Friday, September 22, 2006

Attack of the mystery meat

Most vegetarians have probably encountered this situation before: You order a vegetarian dish from a restaurant, and as you're eating it, you discover a bit of chicken or beef in your dish.

This happened to me recently. I was eating my tofu-filled entree when I came across a small piece of chicken, and then another one. My pleasure in the dish immediately diminished. The chicken pieces had probably sneaked in there accidentally on the grill, because the cook wasn't paying close enough attention to keeping the dishes separated.

When this happens, there's the question of what you should do. Do you send the dish back and request a new one? Do you just pick out the offending piece(s) of meat and continue eating? Do you immediately get up and leave the restaurant?

In my case, it happened to be a takeout meal, so taking the dish back to the restaurant wasn't a very viable solution. I ended up removing the small chicken pieces and eating the rest of the dish very carefully, keeping a close eye out for more. The dish was still good, but I enjoyed it a lot less than I would have had the chicken pieces not been in there.

I think the answer to how you react to this situation probably depends on a variety of factors: how strict a vegetarian you are; whether you think the restaurant will be understanding of your problem with the dish; and the situation. My preferred method would be to quietly speak to the manager, explain that it was upsetting for a vegetarian to find meat in their dish, and request a new dish. Some restaurants will be more understanding than others and more willing to make things right -- that's just the nature of the beast. My experience will, of course, have an effect on whether I return to the restaurant in the future.

If I were at the restaurant for some type of special occasion where I didn't want to draw potentially negative attention to myself -- say, a first date, a business meeting or a friend's birthday celebration -- I would probably push the meat to the side and keep quiet. And I would be less likely to visit the restaurant again.

Of course, if I ordered tofu pad thai and got chicken pad thai instead, I would most definitely send it back -- there's a difference between a stray piece of chicken and getting the entire order wrong.

What do you do in this situation?


At 9/22/2006 3:00 PM, Blogger Andy said...

You paid for the meal, you should get exactly what you asked for. For me, finding chicken in a dish is no different than finding hair, or pieces of cutting board, or even - gross - a used band aid. Send it back and make them do it right.

At 9/22/2006 8:42 PM, Blogger Solitarieone said...

A stray piece...ok, I can pick that out and put it to the side. More than that, it's not a slip up, it's culinary carelessness and should be brought to the attention of your server. I would politely, but firmly, ask for a new dish. If more of us vegetarians did that (again, politely!), I think our diet principles would be taken as seriously by others as we take them.

At 9/25/2006 12:10 PM, Blogger Cassandra said...

solitairieone, that's a good point about how more of us bringing it to their attention could help them grasp the importance of keeping the meat far away from the veggie dishes in preparation. I know restaurant kitchens are often hectic, but details are important.

andy, while the chicken pieces were certainly unappetizing, I don't think I'd say they were QUITE as bad as a used Band-Aid -- at least, I hope they weren't that unhygenic!!


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