But I wanted to all to see these particular cookies. Why?
Because they were sent to our table as a small gift from the restaurant’s owner, Jerry Slater. I’ve met Jerry before and worked with him on a panel discussion before I returned to the reviewer’s chair. Like many restaurateurs, he likes to offer a little treat to acquaintances and V.I.P.’s — a group I guess I belong to, though I personally consider myself “very inane” rather than “very important.”
But I am also the dining critic, and every bite I put in my mouth in a restaurant is potentially something I might praise or disparage. So I don’t like to accept any food I don’t pay for.
What’s the best way to handle this situation?
I’ve tried them all. I used to adamantly send the food back. Once at Floataway Cafe, a waiter refused to take a dessert back to the kitchen. We went back and forth until a curious patron at the next table said, “I’ll take it!” It was hers.
When I stopped reviewing but kept writing food stories and columns for the paper, I decided to change my tactic. I accepted small gifts (a cookie, yes; a steak, no) but “paid” for the extra food by adding the price of it to the waiter’s tip.
Now I just don’t eat it. I’ve found that arguing over small things can be uncomfortable for my table mates and embarrassing to the server. So I thank them for the gesture and then don’t touch the food. Those bites from the cookie were taken by my friends.
Sometimes that can be a bit of a drag, truthfully. Later that week I was at a restaurant in my neighborhood. I was dining with a regular customer at the restaurant, who’s not in the food industry. The chef sent out a very nice-looking flatbread as a kind of middle course between our appetizers and main course. Frankly, I was starving and ready to pounce on it, but instead ate two big pieces of bread and waited for my entree. I wasn’t planning to review the restaurant, but still have to think about every bite of food.