It’s the readers’ turn this week. Here are a couple of messages that turned up in my email in recent weeks (with a few comments from me attached).
First, from Greg, a common question:
“Hi Janice, I need a little help from an ‘expert’ to settle a family argument. When asking our grandkids where they would like to have dinner, we almost always end up at a buffet-type restaurant. After paying in advance and finding our own table, a server (who actually does not serve us any food) arrives to tell us her name and states she will be our server tonight. In reality, we all get up to fill our plates with food and get our own silverware and drinks. All the server really does for us is pick up our empty plates.
“I do appreciate this service and watchful attendance, but here is our dilemma. Since this is not a full, sit-down dinner, where our order is taken and food is actually served to us, I feel a lesser tip is appropriate. Others feel more should be given. Could you please advise what the approximate percentage should be for the tip on this type of service?
“Thank you in advance for settling our ‘family argument.’ ”
Dear Greg: The standard advice for tipping at a buffet is to tip as you would at any restaurant. The server assigned to your table usually does clear your plates, as you mention – and often offers other services, such as a final cleanup. My advice: Figure 15 percent of the total bill and, since in this case, you’ve already paid at the register, just leave it on the table.
Now a tale of woe from Charlotte:
“Dear Janice, I have been a follower of your restaurant advice for many, many years, which is why I am seeking some counsel from you regarding a dining experience. My husband and I have been ardent fans of (a well-known Buffalo restaurant) for probably 30 years. It has always been our favorite place for special occasions and seasonal dining.
“We celebrated our wedding anniversary there on Aug. 9, a summery Thursday night. We had 7 p.m. reservations, and we weren’t eating our appetizers until almost 8. We were told that they had a large party in the front room.
“Everything I ordered was fine, but my husband’s choices were less than fine. He had a scallop appetizer, which turned out to be two lonely scallops of average to small size sitting on a white plate with a thin, white sauce and a tiny bit of green, dill-type garnish ($12). I ordered a shrimp dish, which was much more plentiful and the same price. I do understand that scallops are more expensive than shrimp, but if they were too costly to serve three, then perhaps they should not have been on the menu.
“For our entrees, I had the cold lobster salad, which I have ordered on many a summer menu, but this only had about 4-6 green leaves. My husband’s loin of lamb was almost gray, thinly sliced meat that seemed as if it had been microwaved. Our waiter appeared hot and overworked, since he was moving tables outdoors and always in a rush. We didn’t want to complain at the time about the meal since it was our anniversary, it was getting late and it also was a work night.
“After thinking about the evening and the less than stellar meal, I wrote the owners a very nice letter which was mailed on the following Monday. I have never done this regarding a restaurant, but since this is our favorite place I felt that I needed to say something.
“As of today I have yet to receive a return letter or a phone call. I am not looking for anything from them, but my feelings are hurt that they do not seem to care. There are many other places to dine in Buffalo and I guess we will be broadening our choices.
“Do you think that we should have heard some sort of response, or are we expecting too much?”
Dear Charlotte: I do think they dropped the ball here. You sound like a reasonable person and even though you should have (gently) complained right on the spot, management behaved badly. They should have responded to your letter, and an offer of a complimentary glass of wine or dessert on your next visit would have been a nice gesture.
It sounds as if they were short-handed that evening – maybe someone did not show at the last minute – so since you really love the place, I’d give them another chance.
And if they goof up again – as you mentioned, there are plenty of other fine restaurants out there.
Now I have a question to ask all of you:
Two Wednesdays from now is Halloween, and I would like to devote a column to “frightening dining.”
So please let me know the scariest meal you ever had. It could be a bizarre combination of ingredients (I still recall with a shudder a caviar mold on a plate garnished with Maraschino cherries), an unusual setting (Did the lights go out? Was the ocean’s roar more deafening than romantic?) or something unexpected that happened.
Send your frightening experiences to firstname.lastname@example.org.