Sending Food Back in a Restaurant

2007/08/08

When to Send Food Back

I was recently asked what it would take for me to send food back in a restaurant. I asked around a little bit and it seems that everyone has a different level of tolerance for what’s acceptable on their plate and reasons for why they’d send their dish back to the kitchen.

I think the general census is that if the order is wrong, it goes back. I mean you ordered a taco salad and they bring you a couple tacos….not quite the same. When you ask steak and they bring you chicken. You are allergic to onions and they put em all up in your burrito. These are guaranteed return items.

How do you handle it? “I’m sorry, I thought I ordered the steak.”

“NO, I ORDERED THE STEAK DAMN IT!”

I don’t know. It doesn’t happen often to me but I have sent a dish back for being wrong. Most of the time its not even my decision. As the server puts the plate down, they’ll usually catch the error and just take the plate back. But every now and then when it’s not the same person that took the order as the person that brings the food, and the order is not correct…sure I’ll send it back.

A long time ago I was at a breakfast joint with a buddy of mine who returned his omelet to the kitchen because the cheese on top was not fully melted. That to him was enough to send his breakfast back. I was sort of shocked. He said “I’m paying for it.”

So he was a little more on the next tier where the dish goes back if it’s not what they expected. I ate a burger at Scanlon’s recently and when asked how I’d like the burger prepared, I said medium. Am I wrong in thinking that Medium should have some pink? Maybe I should have said medium rare but I don’t want to get ill. The burger was medium well to well done. No pink at all.

Should I say something? There’s no going back in this situation. They can’t just put the burger on the grill and uncook it. So they’d have to start over. But then I’m wondering if there is something in the special sauce on my second burger. It tasted good regardless. It wasn’t exactly what I ordered but for $11, it should have been medium.

I am a picky eater at times and many times the order comes with something on it that I didn’t ask for. If I can pick that item off or eat around it, I usually will. I really do try not to send anything back. I’m honestly scared to have something done to my dish by the kitchen staff.

I think all kitchens should be on camera so with a closed circuit tv at my table so I can watch what’s going on. After watching Waiting a few times, I just don’t want to send food back.

One friend says that if the dish is what she ordered yet it wasn’t very good, that’s her fault and she just wont get it again. But if it’s not what she ordered, then she will return it. I agree with this. I’ll just write it up and share it with anyone willing to listen/read.

So I guess I’m really looking for input from anyone that wants to weigh in on the subject. When would you send food back in a restaurant? How would you go about doing so?

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

dkgoodman August 8, 2007 at 3:48 pm

If you’re a reasonable person, a good restaurant wants you to be happy so you’ll keep coming back. A good restaurant wants to know how they can improve so that everyone wants to keep coming back.

Sometimes I’m so hungry I won’t tell the waiter something’s wrong with my meal because they’ll want to take it back and I don’t want to wait for it, and I don’t want to argue with them about letting me eat it. If there’s something wrong with the main dish, I hate when they take your whole plate away, so I do what I can to hang on to the fries or other side dishes so I have something to eat while they’re fixing the main dish.

Generally, I’m a reasonable guy. I know that the folks in a restaurant are only human. I don’t get mad, I just want something I can eat. If something is not what I ordered, I’ll usually ask for it to be replaced. If it’s not to my liking, I’ll often not say anything unless it’s easily fixed.

The Barking Squirrel, down in Sunriver, has the owners’ email on their business card. I like that. After one meal there, rather say anything at the time, I emailed them afterwards to suggest that there might have been too much parsley in the tabbouleh. When I’m dining I’d prefer to avoid any tension. They emailed back and were grateful for the feedback, and said a new sous chef had prepared the tabbouleh. Next time I went, it was better.

When there’s something wrong with a meal, that’s an opportunity for the restaurant to show what kind of service they have. If I say something’s wrong and the waiter is gracious and helpful, that waiter gets a big tip. 🙂

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Chillable August 8, 2007 at 4:28 pm

Ahh yes, I have all sorts of opinions on this topic. On the one hand, I try to do whatever I can not to send something back, especially if it’s a matter of taste/personal preference. But on the other hand, if the meal I’ve received just can’t be enjoyed the way it is—and that means an overcooked steak, a dish that’s cold when it should be hot, or something containing (god forbid) inedible foreign matter—well, it’s going back. Of course, I only do so in the nicest, politest, beseechingly apologetic tone possible. These are NOT people you want to make mad!

All that said, I don’t have any problem giving the waitstaff or chef feedback as we’re walking out the door. Like at Baldy’s recently: “Did you guys change your wing recipe? They seemed a little more breaded than usual.” (Read: Did not like!) Lo and behold, you find out that they’ve got a new chef and he’s still working out the kinks. No problem, then! We’ll be back!

