A confrontation with a Napier restaurant owner over smorgasbord etiquette has left a bad taste in the mouth of two of its customers.

Amelia Georgina Harrison's partner Brad Guildy had been having a somewhat stressful Thursday after his dog disappeared overnight, so the pair decided to head to Rice Canteen in Marewa to de-stress over lunch.

"We came in just after 1pm on Thursday and there wasn't a lot left over from the rush hour," Harrison told Hawke's Bay Today.

"We both selected from the smorgasbord option and my partner got the $15 option and selected rice and sweet and sour pork and a few other things," she said.

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A couple claim they were shouted at by a Rice Canteen staff member after one of them only selected meat for their smorgasbord order. Photo / Paul Taylor
A couple claim they were shouted at by a Rice Canteen staff member after one of them only selected meat for their smorgasbord order. Photo / Paul Taylor

But it all went wrong at the black bean stir fry, as Guildy avoided the large "hard" chunks of broccoli, only picking the meat while a staff member "watched him like a hawk".

"He has false teeth, so he's not actually able to have hard foods, so a majority of the food he was selecting was soft.

"The woman began to raise her voice, saying 'no more meat! You have to have the veges too!'

"My partner explained he couldn't eat the broccoli because of his teeth, but she wouldn't hear of it. She said if he just wanted meat he'd have to order 'just meat' off the menu."

Harrison said the woman began banging the spoon on the tray, ordering Guildy to add more vegetables to his selection.

Shocked by the service, Guildy changed his mind and asked for a refund, which he was given.

Rice Canteen Marewa owner Tina Lou said Guildy was taking only meat and no vegetables.

"It was a mixed order, but he took just meat, which means it would have been a different charge.

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"Meat is expensive, but if you have meat and vegetables together it would work under that order. Meat just on its own comes under a different charge.


"The man just picked the meat, another customer might have wanted the meat and vegetables together.

"I told the man not just to take the meat because another customer would want to order it."

Restaurant Association general manager Nicola Waldren said it appeared the restaurant could have better communicated with the customer to let them know there was a meat only option.

"I can see that at $15 the buffet option profit margin would have been very marginal, so the owner would have been mindful of needing to manage that.

"People don't always realise what slim profit margins hospitality businesses have, there is a lot of pressure, particularly with increasing food costs and other compliance costs," she said.

"I would imagine that the owner was also mindful about needing to manage expectations for all of her customers – the next customer is going to have an expectation that both vegetables and meat will be in the dish."

Reaction to the confrontation on social media was mixed.

Some members of the public jumped to the defence of Rice Canteen:

One woman said: "If someone picked out just the meat I would charge them extra or tell them to order a meat only dish. If the broccoli is too big ... well then chop it up when you get home."

Smorgasbord rules: Is it okay to only take the meat out of the stirfry and leave the veges behind? Photo / File
Smorgasbord rules: Is it okay to only take the meat out of the stirfry and leave the veges behind? Photo / File

Another said: "I think it's actually really rude of your partner to pick out only the meat from one dish. This leaves less meat in that dish for others. I'm with the aggressive lady taking the spoon off him. It's basic manners not to pick at dishes"

But others pointed out one of the more well-known rules of hospitality - that the customer is always right.

"That's rude considering you bloody pay," one woman said.

"You pay to eat what you want at smorgasbord, too bad if he was allergic to anything that she was trying to force him to grab."

Harrison said the pair's day had ended on a high, as they arrived home to find Guildy's missing dog had returned home, soaking wet, but thrilled to see his owner.