A Fat City reader wrote in to complain about the treatment he had recently received at a restaurant on the city's south side. While eating, he had discovered a piece of glass in his food. That was disturbing enough, but the restaurant owner's response was the final insult: "He told me, 'If you get sick, call me and I'll say I'm sorry.' That was it. He just didn't care."
It was a repulsive response. But in over 20 years in the restaurant business, I've got to say that I saw the "glass in my food" scam pulled at least a half-dozen times, so I can sort of understand that some restaurant owners can get jaded. But glasses do break, and shards of glass can linger in a kitchen longer than you think. I'm still wiping up nearly microscopic splinters of glass from corners of my kitchen floor from a vase I dropped three years ago.
"I don't care if the customer put the glass in the food or the kitchen accidently let something slip in," a wise restaurant manager told me once. "You apologize profusely and comp the dinners. That's it. You have to be conscientiousness."
Over the last 10 years, I have pulled out a metal screw from a mound of pulled pork, a stamp-sized piece of plastic wrap from a tossed salad, a dead cockroach from a dish of sorry-looking coleslaw (it may have been the only fresh thing in it, come to think of it) and too many human hairs from too many entrees to mention. I just sent the dishes all back to the kitchen and called it a day. "Would you like another dish of coleslaw?" asked the server after I pointed out the cockroach. Um, no.
I never asked for a free meal because the learning experience was enough of a reward. I don't return to restaurants where alien objects appear in the food. Lightning does strike twice. Of course, none of my experiences hold a candle to that of my friend who found a grasshopper — the bug, not the cocktail of the same name — in the green beans of a frozen dinner. "Legs and all!" she says. She complained to the company that graciously, and conscientiously, sent her a packet of coupons — for more frozen dinners.
It was a gracious gesture, and a little kindness in these situations goes a long, long way — a simple "I'm sorry," for example. But nothing can top the outrageous response I heard early one morning at a diner in Indianapolis after I had gotten off my shift as a hotel clerk. The drunken woman sitting next to me at the counter started screaming at the waitress. "There's a hair on my omelet! Look at that hair! There's a hair right on top of it."
A burly, unshaven cook stepped out of the kitchen, looked down at the woman's plate and gingerly picked up the hair with the tines of a clean fork. As he walked back to the kitchen, he turned, gave a big gap-toothed smile and said, "You're lucky it wasn't a turd."