Andrea Strong, author of “The Strong Buzz” blog, liked most of the food at Will Guidara and Daniel Humm’s The NoMad. Then she sampled what is likely New York’s most expensive fowl. It’s a foie gras and truffle-stuffed chicken. It costs $78. I loved the dish. She did not. Strong isn’t happy about it and she doesn’t want to pay for it. Here’s what she had to say in her review:
So the question is this: When should a restaurant comp an entree, regardless of its price? According to Ms. Strong, she sent the dish back and it was returned to her liking. In fact, to use her words, the dark meat fricassee was “darn good.” Is this still worthy of a comp?The NoMad, after all, eventually got it right, even if the dark meat did apparently go missing for a short while.
As a diner, I’d rather have the kitchen fix the problem than get a free chicken.
During my (short) tenure as a waiter in Washington DC, if a guest disliked an entree, I’d apologize and have to kitchen redo it, or I’d ask whether the guest would prefer something else. Now here’s the thing, I’d still charge for that entree, once the kitchen solved the problem. The “comp” would come in the form of a round of drinks (for the entire table), or a dessert.
To some, a free entree means, “we’re sorry”, and that’s fair enough. But to me, a comped dish says “that item had so little value, we’re not charging you for it. In fact, it was worthless.”
Sure, it’s always nice to get something gratis, but if you had to choose between the $0 porterhouse or the $125 porterhouse, you’ll probably take the latter, because who the heck knows what kind of cut you’re getting for $0. Do you really want some underpaid sous-chef half-assing his way through a re-fired $140 cote de boeuf that he knows you won’t pay for? Absolutely not. You want the chef to cook such an outstanding cut of cow that she knows you might still pay full price despite the initial screw-up.
So when we eventually got it right at at the restaurant (and I like to think we usually did), I’d charge full price for the entree and then buy everyone at the table a beer. You can’t half-ass a round of beer, unless you’re pouring Miller Lite. Or sometimes if a group brought their own wines, I wouldn’t charge any corkage fees. It was just a little something to make the re-fired filet mignon in red pepper coulis taste a little sweeter (I’m embarrassed we served that, but that’s a different story). This usually did the trick.
Still. Ms. Strong (apparently) left The NoMad unhappy, and no restaurant wants a guest to leave unhappy, regardless of how poor or pristine the meal might have been. To be fair, reading that level of happiness is one of the most difficult things a waiter or manager can do.
Often, I wouldn’t find out about a bad meal until I saw the tip a table left me. But Will Guidara and Daniel Humm are better at this game than I was. They have three-Michelin stars to prove it.
Their trademark is under-selling and over-delivering. They offer a four-course prix-fixe at Eleven Madison Park that’s really closer to twelve or more courses, if one counts all the small bites and intermezzos. At $125, it’s really one of the city’s most reasonably-priced tasting menus.
But over at The NoMad, Humm and Guidara are serving what is probably New York’s most expensive chicken. And while the quality of that chicken, in my opinion, is impeccable, $78 for fowl certainly isn’t under-selling the guest. It’s promising the guest something great. The NoMad crew knows that when you charge higher prices than anyone else, you’re inviting a higher level of scrutiny. You’re creating an expectation that your bird will be the best, and that the service of the bird will be the best, even if your restaurant, The NoMad, is a bit more casual than Eleven Madison Park.
This all requires a higher sensitivity to the happiness of guests — an even higher sensitivity than at Eleven Madison Park, given the larger crowds in the The NoMad’s atrium and given the higher noise levels than at the flagship restaurant.
So those are just a few thoughts. I’m willing to bet my bottom dollar that Humm and Guidara will use this little scenario to make a believer out of Ms. Strong. But if I could give this one piece of advice: As long as The NoMad cooks that chicken right, even on a second try, they shouldn’t give it away for free.
That fine fowl is far from worthless.