietary requirements and pain in the arse fussiness. As a waiter, I always take dietary modifications VERY seriously, in case of allergies, but I'm certain the majority of people are just being fussy.

In this particular case, vegetables with no meat portion, a token yet small price reduction is probably in order. This is mostly just to placate the customer.

I once had a customer who had requested a meal not on the menu, steamed salmon, steamed vegetables and plain rice. Surprisingly the chef agreed to make it, and even more surprisingly she wolfed down a massive piece of chocolate mud-cake with ice-cream all to herself afterward. Didn't tip either.

I advise tipping if you are going to be annoying.

Anonymous said...

G'Day Blue mountains chef. Unfortunately I have had to eject the odd customers over the years. Generally I will tolerate most things but the one thing that I draw the line at is rudeness towards the staff or other customers, time to go.

Steve, I'm hearing you on the soup. December some time I made a saffron crayfish bisque that i was particulary pleased with. A table of three made a booking on Friday evening. You guessed it, one bisque between three, extra bread, water, no mains, no dessert. Two hours chatting, made a remark about the small serving. The waitress explained that they had requested a single serve between three. Their reply "Well its only bloody soup and bread, not like you can't spare it." Hello people; its Crayfish...
Well thankfully they are a minority, lets hope their not breeding. Most customers are delightful and enjoy their food and respect the staff serving them.


Kris said...

From the perspective of a customer, I think that the expectation of a discount is unreasonable. The prices are listed on the menu, we don't work on a bartering system.

Modifications on a dish? Fine, within reason. Modifications on the price? Should they raise it to reflect the extra effort in changing a menu item?

Anonymous said...

Geez ... just as well most of you lot don't have your restaurants/cafes listed here 'cause I certainly wouldn't eat at any them.

Rita said...

This post has elicited some interesting comments, and I thank everyone for their contributions.
To explain a bit more about what initially made me write the post, the person speaking to me about it is a vegetarian who quietly goes about their vegetarianism not wanting to make an issue of it, and wanting, with the best of intentions, not to stuff any restaurant kitchens round by making a pest of themselves and requesting any menu modification to be made, other than their request for the chef to leave off the meat component of the dish. Hence, in order to do this, they generally select dishes off the menu which it is obvious from the description comprise meat or fish, plus veg or salad (if there is no vego option they prefer).

I have come across quite a few thoughtful diners like this. You can tell the difference between these types of people, and the others - the ones who are deadset on making an issue of SOMETHING. My opinion is that your customers are your bread and butter. That doesn't mean you need to give them your wife, your children, your home and your bank balance, but it does mean you need to pay them due courtesy. You should reward a customer who tries hard to put as few people as possible out in order to accomodate a personal lifestyle choice of their own. The waitperson should recognise and acknowledge this at bill-paying time and offer maybe just $5 off the bill. I would. If it was in my own restaurant, I'd write it off as marketing. If I was working in someone else's restaurant I'd be prepared to pay it myself out of my own money (if the business owner objected to my letting the customer off the $5) just because I feel so strongly that it's the right thing to do.
It would appear that in Hobart, today, I'm very much in the minority. Bad luck for nice people!

Stephen said...

You misunderstand Rita, there's no problem with asking for the meat to be removed - that's entirely fine and I'm sure almost every kitchen would do it without a raised eyebrow.

The problem is solely the amount on the bill. You walked into the trap yourself by estimating that taking $5 off the bill sounds fair. But look at it objectively, do you really think that a slice of roast beef is worth $5? If someone offered to sell you a single slice of roast beef for $5 would you think it a bargain?

The problem is that people think in terms of, "I had the beef", when really it was "I had a meal with one ingredient removed". Thinking "I had the beef" over values just one ingredient and consequently over values the discount due to its removal.

PS: The waiter should not reach into their own pocket. Not ever.

Rita said...

Stephen - I have reached into my own pocket in that situation many times in my life, and will do so again, I'm sure.

Re the $5 for a slice of roast beef: as we are just talking theoreticals here, that was an example. I don't seriously estimate a slice of beef is costed out at $5. But - I stick by my opinion that I think some kind of acknowledgement (of the fact) is due that customer has had only half the meal as costed on the menu, and that it should take the form of a slight adjustment of the price of the dish.