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Five things that should always be free at a restaurant

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5. Mistakes This is a slippery slope, and I'm willing to concede that a kitchen has every right to charge a guest for everything ordered, especially if mistakes are rectified (side note: though not expected, a free round or dessert often helps turn such a disaster into a positive experience for a guest without breaking the bank for a restaurant). But I recently had dinner at a restaurant that made a lot of mistakes -- foreign objects in the appetizer, wrong entrees delivered to the table, and a glass of wine that had to be sent back twice: once because the glass was filthy and once because it was the wrong wine. Still, my party was charged for everything. I suppose that's fair, but it didn't leave the best taste in my mouth -- and it made me wary of returning. 4. Substitutions, if you're subbing down price-wise I get the logic here, I really do. Me asking for French fries instead of Brussels sprouts throws off your food cost calculations if you're keeping detailed enough books. But since the base cost for fries is less than the base cost for sprouts, I'm still going to be irritated when my check shows up with an a la carte fry charge. I may as well have kept the sprouts and asked for an additional side. Besides, you don't give me a price break if I ask you to hold something -- so don't charge me more money when I save you a few cents. 3. Split plates I have never understood the logic of the extra split plate charge. I've manned a pass before. The extra work to split a plate is minimal, adding maybe three extra seconds total to the time it takes to complete an order. You're not preparing more food, and you're just dirtying one more dish. Yet, I continue to see split plate charges on menus. That just ain't right.
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Laura Shunk was Westword's restaurant critic from 2010 to 2012; she's also been food editor at the Village Voice and a dining columnist in Beijing. Her toughest assignment had her drinking ten martinis and eating ten Caesar salads over the course of 48 hours. She still drinks martinis, but remains lukewarm on Caesar salads.
Contact: Laura Shunk