Cafe Society

Mistakes happen at restaurants -- it's what happens next that's more important

Mistakes happen -- that's part of life. So it's what happens next that matters most.

When mistakes happen in restaurants, I'm always curious to see how the front of the house will react. In my review of The Kitchen Next Door Glendale, I write about one such mistake, the time a busser splattered mussel broth all over my husband's shirt. "Oh, God! I'm sorry," he gasped, then walked away. The server didn't come by, nor did the general manager, which wasn't the reaction I would have expected from the Kitchen Next Door.

Turns out it's not what Nick Doyle, executive general manager of all three Kitchen Next Door locations, would have expected, either.

See also: Behind the scenes at the Kitchen Next Door Glendale

Although the employee got the first part right -- and that's apologizing -- staff members are supposed to "get a manager involved straight away," stresses Doyle, who's a proponent of good hospitality and considers Danny Meyer's Setting the Table required reading for all general managers. "Let's make it right for the guests."

He says a similar incident happened at Next Door Glendale once with wine, not broth, and the guest was compensated for the dry-cleaning and given a gift certificate.

Bob Blair, chef-owner of Fuel, has also read Meyer's book and takes a similar approach to mistakes. "The first thing would be to say, 'I'm so sorry, it's all my fault. Let me get the manager so we can take care of that,'" he says. When such an event occurred at Fuel last year, Blair says the customer was told to send in the dry-cleaning bill, and within a week it was taken care of.

To Blair, the gesture isn't just for the person involved, it sends a statement to everyone nearby. "You're doing it so everyone knows you'll take care of it," he explains. "It's reassuring to the others around that table watching."

Jeff Osaka, chef-owner of twelve, tweaks this approach to make things even simpler for an inconvenienced guest. "A lot of people say, 'Come back and give us the receipt,' but we just take the average off," says Osaka. "We take twenty bucks or fifty dollars for a nice dress off their bill, instead of having them go out of their way to have to come back."

Have mistakes happened during your dinners out? How did the restaurants respond? Spill your stories below...

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Gretchen Kurtz has worked as a writer for 25 years; during that time she's stomped grapes in Napa, eaten b'stilla in Fez, and baked with Buddy Valastro, aka the Cake Boss. Her work has appeared in publications including Boulevard (Paris), Diversion, the New York Times and Westword. Our restaurant critic since 2012, she loves helping you decide where to eat and drink tonight.
Contact: Gretchen Kurtz