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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

Edward

August 27th, 2011
11:11 am

Sometimes customer stupidity can’t be overcome by even the most thoughtful restaurant. Granted the couple at Benihana should have not had so much trouble conveying their wish, but the couple is equally ignorant for going to Benihana in the first place. I mean. look at the menu: the soup is beef stock based, nearly every entree is meat, the fried rice is clearly indicated on the menu as CHICKEN fried rice and it is an OPTIONAL item as the standard accompaniment is plain steamed rice. So, stupid couple makes the meal uncomfortable for the entire table. I would have asked to be seated at a different table away from stupid couple.

Carla

August 27th, 2011
12:18 pm

@edward. I have to agree with that. Some restaurants are much more able to accomodate special requests. This was NOT that kind of place. They’ve been “meat Free” for 11 years. Wouldn’t they have known better? Maybe they’ve never been to a place like this before?

deegee

August 27th, 2011
12:32 pm

I think that we are operating under the assumption that restaurant cooks are professionals. I don’t doubt that in many of the small, neighborhood high end places you will find a measure of professionalism in the kitchen. The chains are going to be staffed with rebellious high school dropouts with addiction problems. Tread lightly.

Mike

August 27th, 2011
1:02 pm

@deegee – How do you know what anybody’s education level is and how do you know if they have addiction problems? That’s a pretty blanket statement you have made for the industry. Perhaps you should tread lightly with your comments, unless you can back up your statement with proof.

Cheryl

August 27th, 2011
1:26 pm

Depends on who I’m with – I might not send the food back, but I’ll make sure I don’t spend money there again for a long time.

Praveen

August 27th, 2011
1:58 pm

There is a special place in hell for those servers who spit in food or do something vile in retaliation to how he is treated by a customer even if the customer is wrong on a certain day. I think an owner of a restaurnat should have zero tolerance for such stuff not just for the offender but for any employee who witnesses such stuff and does not report the waiter. If you really want to get back at the customer, MAN UP, and do what Judge Rheinhold’s character does in Fast Times and berate the customer to his or her face even if it means you risk losing your job. If you are generally a great waiter, you will not get fired for that. And if you do, some other owner will hire you.

As far as sending back food, it depends on the price point of the place. I am usually honest in my feedback but I am loathe to return food unless I feel really ripped off. I will just say “that’s OK, I dont like to waste food” if the item is OK and the price point is Chilis-Applebee level. Sometimes, I get comped a dessert or soft drink if I insist that it is OK not to replace it. That’s fine. Stuff happens at chains. But no excuse at expensive restaurants.

As far as steaks, I usually order on the rarer side of my preference spectrum as I rarely ever see it less cooked than I like and it is usually more. So even if I am fine with medium, I will always order medium rare.

Baltisraul

August 28th, 2011
9:13 am

Deb….I will bet that mgr is not at this location in a couple mons. Too bad you did not name the resturant. It could have saved the rest of us from a bad experience.

Lisa

August 28th, 2011
9:55 am

If I see that a customer is not finishing their dish, I will ask them if they didn’t care for it and offer to make them something else. And I instruct servers to do the same.
It’s hard to please everyone and while I don’t care for elaborate menu descriptions, it does help customers know what they are getting. If what is delivered doesn’t live up to that description in the customer’s mind, then be gracious and replace it.

Skibop

August 28th, 2011
10:03 am

Eat at home, restaurants are nasty!!

deegee

August 28th, 2011
10:10 am

Mike, I have worked in the front and back of enough restaurants to know that the people working in the kitchen and in many cases the floor of many popular restaurants are people that struggle to conform to society’s norms. Certainly not ALL restaurant workers fit that classification but many of them do.

Allyanaz

August 28th, 2011
10:12 am

If I ordered something *specifically*, i.e., a *rare* steak and it comes back too done, or “no cheese” and it comes with the cheese, I send it back. But I’m a senior citizen and folks will just write off the complaint to “some nasty old lady.” Retaliation? First time is a mistake, second time…I can handle that, too. No restaurant wants all of its customers hearing what I have to say if they get it wrong the second time. Not only am I doing them a favor by being there, I’m paying them.

Anita

August 28th, 2011
10:16 am

If your food is not to your liking or just isn’t right, I thinik it is ok to send it back but be nice about it. You don’t want to offend anyone who is handling your food. There have been times where I have sent my food back and asked to have it taken off of my bill because I fear retaliation from the cook,lol. Always be nice to your wait staff and hopefully your food will be safe.

