Monday, May 19, 2008

What Would You Do: Restaurant Gives Meat to Vegetarian (Also, There's a Mango Salsa Recipe in Here Somewhere)

(Apologies for the longest, most nonsensical post title, ever. Must ... work ... on ... brevity.)

We had a strange situation this weekend, and I’d love to solicit a few opinions from everybody. It’s definitely more of an etiquette dealie, but frugality and good business sense definitely factor in. I’m just not sure what we should have done.

Here’s the scenario: Saturday night, some friends were in from out of town and we all met up at a fancy Italian restaurant. The place was gorgeous, the wine was tasty, and all seemed well at first. When our time came to order, my friend H, a vegetarian since she was 13, specifically asked if the Potato Leek Soup was made with vegetable stock. The waiter, without checking, said, “yes.”

Can you guess what comes next?

Two or three bites into the soup, H pushed it away and grumbled, “Oh yeah, that’s chicken stock.” Three of us took a whiff, and – oooo, yup - no doubt about it. When the waiter swung by to check on us, H (not cruelly, but pointedly) expressed her displeasure and asked him to check with the chef.

Five minutes later: “Yes, it’s chicken broth. The recipe was changed,” he shot off, not quite apologetically. (Defensively, maybe? Even snobbily?)

H was unhappy (to say the least) and requested that the soup be cut from the bill. The rest of the night proceeded without incident until we received the ($300+) check, which (naturally) included the soup. We specifically had to ask for a new bill with the offending item removed.

Now … what would you have done? I think we should have asked to have her entire meal comped, and the restaurant should have bent over backwards to accommodate us for the rest of the night. While feeding meat to a vegetarian (probably) isn’t deadly, it’s … not good. What if she was Hindu, and it was beef broth? Or what if she had a peanut allergy? All in all, I think we handled it gracefully, but I wouldn’t have blamed H if she had lobbed a fork at somebody’s groin. We’re absolutely not going back, ever.


And with that aside – it’s today’s food! I’ve made mango salsa quite a few times, and stunningly, prefer Weight Watchers’ recipe to all others. Of course, there are some things to know:

1) It's insanely flexible, meaning it can be spread on chicken breast, scooped with tortilla chips, mixed with rice, or substituted for body wash in your next shower. (Note: one of those may be false.)

2) It's not a watery salsa, and there are no tomatoes involved. You might want to warn friends/family accordingly.

3) I like it better after it sits for a night, but there's no problem eating it right after assembly.

4) The whole shebang will be significantly cheaper in a month or so, when both red bell peppers and mangos are fully in season. (I couldn’t wait.)

5) For you WW acolytes out there, it’s either 1 or 2 points a serving. Bonus!

6) There is a lot of chopping. Watch your fingers. (Gazes sadly at cuticle of left pointer finger, which has finally stopped bleeding.)

Hope y'all enjoy it, and again - would love to hear your opinions on the restaurant issue. Bring it!

Weight Watchers Mango Salsa
Makes 4 2/3rd cup servings

1/8th t. black pepper
1/8th t. salt
1 ½ T. fresh lime juice
2 medium mangos, chopped small
1 medium red bell pepper, diced
½ red onion, diced
½ jalapeno, diced
1 T. fresh cilantro

1) Combine all ingredients in a bowl and stir. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price Per Serving
90 calories, 0.4 g fat, $1.01

1/8th t. black pepper: negligible calories and fat, $0.01
1/8th t. salt: negligible calories and fat, $0.01
1 ½ T. fresh lime juice: 14 calories, 0 g fat, $0.24
2 medium mangos: 269 calories, 1.1 g fat $1.98
1 medium red bell pepper: 31 calories, 0.4 g fat, $1.19
½ red onion, diced: 35 calories, 0 g fat, $0.31
½ jalapeno, diced: 9 calories, 0 g fat, $0.03
1 T. fresh cilantro: negligible calories and fat, $0.25
TOTAL: 358 calories, 1.5 g fat, $4.02
PER SERVING (TOTAL/4): 90 calories, 0.4 g fat, $1.01

(Additional photo from

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cherie said...

I'm sorry you had such a bad experience at that restaurant but sadly it's not uncommon.

