Ever been in one of those awkward situations at a restaurant where you can’t tell if you’re being screwed over or not? When something goes awry with a menu item or the service, and your overwhelming embarrassment about your lack of knowledge about how things should be stops you from saying something? As part of our "What Went Wrong" series, we attempt to tackle the uncomfortable dilemmas that arise in the wild world of dining out.
The dilemma: Recently, I found myself in such a quagmire over a bottle of wine at a birthday dinner. I was taking my brother and some friends out to celebrate and we landed at a busy Italian spot down in Soho. We ran into a snag with our wine selection, or at least the sommelier thought so. After my brother ordered a bottle of orange wine for the table which we’d been sipping for a few minutes, we were urged to stop. According to the sommelier, the bottle was bad, and we shouldn’t have been drinking it. My brother assured him that it was fine, but the guy wasn’t having it—he insisted on removing the bottle from our table. He offered to let us look at the list again, but we just told him to substitute it with a similar bottle. He promised he’d bring us something comparable, both in terms of taste and price.
The next bottle brought out to us lived up to our standards. We ate, we drank, we laughed, we talked about missing out on (possibly) hanging out with Ja Rule the week before; basically a grand time was had by all. Fast forward to the bill’s arrival and the realization that instead of just being charged the original price of $44 for the bottle we had originally ordered (which was, by the restaurant’s admission, an error), we were charged $60 for the new bottle they brought. That’s a reasonably small difference, but it felt like it shouldn’t have happened on principle.
Was I wronged? Should they have comped me the bottle, or just left the price at $44? Was it right that I pay for the new bottle? Should I have just flipped the table in a moment of primal rage and left promptly? I settled for a passive aggressive power play of writing “LOL” next to the price on the receipt and tipping 18 percent instead of 20.
Still, I wanted answers. So I got in touch with four experts—a sommelier, a winemaker, a food critic, and an editor-in-chief—to weigh in and see how they would've handled the situation.