ATLnative

August 28th, 2011
10:20 am

In high school I worked one month at a Pizza Hut in Lawrenceville. I personally witnessed a lady bring back her pizza that was a Pepperoni lovers because it didn’t have enough Pepperoni. She was rude and had a terrible attitude. She went next door to roger while pizza being made. I then saw a 250lbs sweaty guy reach into his pants and created the grossest pizzza ever. He titled his pizza the “Pube lovers pizza.”. I resigned the next day and haven’t once tried Pizza Hut since. Thus I’m really nice to any handling food and never complain!!

My Two Cents

August 28th, 2011
10:25 am

We were celebrating my mother’s 94 birthday and went to the higher priced Italian chain restaurant. It was a busy day due to graduations and we were seated in the bar area. The bartender had enough trying to keep up with making drinks much less trying to assist the other diners in the bar area. The manager did not send anyone over to help him. We had been there for 15 minutes and had been served our water. My D-I-L requested lemon at the time it was served but had not received it. I realized we were in for a miserable experience if something was not done immediately. I went to the podium and no one was there. After a few minutes the greeter came back and I asked her to send the manager to our table. He was there in a flash. I explained the situation (mother’s birthday) and how we had looked forward to our celebration but apparently things were not going to be as pleasant as we thought. I did not blame the bartender but stated he obviously was overworked and could not keep up with all of his assignments by himself. I requested another server who would have the time to wait on us properly.The manager apologized profusely and immediately had other staff members to our table with water refills and bread with seasonings. He thanked me for alerting him so he could turn the train wreck around. He came back several times during our meal and asked if we needed anything. When the check was delivered he also was there and apologized again for the our experience. He comp’d us our wine and desserts. If you sense you are going to have a negative experience let the manager know immediately and see how he handles the situation. We had a great time once all the issues had been resolved and we plan on going back there today for a family celebration.

Melaine

August 28th, 2011
10:40 am

My first “paycheck” job was McDonald’s. The customer service, food quality and cleanliness rules were drummed into us from the first day but that was over 4 decades ago and things have definitely changed. I waited tables to put myself through college, everything from BBQ and pancake houses to restaurants I had to pay to work there. If you think that the “something extra” when your plate comes back is an urban legend, think again. I never request food be redone, I do ask that the food be returned and removed from the bill. Rarely do I send anything away and even more rarely do I get a visit from the management because I do not make an issue about it. Being a great tipper, I’ve noticed a few disturbing incidents when using a debit card to pay for my meal. Several times over the last year when reconciling my statement, I have found that restaurant charges have been padded by a few dollars. Keep your receipts. The restaurants were happy to correct the transaction and I do not eat there anymore or I use cash.

Vandstra

August 28th, 2011
10:56 am

I send it back but don’t ask for them to bring it back. I will go hungry at that point and politely enjoy a drink while my companions eat.

If they screw something up to the point I feel the need to send it back I don’t give them a second chance. I also expect my portion of the meal to be compensated.

Lisa C.

August 28th, 2011
10:58 am

Shaggy is exactly correct.

common sense ain't common

August 28th, 2011
11:00 am

Send the food back at a high-end restaurant where cooks actually pride themselves on their food & love their jobs. Otherwise, maybe complain to the manager, but DON’T ASK FOR MORE FOOD. I have worked in restaurants where people will mess with your food. IT’S NOT AN URBAN LEGEND!! The cooks may not put bodily fluids in it, but they do all kinds of things in retaliation (ex. mix your drinks, don’t fill your cup up all the way or mess your order up in a drive-thru, etc.) Customers often forget that restaurant workers are humans too who don’t deserve disrespect. They serve you food, but they’re not your servants. LESSON: BE POLITE ( or take your lazy azz to the kitchen & learn how to cook)

Tina

August 28th, 2011
11:22 am

Never a good idea to upset the food handler or your beutician!! Ever!

Charlie Tighe

August 28th, 2011
11:26 am

The LAST thing a restaurant wants is an unsatisfied customer. It is really hard to get people to come in the door, and repeat business is essential its survival. Explain the problem, send it back, and ask for something else, preferably that is fairly quick (not a pork chop)… Any decent restaurant would prefer you send it back than walk out complaining – advertising is expensive, and it is way too hard to fight word of mouth. A satisfied customer is the best salesman…

D. Rowan

August 28th, 2011
11:33 am

I’ll always send back food the violates my dietary restrictions. For example, I do not eat ham or bacon, if I order a bake potato with just butter and it arrives loaded, I’m sending it back. I’m always polite because my intention is not to get anyone in trouble but, I want the meal that I ordered…..the way I ordered it. If that’s a problem then I certainly will not return to that establishment!!!

