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Sending food back

AJC Staff

AJC Staff

Choose Your Own Adventure: Dinner With Friends

By Jon Watson

It’s Friday night, and all week long, you have looked forward to this dinner out with your friends. Drinks and conversation flow, a few well-received shared apps shared. Service is friendly and attentive. You all comment on how this restaurant was an excellent choice.

Right on cue, the entrees arrive and you watch as your friends’ eyes roll back at their first bites, and they gush, “Oh my GOSH, you have to try this!” But you aren’t listening. You are too distracted by the well-done slab of meat on your plate as you attempt to relive the moment you ordered to be certain that, yes, you totally asked for medium rare.

Just then, as you cock your head to the side to get a better look at the cross-section of your first cut you hear, “How is everything folks?”

If you bite your tongue and smile, saying “Good, thanks”, turn to page 17.

If you inform the server of the error and send the food back, turn to page 28.

If you keep your thumb on this page and flip to pages 17 and 28 to see which ending you like better, you are cheating and completely missing the point.

While not the quite as exciting as the Alien Abduction or Haunted House stories we read as kids, this is a real life dilemma that many experience at one time or another. And it is one that many of us wish we could simply dog-ear and skip ahead to see if that replacement dish will arrive with a little something “extra” from the kitchen before you really commit.

The decision as to whether or not to return food that is either incorrect, improperly cooked, or poorly seasoned isn’t an easy one. Fear of retribution drives the decision to grin and bear it for most of us, while the desire to avoid looking like a sender-backer often rides shotgun.

Good business-to-consumer decorum suggests that if something isn’t to our liking, we are well within our rights to politely bring it to the server’s attention, who will then apologetically and swiftly correct the mistake, offer some complimentary amends, and ensure that you leave happy with the overall experience. But life doesn’t always work like that. The patron isn’t always polite, and the business isn’t always accommodating. So what do you do?

Where do you draw the line? How bad does it have to be for you to send something back, and do you still find yourself peeking under the arugula of your replacement just one extra time to make sure nothing was tampered with?

Jon Watson, Popular Eats

Jon Watson, Popular Eats

-By Jon Watson, Food & More blog

98 comments Add your comment


August 26th, 2011
6:57 am

I have sent back things that were too salty to eat, things that tasted like bleach ( probably a cooking surface got wiped down with it?) and things that had crunchy dirt in them. ( salad)


August 26th, 2011
6:57 am

And my sister once sent back a seafood salad that had a woozy squid moving around miserably in it.


August 26th, 2011
6:59 am

Easy, Send it back.. If I ordered a meal, that was not prepared correctly, I am not going to smile and say everything is fine. I work too hard, to be spending money on food that is not yummy..


August 26th, 2011
8:20 am

Send it back. I have noticed recently that the quality of food and service has declined in what used to be consistently good restaurants. The prices are going up and the quality is going down. If the kitchen can produce a high quality product the second time then they can produce it the first time. Hold them to a reasonable standard.


August 26th, 2011
8:21 am

Nope, ain’t going to happen. I know people that work in the industry, and have heard the stories. Don’t pi$$ off someone that is handling your food.
If it isn’t good, leave, refuse to pay-with the plate untouched, never go back, but NEVER send it back and then eat it after it comes back to you. NEVER!
Also, don’t mess with the drive thru order taker. You risk too much…it ain’t worth it.


August 26th, 2011
8:21 am

Send it back, pronto. I don’t think Kitchen’s learn unless that happens. Money’s tight; why pay for poorly prepared food?


August 26th, 2011
8:37 am

Send it back an get a remake or another entree, but there have been times that I just left the restaurant and went someplace else. I work to hard for my money to just grin an bear it.

August 26th, 2011
8:39 am

No brainer. Send it back.

carla roqs

August 26th, 2011
8:43 am

i try to not frequent the type of restaurants that would pay a low enough wage to where someone would feel justified in “harming” my replacement food because they were responsible for not cooking it to order. i also try to be extremely nice when i do send food back (which is fairly often).


August 26th, 2011
8:49 am

I just don’t send things back. I may not eat it, or I may eat around what I don’t like, but I don’t send food back to the kitchen.

