Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Sending Back the Fish

I have a reputation in my family for sending back fish. I am not a hard to please diner. (Is that my daughter rolling her eyes?) It’s not my fault if I am served bad fish, or that someone at my table gets bad fish. I don’t think I am supposed to just sit there and let a loved one get sick. It happens disproportionately often when I am with my daughter. Once (with her) I sent back a platter of crudo at the Restaurant George atop the Centre Pompidou, even as we marveled at one of Paris’ most spectacular views. The waiter assured me that the fish had just come in. I assured him that (none-the-less) it did not smell fresh. Paris is yet another reason live: no one should die from eating bad fish.

My pre-teen had to learn to pretend she was not mortified to have a mother send back the fish, or wine from a bottle that was open too long or served in a glass that smelled of bleach, or baba ganoush that was beginning to ferment, or you name it. In my defense, I try always to behave graciously when sending food back. I do not berate waiters or behave obnoxiously. I have learned to be firm and reasonably charming (after a rocky start, I admit). In my further defense, my daughter, now in her early 20’s and no longer so easily mortified, has herself learned to handle restaurant situations with a modest aplomb that I did not acquire until I was much older. I am sure that she is grateful for her early training with me. I am sure…

Once, lunching alone, in San Francisco, two young women three tables behind me ordered the fish, though I did not. When the waiter walked past with their fish, I could smell that it was not fresh. I was beside myself. Should I mind my own fish (so to speak) or step up and appear to be a psycho: “Excuse me waiter, that fish over there across the room is not fresh…” I held my tongue. I wondered what the New York Times Ethicist would have said about allowing strangers to eat iffy fish, but I never wrote him and now he’s been replaced with a new guy that I am not yet comfortable with. I kept quiet but saved the story for my long-suffering offspring. She of the rolling eyes instantly understood both the hilarious irony of the situation and my acute discomfort in keeping silent. That’s my girl.

A few days ago I returned an expensive bottle of champagne to a neighborhood store…
I think we should speak up. How else will they know when something is not right?


  1. I agree with you completely, Alice!

  2. Alice, you are so funny. I almost never send food back, perhaps owing to a great fear of being perceived as a difficult customer. It's not necessarily the best approach.

  3. I agree, and think propreitors appreciate it, especially when done graciously. When they make it right they are more likely to win a repeat customer than if a customer leaves silently dissatisfied.
    Not that chocolate is as touchy as funky fish, but did you ever have people bring chocolates or cake back to Cocolat?

  4. I know exactly how you feel! My daughter still rolls her eyes about this same issue. On two occassions I have become very ill from restaurant food, so now I take no chances. Aside from the safety of food, if food comes to the table cold or improperly prepared, I'm not going to enjoy the meal. Eating out should be a pleasure and diners should get what they are paying for! I'm not a "picky" diner, and I am always polite, but I believe that diners shouldn't settle for substandard food in restaurants.