Simple...

August 28th, 2011
11:41 am

Treat someone like a butthole, get treated like a butthole.

A kitchen can prepare food to perfection 10 out of 10 times and still there will be a couple out there that won’t be satisfied. Taste is subjective. More times than not, it’s not the kitchen’s fault. It’s just a matter of taste.

The bottom line is that if you want something done the way you want it, you have to do it yourself.

Rafe Hollister

August 28th, 2011
11:42 am

I never send back food. I’ve listened to too many restaurant staff tell stories about what they do to food in retaliation. Arrogant and snooty people really get it.

Katz

August 28th, 2011
11:46 am

I send stuff back if it’s not right. Over cooked, under cooked, not fresh, too salty, cold, … If the wait staff is not on my side(argues or defends) I speak to the manager. If the manager argues or defends, I speak to the owner. If the owner argues or defends, I make a web site and I post to all review sites. Adams Garden of Eatin was the all time WORST. Now out of business… owner was a fool.

On the flip side…I often tip 25 to 35% for great food/service.

Here’s one for you. I ordered a Reuben sandwich in a restaurant. It came with BACON! PORK on a Reuben? I politely suggested that they had brought the wrong sandwich. “No, that’s the way we make them, take it or leave it.”

Next time you get something that doesn’t taste right and they argue. Ask them to try it in front of you. It always puts things in perspective.

Monte

August 28th, 2011
11:47 am

Some years ago I dated a man who had a unique way of ordering a steak( it bordered on the rude, but he always got what he ordered). He would tell the waitress,” I want a ribeye. I want it well done. If its red, it’s not dead and I don’t eat it.”

journalist jimmy smith

August 28th, 2011
12:28 pm

hartebeest is hard to cook. once jimmy smith ordered hartebeest and it came to the table before its time. jimmy smith sent it back to the kitchen for more time on the grill. when it came back it was crispy and charred with little wisps of smoke coming out. the next time jimmy smith sent it back it was prepared as a delicious gumbo. there are ways to handle disappointment and still remain a classy journalist.

Hillbilly D

August 28th, 2011
12:32 pm

I’ve never had a meal so bad that I had to send it back. Just seems like making a mountain out of a molehill, to me. If I don’t like it, I just won’t go back. End of problem.

Praveen

August 28th, 2011
12:53 pm

LIke I said, if I am a manager or owner and see a staffer spit in the food or do something worse, I will beat the crap out of the guy when he is alone before firing his ass. Such people exhibit a total lack of character. If the customer is a jerk, be man enough make the customer know their tone is not acceptable. There are ways of being condescending to the customer without getting into trouble with your manager. But breaking the food safety trust is something that should not be tolerated.

Chuck s

August 28th, 2011
12:53 pm

I worked in the food service industry for almost 30 years. While I NEVER tainted any ones food we all made a joke about how nice it would be. There were other ways like slower service and short shots on the cocktail. If it was a real problem I always wanted to know as i take pride in presenting my guests with the best quality I could

Valerie Breslow

August 28th, 2011
12:54 pm

If it’s inedible I send it back. I always order beef medium-well and specify “No Red”. If it’s pink or brown no problem but if it’s red it’s going back.

Praveen

August 28th, 2011
1:00 pm

For some reason, I feel ChikFilA is one place where the employees wont dare spit in the food. In a way, aren’t cheap places like Waffle House safer to eat at without fear of retaliation by the employees? Everything is done in front of you. Maybe the storage of food may not be the cleanest.

Restaurant Insider

August 28th, 2011
1:05 pm

Some items must be sent back in order to remedy the situation – for instance, a steak ordered well done, comes out pink…send it back and allow the cooks to cook it up some. But when an item is returned for something that you can do yourself (for instance a garnish that you asked to be left off) here’s an idea, just kindly removed it yourself and mention to the server…would you rather pick off those tomatoes or do you want someone else’s hands on your food…I’ve been in the business for over 20 years and almost all cooks have a genuine interest in preparing the food correctly the first time…if they have to remake something they definitely don’t want to make it a 3rd time…meaning you can have confidence in sending it back…kitchens are fast paced, action packed environments, there is very little time for hurt feelings or retribution….they just want the plate prepared and OUT of the kitchen… Katz sounds like a servers nightmare….and Melanie, things have changed, particularly the advent of Debit cards…Banking institutions run what they call “authorizations” when your card is swiped….Visa/MC have to assume a tip so extra is added to the “authorization”….a few days later when the “actual” charge appears it replaces the “pending transaction”….this has occurred for years but now that everyone has “on-line” banking and text alerts folks are finally seeing what goes on…No one is being over-charged you just aren’t giving the system time to work. Don’t like it, use a credit card or cash instead of your debit card.

