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Do you send food back when you're a guest?

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It's often suggested that one should send food back if it's not prepared to the standard/price of the restaurant. But sometimes I just don't feel it's appropriate to the occasion! Extreme example, the night I got engaged I ordered a main with a bunch of shrimp and salmon. The shrimp was bad. About to be engaged, I elected not to mention it (and to remain anon for this post!).

I suspect I would do the same if presented with substandard but edible food if I were a business guest, or a personal guest in many cases, or at some special occasions. Never mind the cost of the restaurant or my "obligation" to allow the restaurant to correct the situation before I post my review on Chowhound ;)

Frankly, I don't think I'd be terribly impressed if a guest of mine made a big fuss about something not being up to standard (unless the shrimp are actually bad, of course!)

Thoughts? Stories?

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  1. I agree. I'd send the food back if it were inedible because it was unhealthy (smelled or tasted spoiled) or because it was literally raw or burned (when it wasn't supposed to be).

    Otherwise, if the food is just not well-prepared, I'd rather suck it up than make a production about it. Even if the restaurant handles it well, it's still upsets the timing of the meal if they have to prepare another entree for you after the rest of the table has theirs.

    I'd take out my bile for the bad meal by reporting it on chowhound (vbg).

    1 Reply
    1. re: Ruth Lafler

      "I'd take out my bile for the bad meal by reporting it on chowhound."

      Agreed. My repressive WASPy background makes it tough for me to make a fuss about anything...Something has to be really, really wrong for me to complain and even then I feel I have to be super pleasant and non-confrontational about it.

      I once dumped my boyfriend (in a very passive non-confrontational way, of course) because he was so demanding in restaurants, including sending food back that was perfectly fine. For him it was a power trip.

    2. Generally I agree. I would probably not say anything - particularly if my 'host' had chosen the restaurant and had been there before.

      That being said I happened to be invited by a business associates to dine (on her) at a place I have enjoyed before. I ordered the special - chicken in raspberry sauce. When it arrived – long after the other three meals arrived (I urged the other diners to start without me so their food would not get cold) I cut into it and took one bite – not only was it not heated through but the middle was quite raw. I did send it back, by the time it returned – now overdone the others were having coffee after their dessert. I did my best to cut it up push it around the plate and hide it under the mashed potatoes before it was time to go. My host didn’t seem to notice – maybe it was the 3 martinis and 2 bottles of wine.

      If someone else had not been paying I would have made a fuss. I thought about talking to the manager but everyone else thoroughly enjoyed their meals so I let it go and stopped to let the manager know another time. They did offer to give me a free meal but I declined.

      1. Why does it matter who's paying for the meal? If its not right, its not right, send it back. Its not your hosts fault the food wasn't good or cooked badly.

        1 Reply
        1. re: rl

          Wow, it took a long time for someone to make that point.

          I'm with you. Last year I was a guest at a very good New York steakhouse. I ordered my steak medium rare and it arrived well done. I didn't think it was my host's intention to have me eat expensive overcooked meat and I politely mentioned it to the server. I asked my dinner companions to start without me, which they did without embarassment. Within 5 minutes I had a new steak that was perfectly cooked.

          My host wasn't put out in the slightest and I had a very good meal.

          From time to time kitchens get things wrong. It's not the host's fault or the guest's and the best thing to do is to correct the mistake as quickly as possible and move on.

        2. A couple years back, my mother-in-law's partner treated a small group of my husband's side of the family to a nice restaurant at a Ritz Carlton. My entree was some white fish on a bed of some green vegetable (I can't remember which), in a pool of soy-based broth or thin sauce. The fish was salty, but the green vegetable tasted as if it soaked in brine. With the soy-based sauce the dish was really almost inedible. I ate the fish with lots of water and left the rest (this coming from someone who ALWAYS cleans her plate, or gets leftovers to go). I didn't want to insult my MIL's partner by sending it back (and thereby suggesting he picked a less than stellar place). Especially because everyone was gushing at how nice the restaurant was (the view primarily). But if it was just me & hubby that day I would've said something.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Alice Ringer

            My feelings exactly. Although it's out of the host's control, I think complaining or sending back is like complaining in someone's home. If people are each paying their own way or splitting a check it might be different. I remember one occasion when my MIL decided to turn restaurant reviewer during a meal to which my husband and I were treating them. My FIL never said a thing about anything - don't think he was allowed. Anyway, each course was haughtily criticized,including the main which she sent back as inedible. I had the same entree, and it seemed fine to me. I remember how awful my husband and I felt. We were picking up the tab and treating her to a terrible meal. Needless to say, we never attempted that sort of outing again.

            1. re: Alice Ringer

              I think if the food were truly awful and I could do so sweetly and discreetly, I would send it back.

              The question reminds me of my husband's wrath over a long-ago first date with the woman who came before me. He thought she was wonderful--until she ate just two shrimp of her entree and let the waiter clear the others. She never offered any to him, and she didn't ask for a doggy bag. He was appalled and took her home in silence--and never called her again.

              He still tells that tale with utter indignation--even when I defend her by insisting that the shrimp were probably bad. Had she spoken up, they might've ended up living happily ever after.

            2. I was going to post this but decided just to search and add to it instead. My boss took his employees (3 of us) out to lunch as a thank you at a restaurant of his choice. This was a $15+ entree place but still a "bar and grill" atmosphere. My entire salad had red edges, but I quietly ate it because I just couldn't get myself to say anything. I ended up complaining through their website. Would you have said anything during the meal? Is there a graceful way to do this?

              5 Replies
              1. re: boltnut55

                I think the only time I sent food back was when it was cold. I really can't deal with food that's not served at the right temperature. Otherwise I'd probably suck it up and eat the food.

