This crosses the board: it has happened at Thai places, Indian places, Korean places, Japanese places, Mexican places (although less there), etc. It has happened in Connecticut, in California, in Florida, and in my own college cafeteria when I was in college.
What happens is, many places offer spicy dishes and lets the customer decide the intensity of the heat-- you know what I mean, there is a system of stars ("three stars spicy") or mild, medium, and spicy, or a number rating, etc.
Now I like my food very spicy. If a dish makes my eyes water and my nose run, I'll be back for sure. I 100% completely and totally understand that many people do NOT like their food to hurt them. This seems to make sense. However, when I ask for a three star spicy dish, or as for it "spicy", do not bring me something mild!
I don't mind when they warn me, "That's really spicy are you sure?" And I always grin and say, "I looove spicy food! Bring on the pain!" and they laugh and bring me what I want. That's fine.
But often! They'll just nod and smirk and bring me the dish mild.
That is arrogance on their part assuming the customer "wouldn't know what she is talking about."
I have sent stuff back (if it is too, too mild and not what I paid for. I did that once in a Japanese curry house near us-- now they know to listen when I say I want the "level 3 spicy" that I freakin' MEAN it). But often times I don't send it back because it isn't horrible enough to send back (or the restaurant is busy or they don't speak much English or whatever) but I *am* disappointed.
Obviously they do make the food that spicy, or they wouldn't have it on the menu. And I know it must have to do with how I look/act-- because my boyfriend and I once ordered the same dish in a Korean restaurant at the same level of spicy-- and mine was much more mild than his. In fact, I had to spoon some his soup into mine to even out the spiciness. (I think the waitress noticed).
Once they get to know me and I become a regular, this doesn't happen so much. But just yesterday I went to my favorite Korean place and got seated in a different area than usual (and thus had a different wait staff) and of course my "spicy" dish came to me barely above "mild." Grrr. I would have sent it back, but the restaurant was crazy busy and is known more for its food than its service, so I just ate it.
I'm sure they get plenty of people screaming, "OMG WHEN I SAID SPICEY DIDN'T MEANSPICYOMG1@ONE!!I;m a wuss who shouldn't have ordered that!!sp@zz!@!!" but to me that's no excuse not to listen to me when I ask for my food prepared a certain way that is right there on your menu!
Yes, I'm little. Yes, I look young. Yes, I'm white (sometimes this matters- depends on the place). Yes, I am a girl (sometimes this matters- depends on the place). Yes, I freakin' want hot peppers on that!!
:( *sad face*