Big Jim

August 28th, 2011
1:05 pm

I have a rule that I always stick with, based on a very bad experience.

If the food is not up to par, then I will send it back. ONCE. If the replacement is also unacceptable, then I just ask for the charge to be removed from the bill, and make it a point to speak with the manager. I made the mistake once of sending something back a second time, and the replacement was obviously tampered with. I’d rather go hungry than have that experience again.

marc

August 28th, 2011
1:14 pm

A great restaurant would want to know their food was not pleasing or off. Yes, It is abused by many patrons, but a legit complaint should be concern for a restaurant and not be taken lightly. The customer is doing the restaurant a favor by sending stuff back. It gives them an opportunity to get it right and stop the chance of negative word of mouth. The way a restaurants handles this problem will determine success or failure. I have never gone back to a restaurant that confronted me about sending food back. Simply put, problems like this is where a restaurant can shine. It’s how you handle problems that will create a loyal customer base.

Marc

August 28th, 2011
1:14 pm

On the other side some people should not go out to eat. The other night someone complained about the food being too spicy and there should have been a warning on the menu. Nothing that I’ve eaten there even comes close to being spicy. I politely mentioned that one person spiciness was bland to another. They emphatically stated that they didn’t think so. I had the dish remade and did something I never do and tried their old food. There was a little bit on the tongue but that was it. Same goes for the temperature in the place

stan

August 28th, 2011
1:14 pm

So maybe I am a different kind of “sender-backer” My biggest pet peeve is when I order a beer/or wife a glass of wine….or even an appetizer…..and because the restaurant is busy, they try to bring out the appetizer or beer/wine WITH the entree.

I send it back every time…..a restaurant owner should want you to get your libation as soon as possible since you are more likely to order an additional one…..as for an appetizer coming out with an entree, that is just poor form

KA

August 28th, 2011
1:19 pm

If the order is wrong, I send it back. If the order is correct but the food is unacceptable, then I pay for the meal, and tell the manager that I will not be returning and I will warn everyone I know to stay away..

USMC

August 28th, 2011
1:20 pm

What did you really expect from Benihana?

They cook on an open grill where different kinds of meats, beef, chicken and fish, are mixed anyway, so did you really expect a Vegan or Vegetarian meal at BENIHANA???

It is a (FAUX) JAPANESE restaurant, so you MIGHT find a bit of a language barrier, don’t you think?

nora

August 28th, 2011
1:43 pm

@carla roqs:

If you send food back “fairly often”, as you say, then don’t be fooled for a minute that you are a welcome guest in any restaurant that you frequent. Just saying – from the experience of years in food service – that “nice” doesn’t cut it for the perpetually finicky diner. And don’t EVEN fool yourself about how the restaurants you frequent pay their kitchen staff so well that they are happy to recook your food over and over again. Dream on, honey. There is NO amount of money that will make a frazzled cook happy to recook the food of a frequent complainer like you, no matter how “nice” you think you are about it. It puts the kitchen in the weeds to recook your food, backing up their other orders. Sure, if they cooked it incorrectly, it is their responsiblity to fix it (although you can’t ask for a smile with that, sorry). On the other hand someone who admittedly sends back food frequently is just a PITA because there is no way that you food is cooked completely wrong that often (as opposed to everyone else’s food…..you get it?)

Anyway, you can continue in your little dream world about how highly paid kitchen staff eagerly await your arrival in their restaurant so they can recook whatever it is you are going to send back that night. LOLOLOLOL!!!!!!

ttruth

August 28th, 2011
2:48 pm

To think that restaurant employees get away with contaminating food because a customer complained about the food is horribly disgusting. A good restaurant owner should have camera monitoring the preparation. Personally, I prefer to eat and drink at home. You can find thousands of yummy recipes on line. Friends who like to get together should consider entertaining and cooking at home.
Years ago, I was walking past a beautiful, cozy little restaurant that opens late in the afternoon I always wanted to stop but usually to busy to return.
While walking past the restaurant one day I was sickened at what I was witnessing. The server was standing at the counter daydreaming and picking her nose. When my eyes and twisted frown met hers, she continued picking.
With the knowledge that many people in the food service industry do not care about hygiene and cleanliness I decided my health and the health of my family and friends are more important than dinning out.

stan

August 28th, 2011
4:01 pm

So maybe I am a different kind of “sender-backer” My biggest pet peeve is when I order a beer/or wife a glass of wine….or even an appetizer…..and because the restaurant is busy, they try to bring out the appetizer or beer/wine WITH the entree.