I agree 100% with all of you who are all about “it’s my money, and I want it right” but, losing a few bucks on a meal that wasn’t satisfactory is better, much better, than complaining (from the tone of some of the previous posts, most people are probably rather rude about it) about the food and then it comes back with a little of the “extra” Jon mentioned above.

Now, rude service is another matter altogether – if it’s an isolated incident, and the server steps up their game, no worries. Everyone has an off moment. But if it’s pervasive through the meal I bypass the server totally and go directly to the manager or whomever might be in charge.


August 26th, 2011
8:52 am

No restaurant pays its people enough …servers only make $2.13 an hour….with that being said I do send food back but i never blame the server..the server is not responsible for the quality of the food….i do tip well… me if you frequent the same restaurants a decent tipper will be treated a little better and it is also assurance that they are not going to let anyone screw with the food…be nice and please don’t be once of those folks who send stuff back often or people will know you

Mr. Ed

August 26th, 2011
8:56 am

If you have been complete horse’s rear end about your meal to any of the staff, I would hesitate to return any meal. However, if you are polite and have a genuine gripe with your food I see no reason to fear retaliation from the kitchen or wait staff.

If you been a rude prima donna…well you get what you deserve.


August 26th, 2011
8:56 am

This is why I don’t go out to eat very often…..I prefer to cook with friends at home…..much more intimate, and less expensive. And I don’t mind cooking at the end of a long work week. I really enjoy entertaining and cooking.


August 26th, 2011
8:58 am

I try not to send food back unless it is something unexcusably and obviously wrong. Otherwise, I will just not eat it (or I will complain and not pay if it is a restaurant that I NEVER plan to patronage again). Please do not believe that just because you go to a high-end restaurant that employees will not mess with your food…..they will and they do. There are two rules that should never be forgotten…(1) Do not aggravate the person handling your food and (2) Do not aggravate the person handling your money.


August 26th, 2011
9:06 am

It depends on the restaurant and whether the server and management actually seem to really care, and also on just how bad the problem with the food is. If it’s something like undercooked chicken, and the service seems attentive, I will politely point it out and see what they offer. If they just slam down the plate and act like they don’t care, I’ll eat the sides and just never come back to that restaurant.


August 26th, 2011
9:19 am

The idea that cooks spit in your food when you send it back is Urban Legend stuff. If it is a technical flaw (overcook or undercook, over salted, etc) then, please do send it back and give us a chance to make things right before you leave. If it is a case of “I just don’t like this” then the responsibility is yours for not asking enough questions to determine exactly what it is you are ordering before it arrives.

In all cases, if you don’t bring the issue to the attention of those empowered to correct it, you waive your right to go on Yelp or another anonymous forum and trash the restaurant because “they did nothing…”

M. Johnson

August 26th, 2011
9:24 am

I don’t send food back. As others mentioned, I’m frightened by the possibility of “extras” coming back with my new order. But I do note when something was forgotten or left off my order so that they can bring the correct item.

There’s no reason to be rude to people who prepare and deliver your food. While I don’t eat much fast food, I am SUPER nice to the folks at the drive-thru window during every visit.


August 26th, 2011
9:25 am

It all depends on the degree of mistake made on the food preparation AND the delivery of the complaint by the patron.

If there is an OBVIOUS discrepancy in the food preparation AND you politely (tone of voice/tact) ask to have it sent back and corrected, you are OK to send your food back.

On the other hand, if the discrepancy in so minute and you are just being your normal NARCISSISTIC self by rudely sending your food back for no good reason, WATCH OUT!

Folks, there are no guarantees in life. Sometimes your meal is NOT going to be as good as you had hoped.

Native Atlantan

August 26th, 2011
9:37 am

I tend to agree with nativenapkin….send it back and give the kitchen the opportunity to correct the problem. I, like others, tend to visit my favorite restaurants repeatedly and have no fear that any error will not be handled properly. What annoys me is, as mentioned above, customers just don’t like their choice and make a stink about it.


August 26th, 2011
9:39 am

CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE BOOKS!!!!! I used to love those.


August 26th, 2011
9:47 am

I send mine back if its not what I ordered. If the food is cold or if its not cooked properly. I feel that I am paying for a meal of my choice and if I order a steak without pepper and it come with pepper I will not eat it. Its not what I ordered. If I would find something wierd with my food (such as dirt) after its return, then I would immediately call the police. That people is illegal to tant food.

