July 21, 2006

Must be the heat, but paralleling the current spike in temperature is a rise in the number of restaurant dishes that have been arriving at my table missing one of the ingredients listed in the menu's description. This happened to me again last night, when I ordered a scallop appetizer that also was to include potato chips. I'm not a big potato-chip fan, so it was no big deal when they weren't on the plate with the scallops. Nevertheless, I asked the server about the missing chips. She went into the kitchen to find out. When she returned, she said the chef said they weren't up to his standards, so he eliminated them. She assured me it wouldn't happen again.

This was the second time within a week, however, that I'd ordered this dish at the same restaurant, and the second time that the chips weren't with the scallops. The first time I was curious about the missing chips, but didn't give their absence much thought and didn't make an issue of the matter.

This wasn't the only component missing from a dish last night in contrast to the menu's description, but like the chips the other AWOL ingredient was more garnish than essential element. But like I note, this sort of thing has been on the rise recently.

Do we need to return to the day when the state actually hired people to review menus against what actually was served and then slap the wrists of transgressors? No, I wouldn't go that far. Lately, the missing items have been minor players in a dish. Without the menu in hand, most diners probably aren't going to recognize that something promised has gone missing.

Nonetheless, trust has been breached. So what's a diner to do? You could request that the cost of the dish in question be reduced. The scallop appetizer, for example, wasn't cheap at $14 for two scallops, so a couple of bucks off wouldn't have been unreasonable. The restaurant didn't make that offer, however, and not being exercised about the missing chips I wasn't going to propose it, nor do I think most diners would be comfortable making such a suggestion. If the missing ingredient were truffles or caviar, on the other hand, a discussion might be in order. A guest need not be outspokenly riled about the issue; a polite question about a missing ingredient he or she especially was looking forward to generally will prompt conscientious restaurateurs to offer some sore of accommodation.

And if they don't? Diners, of course, have the final say in the matter. They just don't return.

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