I definitely equate cost of the meal with justification to send it back, too. An $11 burger? Probably not. A $28 Ribeye? Definitely. But only once in recent memory can I recall sending back something on taste alone. We were at Blue Olive at the new Brasada Ranch with a group of six, and when my dinner came (it was either calamari steak or some kind of giant clams or whatever, so maybe that’s MY bad for ordering it), it was nothing short of terrible. I couldn’t even chew a small bite, it was so tough, and tasted like week old seaweed on a hot summer day. So I asked the server, “Hi, um, is this supposed to be really tough?” and she said “No, is it?”. Not wanting to take my chances with it again, I ordered a new entree (the cheapest one on the menu, and quickest to cook—some sort of pasta dish) and happily got something else midway through my friends’ meals. So, I was kind of mortified to return something in front of so many people, but at least I got an edible dinner!

Now, lest you think I’m a restaurant’s total nightmare, I’ll tell you this: a few weeks ago I (and a group of 5 others) walked out of a restaurant. There were only 3 tables in a huge dining room, everyone else had their food, and yet we waited 10 minutes for a server to come by to take our drink order, and then sat another 20 minutes WITH NO DRINKS. Who knows how much longer we would have waited, because that’s when we collectively decided to tell the server to cancel our order, and left. The restaurant?
Merenda.

Ok, one last word on this rant: I’m with dkgoodman—if you’re gonna send it back, you’d better leave a fat tip!

Peace out!

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Just a cuppa lovers. August 8, 2007 at 9:34 pm

Like you we watched Waiting and have been scared to send anything back, not that we did before, but still.

I did send one plate back and that was because it had a huge, long, black hair in it. I still gag just thinking of it. Instead of getting something else I just ate off of my friends’ plate. None of us trusted the kitchen at that point. That happened at McMenamins.

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dkgoodman August 8, 2007 at 9:59 pm

Yeah, I’ll walk out if it takes forever to have your order taken.

Also, in addition to inedibles, I’ll ask for another glass or plate if it’s chipped or cracked. That’s where bacteria like to grow.

Truth is, though, the food and service in Bend is pretty top-notch. Has to be, with so much competition. Worst service I’ve gotten was at Shari’s, and we just don’t go there anymore.

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Chillable August 9, 2007 at 5:06 pm

Or how about coffee cups with lipstick stains on the rim? That’s just the worst! At least look at what you’re setting down on the table before giving it to someone to drink out of…

Not sure you intended this to turn into a full-on restaurant peeves rant, BOR. But it sure is fun! And cathartic!

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Bend Oregon Restaurants August 9, 2007 at 5:16 pm

Thanks for the comments you guys. Since posting this, I have been reading up and apparently restaurants really do want you do send food back if it’s not correct or prepared like you requested. They do want you to be happy. And also, we shouldn’t be scared at good restaurants about having the food tampered with.

If my order is wrong, I’m definitely going to send it back from now on.

I agree with you guys on everything you’re saying.

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Anonymous October 8, 2007 at 2:14 am

I work in food service and we don’t mind remaking the item if it had onions in it and you request none. But you don’t have to make a scene and call us names because YES we SCrewed UP! We will get you another without you calling the cook a “dumb mexican” and asking does anyone not speak English in Here?? Sit down and shut up! You don’t look like you missed many meals.

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Anonymous February 12, 2008 at 2:48 pm

Excellent comentary, though just an FYI–at most restaurants I’ve worked at, “medium” means no pink.

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Carla April 9, 2008 at 3:24 am

I usually order ribeye “blue rare” (it resembles the 98% raw ahi tuna that you like). The worst instance was at a chain steakhouse- My first steak arrived well done, when I sent it back my second steak was 90 % fat (I asked to speak to the manager and explained that my first steak was seriously overcooked, and my second steak was obviously the kitchen’s passive aggressive way of dealing with customers that sent food back.) The manager apologized and my third steak was suitably rare and on the house. I haven’t ordered a steak in years- I cook them at home the way that I like them and save the hassle, time and money.

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Anonymous May 13, 2008 at 6:05 am

I also work in a restaurant. Really, we will be happy to remake your dish if there’s something wrong with it. However, when you would like it remade, be polite and specific. Being rude and angry will get you absolutely NOWHERE and fast. Our job is to make you happy, not send you away dissatisfied. Also, please think before you start going off on your waiter or waitress. They are just trying to do their job, it’s not necessarily their fault that something is wrong.

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Anonymous August 26, 2009 at 10:12 am

Sending food back is the most pretentious thing I can imagine. Be polite, smile and shut up. Anyone who does this on a regular basis is an entitled snob. Grow up!

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