When surveyed, more than 50 percent of people say they eat out two or three times a week. With that level of frequency, you’re bound to have a dissatisfying meal once in a while.
But when is it time to send a bad meal back to the kitchen? And how do you go about it?
Read on to find out the etiquette of how to send food back at a restaurant.
When to Send Food Back
Here are a few valid reasons for sending your food back during your restaurant experience.
If your food is not cooked to your preferred level of doneness and/or it’s unsafe to eat (e.g., raw chicken or a charred steak when you ordered it medium-rare), you should send it back. When your server checks back to ask how everything is, this is the time to let them know if your meal wasn’t prepared correctly.
Another good reason to send food back is if you received something that you didn’t order. You should alert your server as soon as the plate is dropped if this is the case. Usually this is an input error on the server’s part, or the person bringing your food misread the table number.
Dietary restrictions and allergies are another factor to consider. If your server doesn’t ask if there are any allergies at the table they need to be concerned about, then it’s up to you to let them know before you order. A good server will know the ingredients of all the dishes on the menu, so if you’re avoiding nuts or gluten or dairy, they will be able to steer you to a dish that meets your dietary restrictions. It’s always a good idea, especially with allergens, to double check when your food is delivered to make sure that the allergen was left off the dish if you requested that nuts be omitted.
If you find a foreign object like a hair or a piece of plastic in your food, it’s also a valid reason for sending it back. That can be dangerous, after all. And, unfortunately, with organic food, there can sometimes be an “interloper” hiding in the lettuce—typically harmless, but nevertheless unwelcome!
However, if the dish isn’t what you thought it would be, or you just don’t like it, that’s not a reason to send your food back. Prior to ordering is when you should ask questions about the dish—how is it prepared? Is it spicy? Is it fried? If you’re trying something for the first time, say octopus, you might not like it, no matter how well it’s prepared. That’s not the fault of the kitchen—you took a chance and now you know that octopus isn’t something you need to try again. So, if you chose something you just didn’t like, you can order something else, but don’t expect the first dish to be taken off your bill.
How to Send Food Back
It’s important to remember good manners when you’re sending food back. Many people hesitate to send food back because they don’t want to “make a fuss” or they don’t want wait to have a new dish prepared while everyone else is eating. But the restaurant wants you to enjoy what you ordered, and they want to fix any error they’ve made, so it’s important to give them the opportunity to do so, rather than to leave dissatisfied.
When you identify an issue with your meal, the first step is to communicate discreetly and politely with your server. This should ideally be done when they check back after you’ve taken a few bites. Avoid making a scene or loudly complaining. Clearly articulate the problem, providing specific details about what’s wrong with the dish. The server should whisk the plate away, not argue with you, and immediately have the error corrected.
Remember to be courteous and patient. Maintain a respectful tone when interacting with the restaurant staff, understanding that mistakes can happen in any kitchen—there are humans cooking and delivering your food after all, and even the most experienced chef can occasionally mess up a steak, or misread a ticket.
When the staff handles the situation professionally and assists you in resolving the problem, it’s still appropriate to leave a tip based on the service they provided. Tipping recognizes their efforts to ensure your satisfaction and if the offending dish was comped off your check, the tip should include that as well. No need to punish the waitstaff for something out of their control.
And if you leave a review, it’s fine to mention there was an error or issue, but please let the internet know that the restaurant handled the problem graciously and resolved it. No need to harp on a steak that was cooked medium when you wanted it medium-rare if you ended up getting that medium-rare steak after all. That’s just unfair to the restaurant that fixed their mistake and did all they could to make you leave happy.
Sending Food Back at a Restaurant: Now You Know
Just remember that the restaurant wants you to leave happy. If you bring up an issue politely, that will go a long way to making everyone satisfied in the end. If you are loud and argumentative, you probably won’t get the outcome you want, so keep your cool and trust the restaurant’s staff to take care of you.