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The Boston Globe

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Miss Conduct

Advice on speaking to the restaurant manager

Plus, not overstepping bounds as an intern.

Illustration by Lucy Truman

> My husband and I recently ate at a well-known restaurant in Waltham. I brought my leftovers home and found a dead fly in the food. When I called the restaurant, the manager casually replied, “Sorry, these things happen.” After spending considerable money at the restaurant, I would think the manager would be more concerned. Is this the reaction most restaurants have when a patron calls with a complaint?

M.D. / Boston

I should hope not.

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I had a lovely moment once with a waiter who brought me a Manhattan garnished with a cherry and a fly. I summoned him, looked him straight in the eye, and said, “Waiter, there’s a fly in my drink.” We took a moment to silently acknowledge every possible comic response to this, maintaining eye contact all the while. Then he nodded his head and replied in a crisp, emotionless voice: “Sorry about that, ma’am. I’ll get you another.”

Maybe you had to be there, but it was hilarious.

Managers and other people in customer-facing jobs ought to take the initiative to make things right for a disgruntled customer, but frequently they don’t. When you are faced with a bad product or service, it’s best to decide in advance what you’d like the company to do in response to your complaint — replace your product? Comp part of your bill? (This is also a good reality check for you, the customer. Do you actually want things to be made better, or do you just want to yell at someone?) If your complaint doesn’t bring forth an adequate response, tell the manager what you want. If he or she is willing to make reasonable amends, be gracious in victory. If you continue to get a corporate shrug of the shoulders, civilly inform the company representative that you’ll be sharing this story with all your friends and the Internet.

 

> I overheard my boss at my internship (I am a college student) mentioning that his wife is undergoing cancer treatment. He has never told me this information directly. He is returning from an absence that I know he took because of his wife’s surgery. I want to offer him well wishes and/or ask how he and his wife are doing, if it is appropriate. I don’t want to come off as nosy, but neither do I want to come off as cold.

S.K. / Hartford

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Right now, your work competencies and sense of responsibility are under scrutiny; your ability to emotionally support your boss is not. No one is looking to an intern for this. Since he’s neither made a secret of his wife’s cancer nor told you directly, he’s not going to judge your response. Do whatever feels most natural.

However, whatever kind of career you’re looking toward, you’d be well served to learn the art of the middle way. Youth tends to lack subtlety, which is part of the charm of youth. You didn’t have to say, “I hope your wife is recovering well” or chirp a clueless “Welcome back!” Instead, you could say, “You were missed” or “Do you want some time to settle in before we go over the production stills?” in a way that leaves the door open for further disclosure if desirable, and not if not. Begin to practice this art now, and you will have truly learned something valuable in this internship.

Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.NEED MISS CONDUCT’S HELP? Write to her at missconduct@globe.com. And get advice live during a Boston.com chat with Robin Abrahams September 19 from noon to 1 p.m.

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