#1 I would also have INSISTED that it be removed fromm the bill - however I don't know that I would have asked if her meal could be comped - however a smart manager would have done so [did you speak withthe manager? if not that possibly might have gotten you better results]
#2 I would have tipped very little, if anything - the waiter was abysmal
#3 Anyone with a serious allergy is already practiced at finding safe places that respect their needs - vegetarians are as well but as you said your friends were unfamiliar with the place - however if I had such a preference I would NOT have accepted the waiter's brisk response - but asked that he CHECK in the kitchen on my behalf to indulge me - it would have underscored the seriousness of the request and held him to a higher standard since at that point he would be speaking for the chef [who presumably he dasn't tick off ;p] Not faulting your guest - but if it were important to ME I would not accept that reply at a place I didn't know well [and didn't know my priorities well kwim?]
#4 Can't speak for everyone but my understanding of religious dietary laws does not provide for much spiritual self-flaggelation if you were fed something without your knowledge when you tried your best to adhere . . .

Thanks for a wonderful blog - I always enjoy it!

Nicole said...

I think you did the right thing. The waiter could have saved himself from being defensive if he would have checked initially.

JAB said...

I think Cherie says it all. I would have asked that the soup be removed and I would have spoken with the manager about the problem. The Tip-O-Meter would be very very low, with a little note on the credit card receipt saying "Please check when asked about ingredients." There is some chance that the waiter didn't even know what vegetable stock is.

I think your friend should still call the restaurant and ask to speak to the manager. If I were the manager of a restaurant that had displeased a 300 dollar table, I would want to know.

Dave said...

long time reader, first time commenter, 11 year veg.
so, i tend to approach vegetarianism as non-militantly as i can, and i think a lot of veggies do, lest they find themselves, [as one often does merely mentioning one's dietary choices] lumped in with stereotypes that people seem bent on associating vegetarianism with, for whatever reason.
in other words, a lot of us have a pretty forced sense of being laid back about it, and many of us don't like making a fuss about a mistake here or there. but, if you have done your best beforehand to check in and you've been told that you won't be fed meat, and then you are?
then the issue is no longer that one is a vegetarian, the issue is that one is a customer who has received bad service.
at that point, it becomes the restaurant's duty to make this right, and they very clearly failed. the lack of apology and grat is certainly grounds to never go back, and i would add that you have an opportunity, if you so choose, to make sure that i will never go there, and probably neither will a lot of the other readers of this blog.
no matter how poor the service, however, i usually do not stiff on tip [sometimes, as an eff you, i'll actually go up a buck or two, but i'm weird], as that often goes to the bussers and so forth, who i don't like to hurt just because the waiter was an ass.
[i'd also be interested to know if you checked in with the manager, and if so what was said].
and i heart chg.
-dave w.

Becca said...

Next time, speak up. Speak loudly. There is a chance that the waiter didn't realize how important the chicken stock is, and he STILL doesn't, because he wasn't told. He has most likely told dozens of people it was vegetable stock and they never noticed...he's probably also told dozens of people asking for vegetarian dishes that they include chicken stock, only to be told that they didn't mind, and to order it anyway. This happens...a lot.

Some restaurants WILL NOT comp food unless you make a scene. If your friend said "It's okay, but I don't want to pay for the soup, I won't eat this," she shouldn't have to pay for what she isn't eating...but she said it was okay. If she acts fine with it, and she isn't fine, she shouldn't expect to be treated like she isn't fine. Don't expect the server to read minds. Tell him, explicitly, why you are upset and what measures you expect to be taken to move forward.

To not tip on a 300 dollar bill that went smoothly after the soup incident is not okay. At the last restaurant I worked at, I had to tip other people 6% of my sales. That 6% has to be paid regardless of what the tip is. I had to claim, and pay taxes on, 10% of my sales. So sure, don't go above and beyond. But don't make the hostess, the busboys, the bartenders suffer because the chef that night decided to use chicken stock instead of vegetable stock.

Complain, complain, complain. Nothing will be changed if you don't put in your input. This applies to anything, not just restaurants. Your local store not carrying the pretzels you want? Complain, or they won't know you want them. No toilet paper in the public restroom? Complain, or no one will know. True vegetarians can't eat chicken stock? Tell the waiter that, and why.

Erin said...

I was a vegetarian for several years, and had this happen to me several times. Each time, I had to summon up my patience and courage, and talk to the manager. It's important to remain calm and respectful, while still getting across that such inattentive wait service is unacceptable.

To respond to Becca's comment, I fully understand that not tipping punishes more than just the bad waiter, but I think it's perfectly acceptable. We're not talking about a McDonalds, but rather a restaurant were two (?) couples dined for about $300 - that's a hefty per-person cost. For those prices, I expect not just wonderful food, but also superb service. If I ask if a dish contains a certain ingredient, I expect the waiter to either know the answer or ask. If he refuses to do so, then the restaurant doesn't deserve a $40 tip. It's the manager's problem for not training the staff properly, or at least that's how I see it.

larochelle said...

