How To Send Back Food At A Restaurant

While the majority of the restaurant staff you encounter will probably not spit or pee in your food if you send it back, it's a common concern that enters the conversation the moment someone decides to send their plate back to the kitchen. We asked food-service professionals how they prefer customers to handle this awkward situation. Here's what they said.

The Problem

How to Send Back Food at a Restaurant Without Pissing Off Your WaiterWhen you order a meal and what you receive isn't what you expected, you can either suffer through it or send it back. Either way, the situation isn't ideal because eating something you don't really want is, well, bad, and sending it back can lead to an awkward confrontation.

This often happens because 1) you're afraid of upsetting the waiter and paranoid about getting something extra when your meal returns (read: saliva, or worse); or 2) you come across as a jerk with a false sense of self-importance, in which case you may truly be at risk of some sort of retaliation. In general, if there's a problem you do have the right to say something and, in many cases, should. The goal is to do so politely so nobody leaves the table with hurt feelings, and that requires a specific solution.

The Solution

After watching my dad send back a hamburger for being undercooked and wondering how the waiter felt about how he made his request, I decided it was time to learn. Fortunately the food service citizens of the internet came to my aid to offer their two cents. Here's what I learned.

Who's At Fault Can Vary

How to Send Back Food at a Restaurant Without Pissing Off Your WaiterSydney notes that respect is key, but situations will vary and you should keep in mind that you may be the one who actually made the mistake:

Explain the problem and ask for a solution. If the mistake was your fault (not reading the menu or misreading the menu), apologise and ask for a new dish. If it's the waiter's or kitchen's fault, be nice. It helps to say something like: "I know this isn't your fault, but this is undercooked."

I've waited tables for a few years and most of the send-backs are because people can't read the menu. There were some legitimate complaints about bad food, but they were few and far between. I consider myself a pretty good waiter because I always double-check the food before I take it out. If the kitchen messed up and used the wrong cheese or something else that is noticeable, I tell them to fix it before letting the customer know.

If the waiter can't or won't fix the problem, ask for a manager. Any restaurant that cares about its customers will try to make things right, including comping your food. But if you're being ridiculous or rude (or both) you might get nothing. It all depends on the type of restaurant. High-end places will bend over backward for you, but smaller places like the bar/restaurant where I worked will tell you to get out if you're out of line.

Along with most things in life, showing respect for your fellow humans will get you what you want.

Just last night I ordered a couple of pizzas for some friends and expected to get a takeout special but was charged much more. It turned out I ordered the wrong kind of pizza because I'd forgotten the specifics of the deal. Having read Sydney's advice just an hour earlier, I made sure not to assume the man who took my order was wrong. I instead asked if the takeout deal had ended and he explained it was for a different kind of pizza. I apologized for my mistake and asked if I could switch. He had no problem changing my order even though I'd already paid. Everything worked out very well!

Be Specific About What You Want

How to Send Back Food at a Restaurant Without Pissing Off Your WaiterScott notes that not all waiters are perfect, and when they forget to ask for clarification it leads to problems they'll have to deal with later:

As a former waiter but now just a lowly patron, some waitstaff makes it difficult on themselves when they don't care enough to pay attention or ask for clarification. If the kitchen messes up, that's one thing, but if the waitstaff does not take the necessary steps to make sure that everyone receives what they order, it makes it "tense" to have to say something. The waitstaff are on the front lines of the success of someone's business - including their own.

One way you can help everybody is to be very specific about what you want and ask any questions before the order is taken to the kitchen. If you communicate sufficiently, your chances of a problem will be far smaller.

Just Be Nice

The rest of the advice I received all discussed the importance of respect, kindness, and understanding. As Sydney said earlier: "with most things in life, showing respect for your fellow humans will get you what you want." While these tips should help reduce your chances of a running into a problem when sending your food back, if your intentions are good and you're a nice person you shouldn't have to worry too much at all.

Illustrations by Leremy (Shutterstock).


Comments

    Here's my tip:
    Once you send food back, you're done eating. Don't ask for anything back, just ask that the item be removed from your bill.
    In my experience, no matter how nice you are, someone will get butt hurt. That's all the excuse they'll need to spit in your food.

    I have been going to a pub bistro with group of ten, each week for the last eleven weeks. It took five weeks to get my order right first time rather than my having to send it back. There has not been one week in all that time when everyone in our group received their correct order at the table. Often, one or two orders arrive after the rest of the group has finished their meal. The meals aren't cheap, averaging at $25 for a main. Our problem is that the venue is convenient, and when the kitchen sends the correct dish, the food is really good. The room seats over a hundred and the kitchen is small, it was never meant to serve that many. The table staff must be sick to death of having customers send back their meals, but nothing seems to change. Any ideas about what we can do?

      Send in Gordon Ramsay, and make an episode on Kitchens Nigtmare about it, haha.

        Tell them why you won't be back. Then stop going.
        OR
        Put up with it.

          @Scott ...yeah seriously, what kind of question was that?

    @Scott, stop thinking of it as a restaurant/food problem. Look at it as a customer service problem. Call aside the manager and tell them what you just told us. Let them know that you've now spent 11 * 10 * $25 = $2750 with his organisation and that you're unhappy.

    I work in hospitality and have done for over five years mainly in cafes. My advice is if you have a problem address it asap. If you wait it makes it harder to fix the problem - especially if you complain when paying the bill. Give the staff the chance to resolve the problem. Be reasonable and have reasonable expectations. The amount you pay may be a sign of how much you will get in regard to quality and service. Be polite and work with the staff to resolve the issue to your standard. Some staff are inexperienced or don't care so be smart to guide them to your advantage. If in doubt ask a more senior staffer.

    As a Chef, this entire article is bullocks.

    You can be nice as pie to the wait-staff, but if they've aggravated the Chef's that day - your food will take a longer longer to arrive. Why? Because we know they catch the heat for it - not us.

    Also, food leaving a commercial kitchen is always 100% safe to eat. 0% urine content guaranteed.

    This comment has been deemed inappropriate and has been deleted

    Last week I took my Grandma out for lunch at a reasonably expensive hotel. Grandma's meal was wonderful, the steak we ordered medium-rare was medium-well done and the batter on the calamari wasn't cooked properly which made it doughy and not very nice. We returned the latter two meals. The manager was wonderful, listened to our complaints, agreed the steak was over cooked and tasted the calamari and agreed it didn't taste very nice. Offered us the replacement meal of our choice of our money back.

    Later when I got home I wrote an email to the hotel praising his manager. The situation sucked but he handled it wonderfully.

    I never understood this, and I will never do this in my life.

    There are billions of people alive who would kill for the food you're having a whinge about.

    Just watch Waiting. Teaches you exactly what will happen if you're rude.

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