As for fast food, I dont eat it. I have watched over and over as these employees go to the bathroom and do not wash their hands, I have watched as they have put their hands though their hair, rubbed their noses, scratched their butts. No, I do not eat fast food. I wonder what these peoples living conditions are?


August 26th, 2011
9:52 am

Most the time I will not send it back unless I am a regular there.
I will just alert the manager and say, ” I won’t send this back and I might
not eat all of it .” Then it is the managers decision thus he can’t tell the kitchen I sent it back
(or at least I hope).


August 26th, 2011
9:54 am

This is a timely post. My husband and I tend to frequent local mom and pop owned places when we eat out. Just Wednesday we had been given a gift card for a chain places and decided to give it a try for lunch. This place, being known for their ribs was what we decided to order. Our waitress recommended the queso….which was a very UNAPPEALING water brown substance with just enough whole beans floating in it to be….well…you get the picture. Then we found out the price for that little iron skillet mess. Wow. Our food finally arrived….we could smell the salmon on my husband’s combo plate before it was even set down. And I KNOW what salmon should smell like. I cook it once per week at home. ANYWAY…the dry ribs. The almost jerky…I will say the sauce was good, the broccoli suprisingly well cooked and seasoned and the potatoes were good. We didn’t send it back because honesly, we didn’t hope it would get much better. We brought it home and our dogs enjoyed their $53 lunch. Needless to say, we won’t be back. And I do wonder that the waitress didn’t note that there was only a couple of bites taken out of everything on the table?


August 26th, 2011
9:56 am

When I was a teen, I worked at McDonald’s afterschool. I watched a shift manager drop a chicken pattie on the floor, stomp on it and put it in a drive-thru customer’s sandwich becuase they were being rude. During my college years, I heard students who waited in nice restaurants talking about incidents where they or someone in the kitchen did something or another to a rude customers food. It is not urban legend.


August 26th, 2011
9:56 am

I’d really love to hear some of the local chefs chime in on this issue.

While I hardly actually send food back, I do think that it is our right as customers to get a dish made correctly since we are paying for it. In the last 5 years, i’ve only sent 1 dish back…it was at an upscale establishment and the dish was so salty it was pretty much uneatable. Even at that time, I thought about the fact that I may be getting my dish back with a little extra… but I feel like if you’re not a total d*ck about the situation, everything should be fine.


August 26th, 2011
9:56 am

For god’s sake, people. I’ve worked in high-end restaurants for 25 years. I’ve NEVER seen anyone adulterate food. Have I wanted to spit in people’s coffee cups? Oh, yes, every day- ask Kessler, that joke is how we met. But a professional, at a good restaurant, WANTS to make it right. No one wants you to leave feeling that you were unhappy and not treated well. Send the food back- we can’t fix it if we don’t know about it. And don’t make the waiter beat it out of you- there is a reason they check back, and it’s not to annoy you by interrupting your conversation- it’s to make sure your food is correct and you are not in need of something. If you are one of those “oh, I’ll sit in misery not touching my food until the waiter asks three times” people- just don’t. Please. Send it back. And don’t tell the waiter it’s fine, and then tell the manager at the end of the meal that it was overcooked. You’ve made your waiter look bad, especially if they tried to get you to tell them you were unhappy so they could fix it. You aren’t being rude. If a restaurant messes up, they WANT to know.

Robert C

August 26th, 2011
9:59 am

I have never had a problem sending something back when its wrong or not prepared as requested. Recently, I was out on a Friday in a party or four, one order was messed up and never left the kitchen wrong , but the manager told us. Another meal , the steak was over cooked , and he sent it back. The replacement was perfect. The manager came over and apologized again, and comped the entire table, not just the over cooked meal. We were not expecting that, but service like that keeps up going back.


August 26th, 2011
10:00 am

Good point. And we debated sending the food back…the waitress came back once after the food was delivered…with the check…and about 25 min later to ask if we needed a to go box. I’ll spend my money where they appreciate it and I KNOW that it’s important to the owners/staff that we have a good experience.


August 26th, 2011
10:01 am

Send it back!!! My problem has been with undercooked food, particularly meats. Rather than start anew, chefs try to cook what was originally served again. That never works out. Also, restaurants need to inform their customers of their definition of rare, medium rare, medium, and well done.

