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The How-To Lounge: Sending Back your Food

Have you ever been to a restaurant and bitten your tongue after the waitress served you undercooked chicken or brought you off tasting fish? Although it is never comfortable to send back a meal or a bottle of wine, sometimes it is necessary so here are some easy steps to follow the next time you are faced with a similar dilemma.

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  • When you dine at a restaurant, remember you are the customer and you are always right
  • If your food is served over cooked, under cooked, incorrectly, off tasting, or simply not up to your standards, you are entitled to send it back. The only time it is not appropriate is when you have order envy
  • Simply let your server know your food hasn't meet your requirements and ask that they either cook your food a bit longer or bring you a new dish altogether
  • Keep in mind that poor food isn't the server's fault. If you are complaining about poor service, speak to the manager immediately and request a different waiter
  • Oftentimes when your wine is bad, customers will ask the waiter to taste it for themselves, so feel free to get their opinion if you are not certain it is an off bottle
  • Your waiter should be accommodating to your needs, but if you need to, ask to speak to the manager of the restaurant. Again, as the customer, you are always right
  • The nicer you are to your waiter, the more willing he/she will be to help you, so remember to complain with a smile on your face -- mistakes do happen and no one likes to deal with rude customers

When dining out, you should get what you pay for so if your food or service isn't up to your requirements or standards don't be shy in asking for what you deserve. If you walk away with a sour taste in your mouth, remember that writing a complaint letter is always an option. Good luck!


Join The Conversation
littlebee littlebee 10 years
I've worked in restaurants for over 5 years, and experience has taught me that you can tell a lot about a person by the way they treat service staff. Sending food back CAN be tricky - especially in a fine dining atmosphere; however, having your meal prepared incorrectly does NOT give you a right to get all fired up. You should handle the situation with grace and dignity. Mistakes happen. Becoming visibly upset with the server, the kitchen staff, the food itself, or the restaurant only makes you look like an over-reactive fool. There's nothing like seeing the host of a party make a scene because their salad had too many croutons, or their steak wasn't as medium rare as they like it. People go out to eat to have a great experience as well as eat great food. If the food wasn't up to snuff, you have every right to say something to your server. Immediately. Just do it with decorum, understanding, and patience. The server's job isn't just to drop your food on the table and say "Have a nice day." A good server, treated well, wants to ensure that you have a great experience, as well as great food.
rainonme224 rainonme224 10 years
I don't like to send food back either, I always feel bad about it. I was a waitress at an Applebees and people constantly sent food back especially after they'd eat over half the meal then they'd want it for free. Sometimes people would be so rude about it too, like I cooked the meal or something. My biggest tip would be to catch the server right away if your food is wrong and to be nice about it! Those 2 things always made me make sure the guest got their new food right away and correctly.
nessabum nessabum 10 years
thanks for the how-to!
juiceejuice juiceejuice 10 years
i'm bad at sending back food - meaning i never do. i don't know why, but i'm always afraid that i would come off as whiny and the waiter might spit in my food or something. i know it isn't true and i should probably be more assertive though. But i'm always nice to waitors.
smp7328 smp7328 10 years
This is always something that i run into, as i have strict dietary restrictions due to my health (no tomato, no spicy food, nothing fried, etc). I always try to be extra nice when mistakes occur and the waiters are generally nice in return. I always try to tip well, even when the waiters aren't so nice because I usually go to the same few restaurants all the time and will more than likely see the wait staff again. If I do see them again, I would expect that the service be the same or better than the last time. It pays to be nice!
summer-roberts summer-roberts 10 years
I always have this problem with undercooked chicken. I immediately cut into the center to check for it before the waiter has left my table or comes back with other plates. Sometimes when we are dining with a large group, I do not order anything I will be particular about because it is hard to get it right when the cook is getting numerous plates ready at one time.
fab4 fab4 10 years
great points cgmaetc & danni99!!
Danni99 Danni99 10 years
LalaLaurie- one reason why a server may seem miffed when you send back a plate is because people have earned a bad reputation for complaining about every single little thing in order to justify stiffing or undertipping their server. Many servers may see the request to recook food as a precursor to a cruddy tip. That shouldn't mean they refuse your request, or cause any problems with it, and I assure you, the tip you leave at the end of the meal to pay for their service will go towards reconditioning servers to not expect a plate sent back = no tip.
Danni99 Danni99 10 years
You left out one important bit of advice! Waiting to complain until you're halfway (or more!) through your meal makes you look like a scammer, out for a comped meal. It's best to attempt to rectify things as quickly as possible without interrupting your server while they are with another table.
popgoestheworld popgoestheworld 10 years
I always feel so guilty sending something back, even for completely legitimate reasons. It makes me feel high maintenance. However, I am starting to do it if I'm really disappointed with what I ended up with. I'm definitely always friendly - maybe even too friendly - because I feel bad for someone's extra work.
cgmaetc cgmaetc 10 years
Last thing.. if you put your server thru a lot and they take it stride, TIP THEM.
cgmaetc cgmaetc 10 years
I waited tables for several years, and I agree with most if your advice Sugar. I'd like to add: if the food is not to your liking, please let your waiter know immediately. Don't eat more than half and claim you didn't like it, and then ask for it free. Also, be nice from the jump, not just when you have a complaint. When the waiter introduces him/herself, repeat their name and smile. Call them by their name. Always say please and thank you in a pleasant, not sarcastic, tone. NEVER snap your fingers or whistle at your server. The best way to get their attention is to hold your finger up and make eye contact and smile. If the restaurant is crowded, know that you will have to wait a bit. NO, the kitchen can't rush your meal because you only have X number of minutes left for lunch. Even if you tip the waitress... they don't share tips with the cooks, so you are wasting your money. I ALWAYS have some type of special request, so I make sure to be as pleasant as possible at all times. I have never had server be annoyed by my requests because I'm super nice about it.
LaLaLaurie06 LaLaLaurie06 10 years
if we are the customer and are always right, why do the wait staff get so rude when you ask them to take the burger/steak/whatever back to be cooked a bit longer? It's a perfectly decent request but I find that whenever made, no matter how nice I sound, I always get disgruntled looks. Don't take it out on me! Take it out on the chef!
fab4 fab4 10 years a server / bartender for 6 years while in college, I agree with most of your advice. Especially that it is not the server's fault if the food isn't good. Usually, the customer is right...but if they didn't specify something when they first order the meal, they can't whine and complain once it comes out. I would always be nice and do what needs to be done to make a good tip. As patrons, just keep in mind that a chef prepares the food a certain way for a reason, and if you don't like it, get something else. Don't keep complaining about it.
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