Buddyboy, of Medway River Volunteer Fire Departments, has kindly sent in another tricky question for us all to chew over. This time it’s about portion sizes being too small. Please have a read and feel free to post your comments.
Here’s a question for Not Delia that has had me wondering for a while.
We routinely order food in a restaurant expecting that it would be tasty and served in an adequate quantity, commensurate with the price. The other day, and this has happened before, a member of our dining party ordered a starter dish in a fine dining restaurant. It was one of the most expensive starters available. While the other starters served were generously portioned, his was the exact opposite. It was tiny. It was a fish dish consisting of a lobster claw, a scallop and a third piece of seafood drizzled with what looked like chocolate sauce (it wasn’t). The diner was taken aback by how small it was.
Here’s the question. What is the correct way to deal with such disappointments? Clearly the customer could and should bring the disappointment immediately to the attention of the server but, in the final analysis, is it acceptable to send the dish back, declining to eat and pay for it, then carry on with the rest of the meal with everyone else?
I have mixed feelings about this because I’m not a fan of big portions – I simply don’t have a large enough appetite to eat them. If I was having a starter and a main course, I would be glad if the starter was quite tiny. After all, it’s an appetiser and not intended to fill you up. However, it does seem a bit odd that everyone’s starter was generously portioned except for this one, more expensive, dish. There again, perhaps the ingredients and even the preparation and presentation time might justify the additional expense of this particular tiny starter.
I wonder how much it is a cultural thing too. In my limited experience, I’ve found that North Americans do tend to eat rather more than many people elsewhere. Several years ago, Mr ND and I had the privilege of visiting a famous deli in Manhattan. The food was superb! But after doing my best for about 40 minutes I had to give up as it seemed like I was making no inroad into the vast quantity on my plate.
We quite often hedge our bets by ordering a few starters to share, and/or ordering one meal between two – on the basis that you can always order more if you’re still hungry. But that system obviously wouldn’t work in a fine dining restaurant. As I’ve said before, I like buffets, to pick and choose a little bit of lots of things, to try new foods, and ultimately, I suppose, to be in control of my own portion size. (Mind you, I had a bit of a rant about people abusing the buffet system recently.)
To go back to some of your specific points, your expectation is that the food should “be tasty and served in an adequate quantity, commensurate with the price.” I think that’s a very reasonable expectation. I guess it depends on how you define “adequate quantity”. We watch Gordon Ramsay’s Hell’s Kitchen when we get the chance, and I’ve often remarked about the size of their starters. Some of them are larger than I would want for a meal.
It’s the one-size-fits-all attitude that’s the problem, isn’t it? But in a busy kitchen, especially a fine dining one, it would add a lot to the chefs’ burdens to have to produce all their orders in small, medium and large portions, so I’m not really sure how to get around the problem. Offering half-portions might help, but there’s still probably the same labour and other overhead costs involved in presenting a half-sized dish.
As for the correct way to deal with such disappointments, I don’t know the correct etiquette. Most people don’t like to complain so they just grin and bear it. I don’t go out of my way to complain but if something isn’t right, then I would say so. I must admit most restaurateurs don’t appreciate this. I wish I had £1 for every time I’ve been told, “Well, no one else has ever complained before.”
I’m looking forward to some input and comments on this issue from others. Thanks again for your question, Buddyboy.