Reality check

August 26th, 2011
10:03 am

To: nativenapkin

“The idea that cooks spit in your food when you send it back is Urban Legend stuff.”

Uh, no its not an Urban Legend at all .

although ALL may not do it, SOME may or may not “spit” in your food but will will add a “special touch” to your order.

*some servers, cooks, chefs are highly sensitive and a strange lot. they think that they are striving for excellence in serving your food and when its returned, it is an affront to their ego. ergo, you get the “special treatment”

*some servers and cooks feel that when the food is sent back rudely, the only way that they can express their feelings about your rudeness is to lend “something special” to your order. additionally, they may feel that they should not have to take the abuse for the money that they are being paid. In justifying the retaliation of the real or imagined slight, they may feel that most rude returners don’t tip well or not at all. There fore it is ok to “express” themselves.

some servers, cooks and chefs just don’t give a rat’s a** and ANY slight against them is met with treating you “special”.

Just thought I’d throw that out there for you to “nibble” on. Bon Appetit mon amie!


August 26th, 2011
10:13 am

It’s all about how the customer brings the complaint to the server. It’s an uncomfortable conversation because of the associated risk of pi$$ing off the waitstaff, but if you do it in a respectable and manner that conveys your understanding that it’s not the server’s fault, they’re much more likely to not F with your food.


August 26th, 2011
10:19 am

I can’t tell you how many times my husband orders steak AT A STEAK RESTAURANT and gets it cooked improperly. This, after the waitress spends all that time telling him what rare, medium rare, etc. means at that particular restaurant. You order a medium rare steak, it shouldn’t jiggle like jelly when the waitress sits it down. I’m a vegetarian and I know that – you’d think someone who cooks steaks professionally would know better. He’s always polite when he sends it back but come on – I do believe as a non-meat eater I could do better at cooking some of those steaks!


August 26th, 2011
10:20 am

If it’s wrong, it’s wrong. Sadly, most restaurants seem to suck to me these days, bad food, poor service, except for some top-tier places. I’ll send it back, but won’t accept a replacement or remediation, as adulteration of returned dishes is the norm. Sometimes I still have to pay for it, sometimes not.


August 26th, 2011
10:22 am

I worked in fast food and family restaurants and I knew one woman who would spit in drinks, so I can’t say that it doesn’t happen. However, restaurants want you to come back and they want you to tell your friends that it’s a good place to go. They are in it to make money, so they want you to get what you ordered, plain and simple. Believe me, the cooks are too busy to adulterate the meal – and having to recook one adds to the busy-ness.


August 26th, 2011
10:31 am

That particular woman was the epitome of the mean-spirited, classless, rumor-mongering, high school drop-out waitress. Of course the customer wouldn’t know it, but behind the scenes … hoo boy. Between that and the male servers who always had to ask our bra size and what sexual positions we liked and miming masturbation, I simply left. She was in tight with them and the conspired to start a rumor about another woman and me. It got really bad when the managers were on vacation and we had no recourse, so by the time the managers got back, it was all over. I feel for the workers who have no choice but to tolerate it.


August 26th, 2011
10:41 am

I’ve been through this enough to start promising myself that I’m just going to send it back and say “Look, I’m not a picky eater, but this really isn’t cooked right. I’d like this taken off my bill, please.” Then leave and snag something else. I’ve been to too many restaurants that just don’t care and I’ve heard the horror stories of food that gets sent back. I’ve also dealt with managers that are total a-holes that offer a free appetizer or dessert instead of just comping my entree. I don’t want extra calories from an appetizer or a dessert! I just want my dinner done right the first time around!

If they refuse to take it off, I’ll just pay on credit and then dispute it with my card company (Amex really does a good job of telling places to screw off). Between that and the crap servers I keep getting over the past six months (one told my friends and I to keep our cards separated the way he put them so as to “Not f*** it up” -and another one had the audacity to slap an 18% gratuity on a bill after my boyfriend showed up to see his friends that had already closed out their tabs -as if the waiter was still serving everyone in a party of 6+!), I’m really to the point where I don’t care about eating out anymore.