                1. re: boltnut55

                  I probably would have sucked it up in this situation. This is just too common these days and short of ordering something entirely different and making everyone wait, there isn't much you can do. My guess is that a replacement salad would have been just as bad because the greens the restaurant has are just not in great shape anymore.

                  I send food back if it is raw, overdone to an inedible level, or has something rotten or something similar that presents a risk to my health.

                  1. re: boltnut55

                    Thanks, everyone, for your replies. The GM wrote back and told me that they check the quality of their food every morning, so it was clearly missed.

                    1. re: boltnut55

                      did he apologize? Or was he trying to claim that you must have been mistaken?

                    2. re: boltnut55

                      What is red edges? If the greens were wilted/slimy/rotten I'd have complained right away. It's not like a salad takes very long to re-make. If it's discolouring on an otherwise fresh leaf I'd assume there's nothing really wrong with it. Complaining after the fact is a little difficult because they can't see exactly what it is that's bad.

                    3. 1. Sending food back need not involve "fuss" let alone "big fuss" unless one is of the school that sending back food is by definition "fuss". Sending back food is not an exercise in drama; it's simply correcting a fundamental error in food preparation. Guests are entitled to this no less than hosts, and good hosts would in fact make sure that there were no such errors in the food of their guests....

                      2. Work-related meals are not social meals and so that would be the one time I might relent on sending back food, unless my not eating it due to obvious inedibility were to become conspicuous.

                      1. Just recently I went out with my mom, sister and BIL and other family (that I was visiting from the opposite coast) and we went to a very nice Italian restaurant. I chose pasta marinara w/shrimp & scallops. I was surprised that the entree arrived with a creamy red sauce, instead of the bright red marinara I was expecting. I didn't want a creamy sauce, just a regular marinara. I probably should have sent it back but given the situation (mainly, my mom's health issues) and not wanting any possible delay, I didn't. If I was by myself or with a close friend, I definitely would have sent it back or asked for something else (non-creamy).

                        1. My husband and I (long-time vegans) attended his company's holiday party a couple years ago and made an advance request for vegan plates. It was obvious that there was dairy in the potato dish so we sent them back. We were seated with the others with special diets, not any of the ones footing the bill, but we'd have sent it back anyway.

                          1. I agree I was once invited to dinner from one of my customers that had a Mexican restaurant and he said come in anytime it's on me. Well when Showed up I was whisked away to a table in the kitchen by the chef(uuuhhhh) 1st was Chicharones not sure of the spelling they were awesome then pork carnitas awesome then something called Menudo this was very burly but I ate it all, did is suck? I say it was authentic just not my fave Never said a word but he would alwaays ask if i would come in to have some more (UUUUHHHH) Really busy sorry next time

                            1. Both my husband and I don't send food back unless it's just the two of us, even then it would have to be really bad. If someone was treating we would just move it around on the plate. Dinner with a group can be hard enough, trying to keep everyone happy, so we don't want to send back then as it will take too long and could be uncomfortable for the others.
                              Last time I sent something back it was at a popular place, with two friends, and my corned beef hash came with a big black hair right on top....ok, I just couldn't eat that...even around it.

                              1. Bad food is Bad Food --- send it back.

                                If I'm paying I want to know my guest is enjoying herself, himself, not eating something that is bad!!

                                1. If this is someone else's special meal, I'd find some way to eat around it, fill up on bread, and then make a discrete mention on the way out, or with a follow up call / e-mail. Doing otherwise, can kinda make it "all about me" .

                                  If being treated as thanks, or what not, unless there is actually something wrong with the food (i.e. gone bad, something "off", food allergies and unexpected ingredients etc), "not up to par of the restaurant" or "odd interpretation on that pasta dish" would not cause me to send something back.

                                  Same goes for company funded events dinners .

                                  I think there are times in life when we should suck it up a little and take one for the team .....and then bitterly complain here later ;)

                                  BTW, I gotta ask, how in the heck did you know in advance that you were about to be engaged ? Were you the asker ?

                                  1. I think it all depends. Personally, I would want my guests to send something back if it were wrong. The purpose of me taking everyone out is so that we all can enjoy a good meal together and I usually notice when someone doesn't like something. I'd rather they get something else or have the problem fixed than waste my money on a partially eaten meal. I personally would take no offense.

                                    Now if I had someone taking me out that I wasn't close with and they were just raving about the place and my food come out not so good, I just may suck it up so not to be received as telling the host they picked a bad restaurant. If my parents were taking me out, I'd have no problem sending back a bad meal.

                                    1. Yup I agree as this did happen to me once - and it was embarrassing!

                                      We took my in-laws and another couple out for a meal to thank them for some help with moving.
                                      We lived in England at the time, and in the UK it is quite rare to see veal on any menu (and in the shops as well - veal is extremely hard to come by)
                                      So anyway they had veal that night and ALL of us decided to order veal for our main course. After having various apps - which were perfectly prepared and delicious - The veal arrives and we all dig in.
                                      DH, myself and other couple are digging in and enjoying, but we notice MIL and FIL making faces and whispering.
                                      The next thing you know they delclare the veal is bad.
                                      They call the waiter over and tell him it's not fresh -
                                      MIL and FIL then grabs each of our plates, smell - and declare These are not fresh either!

                                      Oh brother!!!
                                      None of us knew what to do.
                                      I did say "Mine seems fine" a few times - but they INSISTED it was NOT!

                                      So after seeing the waiter, manager and then owner (who all insisted the veal was fresh.)
                                      All of our dishes were taken away and we ordered new entrees.

                                      I was HORRIFIED - and I am still positive the veal was FINE - delicious in fact!