sitka spruce salad
Image: Olivia Brent
Another Sitka salad, with heirloom tomatoes. Doesn't it look good?

This was one cruelly overdressed salad.

The young lettuce leaves, hazelnuts, and ash-roasted shallots were drowning. This was disappointing in direct proportion to my admiration for Sitka and Spruce—whose kitchen made the salad—and its storied respect for produce, and my lovely experience with its salads in the past.

So naturally when the waiter trotted over to ask how everything was—I said everything was fine.

I know. I lied.

“Have you considered telling them how it really was?” my conscience of a husband asked me, and I ticked off the reasons I never do. Don’t want to be a pain. Don’t want to incite the restaurant’s defensiveness. Don’t want my food spat in. Don’t want to seem like I’m angling for a freebie. Don’t want to wait for them to do it over.

And my professional reason: As an anonymous critic, don’t want to call undue attention to myself as a judgmental diner. As a consumer advocate, my job is to candidly report my experience, not remake the experience to suit me.

But we’re paying for it, reasoned my husband. If it’s a relatively easy do-over, like a remade salad with lighter dressing, isn’t a polite request worth a tiny wait? And wouldn’t their response to your request enhance your knowledge of their service?

After our waiter brought the check we decided, in the name of research, to tell him about the disappointing salad and our debate around logging the complaint. “Oh absolutely you should tell us!” he insisted. Especially in the case of a salad, which can be made over in a way a main dish usually cannot. We want you to be happy, he assured us. We need to know that we got it wrong so we can get it right. Good restaurants would never engage in vindictive payback.

Mostly (echoing what I frequently hear in my phone dealings with restaurateurs): We’d far prefer you be honest in person than passive-aggressively honest later on Yelp.  Of all the things that piss off restaurateurs about diners…that’s right up there with walking out on the check.

Since that night, I have queried waiters in various other restaurants—always in my guise as Regular Diner—and they all came back with versions of the same answer: Respectfully tell your waiter what you really think.

Why is that so hard to do?

As we were leaving Sitka that evening, the couple seated next to us was diving into their lettuce-hazelnuts-shallots salad. We leaned over—couldn’t help it—and asked how they were liking it. “It’s nice,” they said. “Wish it didn’t have so much dressing.” We chatted awhile and gathered our stuff, and as we were leaving we heard the waiter ask how everything was.

“Everything’s just great, thanks!” they chirped.

 

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