August 26th, 2011
10:44 am

i am more likely to send a dish back at a premium white table cloth establishment where i am paying for exceptional professionalism than a diner type establishment that likely does not have a real chef running the kitchen. i also ,however, tend to stick with comfort food type orders at the less pricely establishments. i don’t expect a bookkeeper to offer competent financial management or taxation advice on a cpa level so why should i expect a low wage line cook to equal john besh.


August 26th, 2011
10:47 am

I am very polite and engaging to waitstaff and servers when I am out to eat. In instances where there are issues with my order, I do not hesitate to politely and reasonably communicate with my service person or the manager on duty.

markie mark

August 26th, 2011
11:01 am

I have sent back food many times, for fair reasons. I dont bitch, I just explain what is wrong. The only time I personally ever saw anyone spit in something (and this is after years in the bar and restaurant business) was when I was bartending at the Punchline (the old Northlake location that has been closed for years). A waitress spit in a customers beer for being rude when she picked it up. I had her fired on the spot. People who wait tables know sometimes it isnt all easy, and are usually not thrown off by the jerks…

Jim R

August 26th, 2011
11:04 am

If you pay to have your car fixed and it still won’t run you politely discuss the issue with your mechanic and nine times out of ten he will fix it and you will go away happy. The same goes for dinner. If there is a problem discuss it with a server and hopefully the message will be passed back in an informative manner to the chef who will fix or re-do. They typically want you happy(i.e. big tip) and want you to come back, I have seen chef’s present themselves at the table after a re-do and ask if it is better this time and is everything alright. May not work at Burgerdoodle but you get what you pay for.


August 26th, 2011
11:23 am

What I do tends to vary with the type of restaurant and whether it’s my first visit or not.

If I’ve never been before, and it’s simply not good — as opposed to seriously mis-cooked — I probably will admit on asking that it’s not to my particular liking and see if something else on the menu is offered. Chances are if no one inquires or shows interest, I won’t be back. I’m not looking for cash back, however, and I never blame the server (even if the dish is cold, which may well be the server’s issue but I see nothing to gain by placing blame) because ultimately the server didn’t cook it. If it is seriously overcooked or undercooked to a danger point, not just a near miss, I will send it back. If it’s a near miss, I will eat it although I will mention to a server who inquires about “how it is” in a way that says it was just that, it was a near miss, so please convey that to the kitchen for future reference. The exception might be at a specialty steak house or a fish house, where I do expect the item to be more accurately prepared in terms of rareness or doneness.

For a place I know well and go often, it’s very different. Recently, I had a pizza at Shorty’s that I’ve had a dozen times in the last two years that was cooked bizarrely different — drowned in balsamic vinegar and enough pesto to coat 2 pounds of pasta and the pizza. It was inedible and I knew from past experience, it was not properly made, so after deigning to taste one confirming, disgusting bite, I sent it back after the waitress observed the obvious fact I wasn’t eating. They remade the pizza and it was better, though not what I’d enjoyed before. I’ll go back — because it was well handled — but I may avoid that pie for a while until I see someone else order it.

In all instances, however, I aim for polite and understanding as I’ve been on the kitchen and server ends. If I thought anyone in any place I went would do something disgusting in response, I would never go. Fast food — never!!!! My tip to the server never considers if the food was mishandled in the kitchen, although it does consider the server’s response to polite feedback.


August 26th, 2011
11:30 am

- I’ll send it back if the error is egregious enough. Otherwise, I’ll chalk it up to experience and make my decision whether to return or not.
- For all of those who claim that they “know” restaurant employees adulterate your food if you “do something they don’t like”. How about some proof or specifics, like restaurant names or persons responsible?
- And for those that claim to be eye witnesses to such adulteration, are you telling me you saw this occurring and let the food go out to the customer? That you did not alert the manager or call the police? Wow.


August 26th, 2011
12:15 pm

I’ve only sent one item back before. I ordered a grilled chicken salad and what they put on top was the most disgusting gristle luke warm “chicken” pieces I have ever seen. I politely declined to have a replacement dish and just ate when I got home. It’s not worth it to have another dish made for you because who knows what they may do to it.


August 26th, 2011
12:38 pm

It has been my observation that steak temperature is frequently the issue. I am in a business that frequently entertains at steakhouses. I see people complain that their steak is not “mid rare” when it is a perfect pink-red in the center. If you frequently feel that your steak is undercooked, try upping the rare to mid rare, etc.

