Ask Tom

Sunday, March 23, 2008

"When is it appropriate to send a dish back?" asks Robert Mathias, who recently ordered steak frites at Bistrot du Coin in Dupont Circle and didn't care for it. "Technically, nothing was wrong" with the entree, the District reader reports via e-mail. "The steak arrived at the temperature ordered." But the "heavily herbed" meat wasn't what he expected.

I posed his tricky question to several restaurateurs -- including Michel Verdon, a co-owner of the French bistro in question, who wishes Mathias had asked to speak to a manager so the problem could have been handled on the spot. "I want people to leave with a full stomach!" says Verdon. In this situation, had he been given the chance, the restaurateur says he would have prepared another steak for the customer and (rightly) charged him for the replacement.

Some etiquette tips for patrons who don't care for what they ordered: "I like to hear a reason" for someone not enjoying a dish, says Gillian Clark, the chef/owner at Colorado Kitchen in Washington. "It gives me an opportunity to fix it." Also: Expect to pay for a substitute dish, and don't wait until the last bite to register your feelings. Mary Abraham Reid, the co-owner of Del Merei Grille in Alexandria, recalls a customer who twice complained about her pork chops -- both times after eating the evidence.

Got a dining question? Send your thoughts, wishes and, yes, even gripes to or to Ask Tom, The Washington Post Magazine, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. Please include daytime telephone number.

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