Friday, January 21, 2011

Enough positivity! Time for a rant.

I make a real effort to write food related articles that work positively for everyone involved.  I emphasize the good stuff for restaurant-specific reviews, and avoid public discussion of things that I can't praise in good conscience.

But I got pissed off today at lunch, so I'm going to rant about it a little.  You can tell me in the comments if you think I'm overreacting.

Restaurant X offers four different versions of a salady type dish for lunch.  The pork, chicken, and vegetarian (with stir-fried bamboo shoots, red onion, and tofu instead of meat) versions are all the same price, let's say $11.50.  The shrimp version is an extra $3.75.  All of the meat versions come with a little side spring roll, included in the price.

I told my server I wanted the chicken version, but did not want the little side spring roll that came with it.  I asked her if I could substitute something for the side spring roll.  She told me the veggies from the vegetarian version were great, and that she thought the best version of this dish was the chicken bowl with the vegetarian veggies added.  I said great, let's do that then, and thank you for the suggestion and substitution.

No reference to any additional costs associated with this substitution of vegetables for a pork spring roll.

A few minutes later, the expo arrives with my food, but he's brought me just a vegetarian version (tofu and veggies on top), with no side spring roll.  I say to him, I ordered a chicken version of this with the veggies.  He takes it back, returns moments later with the same veggie salad bowl topped with grilled chicken.  All good.  I'm wondering at the added tofu, but not concerned because it didn't really affect my ability to eat the dish.

When the bill comes--or more accurately, once they've run my card on the bill as presented--I notice that the server rang up my lunch as a vegetarian salad bowl ($11.50), with added chicken ($4).  The only thing that looked as I expected was the fact that I didn't get a discount for foregoing the spring roll.

Not cool! If there's a charge associated with a requested substitution that's not disclosed anywhere on the menu, the server should tell the customer at the time they are ordering.  Particularly when the server is the one suggesting the substitution.  The server is the keeper of the restaurant's information, and it's part of the server's job to inform customers of off-the-menu details that may affect their enjoyment of the experience.

I didn't ask to have the veggies until after she'd told me that was an option for replacing the unwanted spring roll on the chicken bowl I did want.  Had she told me of the surcharge when I was ordering, I might have chosen differently... or I might have gone ahead and done it the way I did... but either way, I would have had the knowledge I needed to make an informed decision and maximize my enjoyment at the restaurant.

But she never mentioned any surcharge.  And, even worse, she rang up the dish in a way that maximized the extra charge! I asked for the chicken bowl.  She rang up the veggie bowl, and added on chicken... which curiously was more expensive than the shrimp add-on... and, I suspect, more expensive than whatever a veggie add-on would have cost.


That kind of underhanded upselling really pisses me off.  It's not about the money--I will happily pay an extra $4 to get what I want--it's the principle of the matter.  Feel free to try to upsell all you can, but don't do it sneakily with undisclosed charges and strategic re-classification of the original order.

Was this whole thing an inadvertent mistake when she rang it up? Possibly... though the remarkable choice of the cheapest base item and most expensive add-on makes me wonder.  Even if it was an honest mistake, though, the server should at the very least have pointed it out and explained the extra charge to me before I was asked to pay it.

I'm not identifying the culprits here, because this is more about principle than about that particular restaurant, or that particular server.  But I have to say, I probably won't be back to Restaurant X any time soon.

Am I overreacting?


  1. In the interest of preventing negative speculation about one of my favorite restaurants in Napa, I feel compelled to reveal that the above rant about Restaurant X is NOT--repeat, NOT--about Bui Bistro. Bui Bistro rocks and everyone should go there.

  2. Yes, you are ..........
    go have a ice cream ...........