On giving and receiving food feedback

Part III On Food Movies and Food Reviews
In Part II Everyone’s a (food) critic we suggested that the surge of the online food reviewer had superseded the professional and was the new wave of food democracy.
But leaving the specific medium aside for a moment, how do you best give and receive feedback on food?
Do I look fat in this?
My dear friend’s standard response to this question is, ‘Do I look stupid?’ It’s the same when someone says ‘Tell me the truth?’ Here’s the tip, they generally don’t mean it.
And so it often goes with restaurants.
The best etiquette is to provide feedback directly. But what about when you’re not even asked? Plates whisked away, meals hardly touched, without the obligatory query. I once had my half eaten meal removed rapidly with a ‘Wasn’t it great!’ before I could say, ‘Actually, no.’
What if you’re not a confrontational sort of person? Or if it’s someone else’s event and you don’t want them embarrassed? I’ve let my fair share of feedback slide because it was someone’s birthday/anniversary/insert other special event.
What if the steak isn’t cooked as you’ve asked or if the meal just isn’t cooked? 

In my younger years I once sat through chicken satay, biting into its raw centre, too shy to say so. I paid for it for the next three days and it took three years before I could return to that restaurant. It’s one of my favourites but I’ve never ordered the satay again.
Crowd sourcing for this post, it was telling we only received one response who said:
Sneezers are not something thought up by writers on Friends - it DOES happen, and undercooked steaks can be dropped on the floor before being put back on the grill. We have sent meals back, particularly when the issue is one that could harm us (as in undercooked chicken), but we will generally gauge whether or not it is likely that we will get back a 'drop' or 'sneezer' before doing so.
In places where the service is as bad as the food, we are much more likely to leave the food uneaten and complain as we are leaving, because if they don't care about service, god only knows what goes on behind closed kitchen doors. I think as long as you are polite about it and don't eat most of the dish you want to complain about before doing so, most places will do what they can to remedy the situation. I couldn't tell you the number of times that I have been in a hotel kitchen when a clean or almost clean plate has been returned because the customer has complained about the meal. Its a bit hard to take those seriously......D1
It’s a bomb(e) and not in a good way
Kitchen pay back may not be an urban myth. But this story also highlights that there are customers who seem to revel in causing a fuss, where nothing the wait or kitchen staff can do that’s okay. Who knows, it may be the prevalence of this customer that’s causes the calcification of weary staff unable to sift through feedback for something useful.

But This Girl there is more feedback left unsaid than said or heard.
There are plenty of wait staff whose eyes glaze over when you reply to their question, you know they’re just going through the motions. Worse still is when staff stumble over the sought after advice defending it, or not responding at all. Now that’s awkward.
Rest assured, I have been asked for feedback where I felt okay about providing it and felt it was listened to.
Inspired by thinking about this post I sent the Lovely Deputy away from the counter so I could forensically unpick the dessert he’d ordered for me and paid $14 for. Touted as Bombe Alaska, this deconstructed minimalism consisted of tasteless ice cream frozen in a jar so hard you needed an icepick to pries it out. The crown of meringue was so vapid in sugar content, it slipped off the top of the jar and disintegrated on the plate. The accompanying shortbread biscuit was errr…okay. Hmmm….
Of course, I didn’t use the words ‘vapid’ or ‘icepick’ in my feedback and I kept smiling and reassuringly told our hostess that it was a great venue with a great menu, this however, was a distraction they didn’t need. Three weeks later they still had it on the menu. Of course, I don’t know if the kitchen every received the feedback.
It's not deconstructed, but it is Bombe Alaska. 
Chef and Steward frets that criticism will demoralise staff. After all, chefs are people too! Capser lost his job and his reputation albeit briefly, and the recent experience noted in the previous post suggests it can have greater implications for a business.
But whether that criticism is online or old fashion talk, it seems there are some principles that should guide chef, restaurateur, food blogger and customer alike. Here it goes:
Be polite and respectful 
Your table attendant or maître de might be front of house but they didn’t cook you meal. They probably get paid less than you do. A little kindness will help get your point across most effectively. No one likes a customer who throws their weight around. Reflect on how you feel when you get criticism. Whether you’re face to face or tweeting, be considered in your approach.
You don’t have to eat something not up to standard
If it’s not cooked, or how you asked for it, let the restaurant know and ask them to make it right. If you’ve agreed to put up some serious dosh for something questionable, the restaurant needs to know. You actually don’t have to pay for something awful. Fortunately, these sorts of meals are in the minority.
Feedback is an opportunity 
Restaurants don’t have to change their menus because one customer doesn’t like something. (Except the Bombe Alaska, it was awful). But if you don’t want to read criticism online, ask your customer what they thought and be prepared for their response.
The view that only the trained chef knows what they’re doing is passé. In many circles I am known as Priscilla Queen of Desserts. And I know a thing or two about meringue, and ice cream. My Bombe Alaska feedback was the equivalent of letting someone know their fly is undone.

Make amends where you can. Send the Chef over to hear the feedback directly, don’t charge for the entree, find a way to make it right. Check with others what they thought of the same meal. If there’s a trend, change what you’re doing. Try not to get defensive. Even when a customer’s taste resides in their bottom, a complimentary glass of champas can minimise their grievance.
Nothing is every totally bad
Chef and Steward’s word of advice is blog responsibly and so it goes for all criticism. He is 100% right, because no restaurant is 100% bad.
As foodie bloggers, the Two Girls have come to grips with this over time. Generally, we only blog about places we enjoy, places we want to recommend because we want to go back, but certainly places which have intrinsic value. From time to time, there may be discrepancies, but what we hope prevails, is a holistic critique.
Blogging responsibly is as much about telling people about a venue’s weaknesses as its strengths. How else will you know if that restaurant is right for you and for your specific occasion?
We’ve had some feedback too. A comment on free-range chicken free-zone received a response saying we’d had an impact on one of Hobart’s popular lunch places who are now selling fowl that isn’t foul.
Another favourite ditched their try-hard menu and found a new road with a lane for old favourites and some first editions, and they have returned to their rightful place in our hearts.
When you’re reflecting on your meal or the restaurant, be balanced. What worked alongside of what didn’t work?
What’s your feedback on giving feedback?
For Part I On ‘Chef’ and other food movies here.
For Part II Everyone’s a (food) critic here.