An intriguing tale of foie gras and unusual customer service

We’ve always been told that a fundamental of customer service is that the “customer is always right.” But that is not always the case, as we have seen when restaurateurs, for example, lash out at their reviewers on Yelp. Recently, I encountered another departure from the rule with Gary Moffat, the outspoken owner of Carpe Vino in Auburn, an excellent restaurant and wine bar.

Moffat forwarded me his response to a potential customer who complained that the restaurant was serving foie gras, or enlarged duck liver, a coveted but controversial delicacy prized for its flavor and velvety texture. It is created by manipulating nature and force feeding ducks via a tube. A common practice in France and elsewhere for generations, foie gras production and sales were banned in California in 2012. In January, a U.S. District judge’s ruling allowed for the sale of foie gras once again. Last month, Attorney General Kamala D. Harris filed an appeal of that decision.

Which leads us to a confluence of passion, politics and personality at Carpe Vino. It all began with planning for a special occasion, an online perusal of the restaurant’s menu, followed by an email to the owner. Then came the owner’s unconventional reply. Since the foie gras issue is contentious, and restaurant customer service is often of interest to readers, I figured there would be plenty of to discuss with the following exchange. I contacted the writer, Cathryn Rakich, and got her permission to publish her email. I also asked for her reaction to Moffat’s reply.

Here’s the email from Rakich to Carpe Vino:

My husband’s birthday is April 4 and since he is a big wine lover I was excited to surprise him with a birthday dinner at your restaurant. However, in previewing your menu online I see that you serve foie gras – so we will not be visiting your establishment. I hope you rethink your menu options and take a stand for the humane treatment of all animals, including those raised for food.

Moffat’s response (with minor editing for adult language):

Thank you for your note, and I am sorry to hear that you will not be celebrating your special event at Carpe Vino.

Life is all about choices, and I am certain you could be sending this same message to 100+ or more fine dining establishments in California (perhaps with no intention of having dinner at any of them). You could also decide not to visit Carpe Vino for a host of other reasons, because, for example, I am a liberal, support freedom of choice or because I am opposed to the sale of automatic weapons. Pick one.

After nearly 65 years on this planet, I am certain of only one thing: there is no shortage of reasons for (turning) people off. The difference is, most folks will go about their lives and business without beefing about it. My advice: go someplace else. Turn the channel if you don’t approve of what is on television. Vote for the other (scoundrel). Bottom line is, I don’t care. We’re going to continue to serve fois (sic) gras at Carpe Vino as long as it is legal.

Have a nice day. My best to your husband on his special day.

When I communicated with Rakich, she said she and her husband are vegetarians. She has a background in writing, editing and communications, most recently with a Sacramento non-profit. Her husband is a consultant and an attorney. She writes:

I am very passionate about the foie gras issue and dismayed that so many restaurants continue to serve it when it is proven that foie gras production methods – specifically the horrific act of force feeding geese and the resulting suffering – are inhumane and cruel.

Regarding Mr. Moffat’s reply, I am still a little shocked at his response. I have been wrestling with whether to write back or not. A word war with Mr. Moffat certainly won’t change his mind. He says he will “continue to serve fois gras at Carpe Vino as long as it is legal.” It’s a shame that Mr. Moffat has chosen what is legal over what is right. Restaurants that choose cruelty over compassion have an upper hand on this issue and there is little the public can do except boycott their establishments. But the voice of the public minority has always led the way to changes for a better world.

I can only hope that Attorney General Harris will be successful in her appeal of the recent ruling lifting the ban on foie gras in California and we will finally see an end to this cruelty.

There you have it, a customer-service response that won’t be winning over a potential customer. Now it’s time for your take. Do you agree with Rakich? What do you think of Moffat’s reply? You can vote below or drop me an email.

Call The Bee’s Blair Anthony Robertson, (916) 321-1099. Follow him on Twitter @Blarob.

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