Culinary Cold Shoulder

How do chefs and restaurant owners handle situations where a dish goes untouched or half-eaten? Read on.


The other day, I was visiting a local restaurant for the first time, and my critic’s brain was in high gear; tasting, smelling, experiencing. As does happen, many things were good … and some were not, particularly a bowl of soup that I found just plain unpleasant. So I set it aside. And waited.

To my surprise, the bowl was taken away without comment, and it made me wonder how local restaurants deal with abandoned dishes.

Responses range from vigilant to proactive, with servers on the first line. “I ask the server, when they bring back plates with food still on them, if the guest liked it," says Kevin Fonzo, chef/owner of K. "If the server states they did not care for it, I always ask for a particular reason so I may correct and/or change that.”

Chef Chau at Sushi Pop monitors each dish. “Our servers are first trained to ask if the guest would like to bring the food home," he says. "If not then we ask if there is something they didn't like about the dish. If it's sent back because they didn't like it, sometimes we’ll taste to make sure there is nothing wrong with it.” As does owner Thomas Ward of Pig Floyd’s. “My business card reads Head Dishwasher,” he says, “because that is the person that tells you what is coming back uneaten.’’

Jason Chin (owner of The Osprey Tavern and Seito Sushi), Tim Majoras (chef at Flying Fish) and Kirt Earhart (co-owner of Maxine's on Shine) all agree: An uneaten meal is cause for concern. “If there is an issue, a manager or owner is notified, and a table touch is made,” says Earhart. “If there is a concern,” says Majoras, “a manager or chef will talk with the guest so we can rectify their dining experience as soon as possible.”

Chin has a simple goal: “Clean dishes make me very happy.”

And Disney executive chef Scott Hunnel builds a remedy into his kitchens. A server heading to the dishwashing area has to pass the "chef expo'' (the chef in charge of expediting meals), so a plate that's not empty will be noticed. "We are very conscious of food partially eaten coming back,” Hunnel says.

So what’s the answer for you as a diner? If the dish is not to your taste, and the server doesn’t seem to notice, point out your dissatisfaction. It might get you an apology, or a remake, or the offer of a different meal. That’s why the sometimes annoying repetition of “Does everything taste delicious?” exists: If it doesn't, do not wait until the end of the meal to say so.

The chef is watching.


  • The Dinner Party Project launches its "Making Conversations" series of dinners June 29, inviting attendees to discuss critical community issues while eating off themed dinnerware. Guest chefs including Valintinus Domingo of NOVA will incorporate dinnerware created by Orlando ceramics artist LeAnn Siefferman as part of the conversation. This week's dinner, with the conversation focusing on mental health, is sold out. Dates and subjects for subsequent dinners are July 27 (homelessness);  August 31 (climate change); September 28 (race and privilege); October 26 (aging and staying engaged); and November 16 (gender and identity)

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Categories: Savor Orlando