Saturday, December 6, 2008

Customer or Con Artist?

Have you ever been ripped off? If so, you know how it feels and you know how I'm feeling now.

The vast majority of our customers at the restaurant are honest, upstanding people. But every now and then, we have customers whose motives I suspect. It's happened twice this week and I believe that it's a premeditated act to get dinner comped.

The ploy goes thus. A customer orders a meal and we cook and serve it. The customer shows no signs of distress on starting to eat the meal and when the server goes back by the table, the customer doesn't indicate any sort of problem with the meal.

Several minutes later, the customer flags down the server and most indignantly and dramatically indicates that the meal has suddenly developed an incurable problem. It's tough, it's cold, it's nasty (yes, people are so rude that they do use that term), it's whatever.

Here we see two variations in the act. In the first, the customer will have eaten half of the primary protein and all of the garnishes or side dishes and will insist that we take the plate away and will insist that we cannot replace the dish with anything else.

In the second, the customer has eaten half the primary protein and insists, no, don't take it away, I'll just suffer through eating all the sides and garnishes.

Naturally in both these cases when the food comes back to the kitchen, we find nothing wrong with it. If there's something wrong with it, we're going to do whatever it takes to fix it, including comping the dish.

In both these cases however, the customer expects the entrée to be comped. That is the scam: eat enough food to be satisfied and then not leave the restaurateur any options but to comp the food. It's a minor form of fraud to be perfectly technical.

As a result of this, I'm seeing my way clear to implementing a new rule. If a customer has a problem with a plate, but refuses to let us cure the problem by replacing the plate with a similar one or something entirely different, and we cannot find a problem with the food, the customer will be billed for the food. Judicious application of this rule should send would-be scammers elsewhere, never to return.


  1. Yes! I have seen this scam pan out in surprisingly upscale places. I wonder if it will only become more frequent with the economy taking a hit in many areas.

    However, assuming the customer is well-intentioned and not running a scam, "replacing the plate with a similar one" is not always an attractive option. When food is not to someone's liking, unless it's an egregious error, the customer may be extremely reluctant to wait for a second dish while their companion awkwardly eats their food alone.

    As another option, if you detect good intentions but displeasure with the food, charge full price but couple it with a gift certificate for a free appetizer or other item on their next trip. That would still result in revenue for One Block West, but provide acknowledgment that you deeply care about their dining satisfaction and genuinely want them to return.

  2. Yes, offering a gift certificate for the amount of the offending appetizer/entree sounds like an excellent idea. Is rather annoying that folks would try and pull this.

    I've sent things back a few times eating out at various places. I've almost always declined a comp though, unless it really was "nasty". I will gladly accept a dessert to top off the meal which is generally another great way to hopefully turn the experience around.

    But yeah, if it is obvious that they are a scammer, definitely no need to offer any type of comp.