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Live Feed - Stett Holbrook

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Send It Back

By Stett Holbrook

LET'S SAY your brakes were squealing and you took your car in to get them fixed. After picking up your vehicle at the shop and driving home, you noticed the brakes were still making noise. What would you do? Let it slide, or turn right around and go back to the mechanic and demand he fix them? The latter, of course.

Or what if you called an exterminator to rid your house of ants, but they were still crawling around the kitchen a week later? You'd complain that the bug man didn't do his job and ask him to come back and do it right.

Why is it then that when people go out to eat and the food falls short, many people suddenly become shy and meek? If the food is cold, or too salty, less than fresh, or somehow isn't up to par, why are people so reluctant to say so and politely but firmly demand it be made right or removed from the bill?

Chefs aren't mechanics or exterminators, but like them, they provide a service in exchange for money. Some chefs fancy themselves artists—and some are—but the customer is still paying for their work, and if the diner deems it inadequate he or she should say so.

Part of the reluctance to send food back is that it's socially awkward. When a waiter checks back to see if you like your meal, it's hard to burst his cheery demeanor and tell him the food is terrible. You don't want to make a scene, or make anyone feel bad. You just want to have a good meal. But if they're asking, why not tell the truth? Even if they don't ask, it's important to speak up. It's empowering, even liberating.

No longer do you need to be polite and say everything is fine when it's not. Going out to eat is becoming more expensive, so if you're dissatisfied with your meal, say so. Nine out of 10 places will appreciate your honesty and whisk the plate away and replace it with another.

As a former line cook, it felt like a personal affront to have a dish sent back, but I always operated under the dictum that the "customer is always right," even when he or she clearly wasn't. It's just good public relations to honor a diner's request.

Of course, even if you ordered a burger medium rare and it came out well-done and served on a moldy bun, some restaurants will refuse to own up to the fact they screwed up. If that's the case, you can get nasty. Tell them you will never go back and will make a point of letting everyone know about your bad experience. If your complaint is legitimate, chances are they will reconsider.


Paragon Restaurant and Bar, one of downtown San Jose's best midrange dining options, is set to close.

The restaurant and the Hotel Montgomery it's connected to have been sold, says restaurant general manager Adam Lawrence. Joie de Vivre, the San Francisco–based owner of the hotel, sold the historic building to Khanna Enterprises, a Southern California–based hotel and restaurant group. Paragon leased the restaurant space from Joie de Vivre, and with the sale the contract expires.

But according to Lawrence, the new owner wants to continue with Paragon's American, chef-driven menu, and restaurant employees have been asked to stay on.

"The intention of the new owners is to keep everyone," says Lawrence. "Concept-wise they want to keep it the same."

That appears to be a smart move since Paragon has been popular since it opened four years ago.

"It's very unusual that a successful restaurant goes away," says Lawrence. "Even with the downturn, we were doing well."

No word yet on what the new restaurant will be called.

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