While the waiter was clearly lazy and unprofessional in giving you the easy answer, I've spent time in Latin America and other places where the default answer to any question "Yes!" so I have learned to pose questions that require an actual answer.

For example, I would have asked "What kind of stock is the soup made with?" or "Is the soup made with vegetable or chicken stock?". Not only can they not just say "yes", they don't know what you want the answer to be and have to give a real answer (which can still be incorrect).

I have a vegan friend who tends to order by saying "Hi, I'm vegan, I was thinking of having the xyz but wanted to confirm it is vegan and that there is nothing YOU think is better/tastier or a recommended speciality of the house." I've noticed that tends to engage the waitstaff and he usually gets good recommendations or offers to alter dishes to make them vegan.

Also, I couldn't tell from you post if your friend sent back the soup or just complained about it. If sent back, it shouldn't have been on the bill and that makes me think the waiter was trying to his poor service from the manager. And its really only the manager that can comp an entire meal so if you had wanted a real apology, you should have called him/her over.

Sometimes I don't want to damage the mood of a lovely evening by escalating service issues to the manager, but I would definitely have called the restaurant the next day.

Those are my thoughts.

Di Hickman said...

Ack, that's terrible but not uncommon. I personally would have asked to speak to the manager, and that would be my suggestion now. Either phone or send a letter of complaint explaining your dissatisfaction at that restaurant.

And whilst I appreciate the above comments, sorry but quality of service = tip value. If you want a good tip, give me good service. We ate at one restaurant that had APPALLING service, you can bet your butt we didn't tip! If everything thereafter went smoothly then I'd tip, but at a reduced %.

The main problem for me personally if I'd have been in that situation is that I couldn't trust that the other dishes we vegetarian, kwim? I would have asked for the manager and asked for confirmation that the other dishes we vegetarian.


kennethsrib said...

write a letter to the restaurant owner and explain what happened in a non confrontational way. The waiter was wrong. Whether your friend's meal should be totally comped or not is another issue. At the very least the manager, the owner, or the chef should have offered apologies and substituted something else. By telling the restaurant that you will not be returning, it will hurt them more because after all restaurants do rely on repeat business and word of mouth can sink a restaurant pretty quick

Autumn said...

Argh! As a picky eater since birth, I've been at the receiving end of this type of neglectful service for years. And my reasons for making special requests or asking questions about the recipes are definitely less legitimate than a vegetarian's (although people should be kinder to us poor picky folks; I have a decent rationale for disliking all the things I do).

Anyway, I served my time as a waitress, and I was always, ALWAYS conscientious about paying attention to these details. It can be a matter of preference (ugh! I hate all condiments!), conviction (vegetarianism), or even life and death (allergies). Whatever the issue, consideration of these things is essential to a great dining experience, and also the mark of a good server and a fine restaurant.

Any person/place unable to recognize this should suffer public and private censure. Complain to the manager! Tell your friends! Post a blog! Write reviews online! Picket!

Well, maybe not picket. But all the other ones, definitely.

Daniel Koontz said...

Totally agree with Larochelle.

You have to avoid framing up the question in "yes or no" format. The server has too much of an incentive to take the path of least resistance and just agree with you.

Casual Kitchen

Anonymous said...

Took the kids to Friendly's tonight and found chicken in my my "veggie" quesadilla while eating my second piece. I almost puked, which surprised me, I used to eat meat but I was really bothered. I explained the error to the closest employee, just wanting the plate off the table. I did not freak out or yell, I was calm and polite... it was a mistake. The waitress apologized profusely, she told the manager who also came over and was *very* *very* sorry; that was my only food, they took it off the bill, also took off my sherbet cooler (which I had hardly touched, lost my appetite), AND they comp-ed my son's sundae AND offered my husband and I sundaes even to go if we weren't hungry (we passed).

In short, the Friendly's people were remarkably responsive and apologetic and more than compensated for their mistake. And FYI, we tipped based on what the total bill would have been with no deductions.

Not the same scenario, that waiter you wrote about was irresponsible or poorly trained and I can't believe their reaction! Glad I got way more apology for way less cha-ching!

Anonymous said...

You should have sued the employee for being very corrupt and such a dictator. This is free country, not free from vegetarianism/veganism country. Plus, a free country should respect all animals' rights equally. If some animals' rights are violated, that's extremely bad. If humans are pressured to disrespect nonhuman animals' rights, that's yet worse, and if humans are forced to disrespect nonhuman animals' right, it's worse as it goes at its maximum in the following: eating meat, fishing and hunting, killing all animals for fun. If it's at the very maximum, that's a world war to implement complete intended injustice. If people are forced to think and believe that nonhuman animals have less or no rights, that is absolute world forced to have just robots.