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A Menu Order Has Been Botched. What Do You Do?

I want to pose a question to you, but first let me set a scene. I was in a restaurant recently and a mistake was committed. It happens in every restaurant and it's a tough one to handle. Here's the mistake. I'm having lunch with two friends on a Saturday afternoon. Each of us orders a different entrée. The waitress, however, brings two correct orders and one that's incorrect.

"I didn't order this," I tell the waitress. She apologizes and takes my plate. Two people at the table now have what they ordered and the third person is left without. What made things worse is that the waitress (or anyone else from the staff) did not return back to the table until the right entrée was fired and served (22 minutes . . . yeah, I timed it). Luckily, I was with friends and I didn't have to get back to work.

My question to you is this: How do you deal with this difficult situation?

Years ago, I was in a legendary St. Louis restaurant called Tony's. Something went awry at another table and the wait staff collectively picked up everyone's plate at that table to keep the correct orders warm in the kitchen while the incorrect order was corrected. It's an interesting maneuver and I think it worked well at Tony's because it's a very formal dining environment. I'm not so sure if the same ploy would gain the favor of customers in a more casual setting.

I had the pleasure a couple of weeks back of meeting with the folks at Hospitality Restaurants, a company that operates three very cool restaurants in the Cleveland area (and plans are in the works to open a fourth this summer). I asked them how they handle this situation and they explained that a manager is immediately sent out to the table to apologize while the problem is being corrected. They don't, however, have a policy to put something in front of the customer who has just had their food removed.

I argued that most customers would be appeased if something small from the menu was hustled out to them so they could nibble while they wait for their correct order and others at the table could eat. It would have to be a small portion, they argued, because most restaurants will get the correct order back to the table much quicker than 22 minutes.

I then suggested that if you are going to send something out to the table when this situation arises, then don't leave it to the whim of your server or anyone else. Have an item designated for such a purpose. When the problem arises, then your staff knows immediately to get that item out to customer. Good idea, thought the Hospitality Restaurants gang.

They asked if I had any suggestions as to what that item might be. That's something I couldn't answer because what's right for one restaurant may not be right for another. After talking to some other folks, they've said that soup was an item put before them when their order was messed up.

I'm looking for your opinion and solutions. What do you think about picking up every person's plate at the table? What about designating a go-to menu item for botched orders? Do you take the botched item off the bill or buy the table dessert or a drink? Send me an e-mail. I'll share your ideas and solutions with other readers.

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