C from Marietta

August 26th, 2011
1:39 pm

If it is a place I frequent. I send it back with politely. If it’s a place I am just trying. I will not go back.


August 26th, 2011
4:15 pm

Absolutely, nicely send it back. Don’t take more than a bite. I’ve worked in the industry too, and I’d much rather have happpy customers as my tips depended on it. The kitchen sometimes needs a slap on the wrist.


August 26th, 2011
4:59 pm

If it isn’t good send it back or don’t pay for it. Restaurant owners don’t put up with poor service from their vendors and nor should their customer.


August 26th, 2011
5:24 pm

We were actually at Benihana in Alpharetta last night, and watched as the other couple sharing our chef’s performance dealt with a very bad situation. The gentleman spoke with our server, and explained that he and his wife would eat seafood, but wanted neither chicken nor beef, or any meat stock. He was very, very clear, asking several times if they had a soup that had a vegetable base.

They ordered seafood entrée’s and the show began. Before it started, the gentleman explained the same thing to the chef, going to great lengths to make it clear what they did not want to eat. Unfortunately, the chef’s command of English was lacking, because as soon as he began cutting up chicken for the fried rice, they tried to explain that they did not want chicken in theirs. He finishes fixing the rice. mixes the chicken in, and dumps it on the plate.

The couple was not very happy, and they explained to the server what was wrong when she came over. She took the plates, talked with the chef, and said the kitchen would prepare them some chicken free fried rice.

We talked with them, and they explained that they quit eating meat 11 years ago, so it wasn’t like a spur of the moment thing, they were serious about it. My wife and I were about a third of the way through our chicken fried rice when theirs arrived from the kitchen. They began eating, and had eaten several bites then the woman found chicken in theirs. It was fairly dark in the restaurant, and they hadn’t seen it. Apparently the kitchen had either made chicken fried rice, or had sent the same plates back out.

At this point, the gentleman tried to express his displeasure, and they finally seemed to get it. The redid their appetizer plates, and brought fried rice that was truly chicken free.

Toward the end of the meal, the manager, who spoke nearly no English at all, came by, nodding and smiling. When the man tried to explain what had happened, all he got in reply was, “you want more chicken rice to go, we can do that.” Seriously, I don’t think anyone in the building EVER got what they’d done.

So that brings up another point. What do you do when you can’t communicate the problem with anyone in the building, and you’re dropping a c-note on a dinner that has a huge problem?


August 26th, 2011
6:44 pm

Send it back with grace, please.

Having been a waiter in my earlier years, people do take advantage. They will eat 3/4 of the meal and then say it was not cooked properly. But the best was, a woman sent her meal back because it did not look exactly like the picture on the menu. Mgt refused to give her a free meal. yes she wanted her meal free!!! Another lady, same table, want a 50% discount because her tarter sause came to the table 30 sec after her meal was served. Mgt asked them not to return to the resturant. They made a loud display and threw the place settings at the manager and the waitress before the police were called. Belive they did this for a living!


August 27th, 2011
7:13 am

The other night I ordered two of my fav’s. shrimp cocktail and a Caesar salad. The shrimp were overcooked, rubbery, and sliced in half, I guess to give the illusion of 6 shrimp rather than the three I actually got. Then came the Caesar salad in which the garlic seemed to have been replaced with sugar. I was missing the salty garlicky goodness,,, tasted like very bad bottled dressing. I had to say something to the waiter, as the shrimp was $18. and the salad $16. I did not ask for it to be replaced, I just said it was the worst Caesar Salad I’d ever had. All of a sudden the manager storms out, and instead of acting concerned about my meal, blurted out “so it’s the worst you’ve ever had?” assured me it made in-house, and I could have had anchovies upon request (they weren’t offered)! I very calmly suggested that perhaps the cook had mistaken sugar for salt, and it wasn’t inedible, it just wasn’t even close to a Caesar. He said he would take it off the bill and stormed off. I don’t know, maybe it was his mother’s recipe or something, and I offended him, but I have never been treated so rudely over a comment… don’t ask me how everything is, if you don’t want to know!
The rest of my party of seven said their food was below par, and the prices for entrees averaged $26!
Also, if you don’t finish your food because you really did’nt likeit