I send it back every time…..a restaurant owner should want you to get your libation as soon as possible since you are more likely to order an additional one…..as for an appetizer coming out with an entree, that is just poor form

carla roqs

August 29th, 2011
7:46 am

SR, i agree with you, i tend to, kinda HAVE to tip well.

carla roqs

August 29th, 2011
7:52 am

nora, as i am fortunate enough to dine at many different restaurants rather than having to dine at the same ones all of the time– your comment is ludicrous. you do not know me, i do not wish to know you and you havent a clue as to why i send food back. i have never worked in the restaurant industry, i am aware of their pay and i am a great tipper so that if i do return to a restaurant (and i do to the good ones) i get excellent service. also, at some places, i will send the food back and not have it replaced because if they cannot get a simple order correct- why try again. i would think you are in the industry and one of those people who enjoy messing up someone’s food because you did not do your job well.

nora

August 29th, 2011
1:28 pm

@ carla roqs: Well you don’t know me either and it is ludicrous that you would accuse someone you don’t even know of messing up someone’s food because I “didn’t do my job well”. I’m not sure how you projected the fact that I have years of experience in the restaurant industry into an assumption that I would “mess up someone’s food”. As for not doing my job well – the restaurants I have run would speak for themselves in that area (numbers don’t lie!) So you, my friend, don’t have a clue what you are talking about.

But one thing I do know is this: someone who sends their food back “frequently”, as you already said you do, is a hard to please customer. All the tips in the world don’t make the kitchen glad to see your plate coming back yet again (even with tip share, that little “extra” you tip the waitstaff only trickles down to the kitchen staff. Believe me, they’d much rather NOT have to recook your food!) If you send back food more frequently than other people do then you are finicky (either that, or you eat in horrendous restaurants that can never get it right.) And you can fool yourself all day long about how the staff doesn’t mind finicky diners but trust me on this – they detest you!

Just saying!

Praveen

August 29th, 2011
5:09 pm

Carlaroq, can you give examples of the times when you send back food since you say you send them back frequently. I think the kind of restaurant will be helpful too. The more expensive an entree is, the more demanding one any reasonable person can get. If the server actually gets parts of your order wrong, then you have a right to send it back as you tip them well. But if it is over the food not tasting quite right, then it is based on how expensive those entrees are and how bad those entrees really taste since it is the ownership that takes a hit.

Louise

August 29th, 2011
11:05 pm

Nora – which restaurants do you run? Because I want to make sure not to go there.

carla roqs

August 30th, 2011
8:06 am

praveen, if i order a steak rare and it is not cooked properly, i may request another or i may just send it back and not have it replaced. if there is something that looks interesting on the menu, but i am not sure about it- the waiter will generally tell me if i do not like it, they will gladly let me switch it out. if i order asparagus and i receive a few very thin and overcooked branches(?) smile, and i have eaten there before and know they have better, ive asked for a replacement. i am a little difficult, but not impossible. i like certain restaurants and i truly get great service most of the time. if i do not like the service, i simply do not return. i work for my money and it is important to me as to the service i receive be it in a retail/grocery store, or a restaurant. several times a manager has come out to see how to please me, be it before i order, to determine i like the cut of the steak or after ive sent something back- and they always agree with me and either waive the bill or offer free food. anytime a bill is waived and the wait staff was really cool, i will leave a 30 percent tip. if i am not happy, i leave 15. at most places i leave 20 percent. i am a true ga peach and i can cook. i like good food. i know how much waiters make, so i always take care of the good ones. not sure why nora hit me, but as it was a monday morning after the hurricane, (im temporarily transplanted) she totally added to a bad mood and i hit her back. honestly though, her opinion does not matter, and her attitude are indicative of places i would either not like to frequent or not do a second visit to. the point of jon’s blog was to ask where we draw the line. i think i’d prob just draw the line at dealing with people in the service industry who are like nora. i am tired. it is tuesday and a new day. everyone have a happy one!

carla roqs

August 30th, 2011
8:08 am

her attitude ‘is’ indicative, originally i wrote her opinion and her attitude are indicative and i changed the sentence.