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When -- if ever -- do you send food back?

I got a takeout meat dish recently that was gross: thick slabs of leathery, inedible beef. I ate some and threw about half of it away and would probably have sent it back if I was served that dish in the restaurant. Opinions? TIA

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  1. I have sent back the following entrees (that I can recall at the moment): A dish of rabbit that was all bone (I know rabbit isn't meaty, but this had no meat to speak off, and was cloaked in a thick sauce that disguised the fact); a cassoulet that had way too many breadcrumbs (about a cup more than it should have had, at a conservative estimate - it was inedible); steaks that are too well cooked (we always order steaks rare, so if they come out medium or medium-well, and it's a good restaurant, we send them back); a shrimp dish that tasted off; and some seafood crepes that didn't contain an iota of seafood (maybe the sauce was made with a seafood stock, but there was no actual seafood inside the crepes).

    My philosophy is that if I simply order incorrectly, and get something I don't really enjoy, that's my problem. But if they promise you something (even if it's only an implicit promise: rabbit instead of rabbit bones, steaks cooked the way you requested when they asked you how you wanted them done, an edible dish rather than an inedible one, etc.), then you are entitled to hold them to their end of the bargain.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Akatonbo

      in response to you comment about rare steaks... i'm not saying you're like this - but as a chef i've gotten steaks sent back which,upon inspection - are perfectly cooked! Only a few times, but me, the other chefs and the servers will inspect it - and see that, yes - it's perfect. All i can say is "One person's 'rare' is anothers 'medium'"

      1. re: chefinthecity

        You're right - I'm not like that. But I remember when I worked for Morton's in Hyde Park 40 years ago - one the specialties of the menu were a pair of filet mignon, which (this was the 60's, after all) people would invaribaly order well done. We'd warn them, but they'd insist. Then the fillets (which were small to begin with) would come out looking like little hockey pucks, and they'd protest. Then we got to remind them that we'd warned them. Diners have learned over the past 40 years, but I'm sure there is still a lot of confusion about what constitutes "rare."

    2. I agree, I pretty much only send something back if it's presented to be in a way other than I ordered it. A steak that's overcooked, a salad with the wrong dressing, etc.

      I do recall once send back a bowl of soup that was so salty it was inedible.

      Other than that, I assume it's my responsibility if I order something and it's "not what I expected" or I don't care for it. I can usually get by on bread or whatever's on my DBF's plate. I did order something that I really just didn't like once, I'm sure it was fine, but I basically misread the menu. The server noticed I was pushing it around on my plate and commented on it. I mentioned that I misread the menu and it wasn't really my cup of tea, but not her fault. She promptly took the plate, asked me what I would like and proceeded to ask if my boyfriend liked what I had ordered and she would bring it in a box so that it wouldn't go to waste. I ordered an app as a replacement, the first entreee was removed from the bill and she came back with it in a box. I thought that was very nice and unexpected. She got a really good tip!!

      1. Agree with the above. Have also sent-back over-cooked lobster, too expensive not to...

        1. The general rule is unless it's 1) not what you ordered; 2) not prepared as described, or 3) not prepared properly, you shouldn't send it back.

          Examples of instances of the above where I've sent back entrees include:

          1) I ordered a chicken dish and was given beef.
          2) Grilled fish came out pan fried.
          3) Medium steak was rare/ Pizza burnt.

          Of course, restaurants are free to modify this practice, and often do. E.g., "if you're not satisfied for any reason," so it's best to check with the establishment.


          1 Reply
          1. re: TexasToast

            Nicely stated. Although I actually like my pizza burnt, as long as it's not TOO burnt!

            My most recent example was, I ordered a falafel wrap and got served one with lamb in it. Good thing for them I'm not a vegetarian, I was just in the mood for some simple falafel, or I might have demanded more than just a replacement sandwich as compensation.

          2. Only when it's inedible, or when it contains something I (or my wife, since I'm the designated, um, Bass Pole, if you know what I mean, and I think you do) can't eat (allergies, don'tcha know).

            I seem to have the worst problem with soups -- if they sit and evaporate too long, they tend to get VERY salty. Most people are very understanding about this.

            I send back salads that have bugs still clinging to the greens.

            I don't send back steaks, but if they're overdone I call the waiter over and explain that I am going to eat it, but this was not done to my specifications. This makes the lesson get through -- the waiter or maitre d' can yell at the kitchen, but the food, which is still perfectly edible, is not wasted.

            I actually sent back my first bottle of wine the other night. There was a huge dent in the cork and the wine, of course, was vinegar. I sniffed it, took a minuscule sip, made a wry face, and shook my head. The waitress was shocked. "Didn't you like it?" she said. "No, it's gone off," I said. "Can I bring you another kind?" "Another bottle of the same will be fine, just let me see the bottle before you uncork it." She had no idea that wine could go off, so she learned something that night. I felt bad, because it was a $50 bottle of wine, but I wasn't about to drink it.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Das Ubergeek

              I have to applaud your forbearance in the case of an overcooked steak - but really, it's not necessary - if my years as a waitress are any indication, noting goes to waste. The waitstaff will eat it (yes, shocking, I know, but not the worst thing that happens in a restaurant kitchen) or take it home for the dog (dogs are sentient beings and have to eat, too).

            2. I send the dish back only if it's inedible. usually that is due to the meat/seafood being too old or the kitchen being way too heavy with oil or a particular herb.
              The last time I remember sending something back was at Ping's Seafood in NY. My SO and I ordered the fried oysters and it was these huge oysters surrounded by very very thick pancake batter that hadn't been cooked all the way through. I tried, but it was indedible for both of us. The manager comped half the price of the dish.

              2 Replies
              1. re: fara

                It wasn't fully cooked and they only comped half? That seems kind of messed up. . .

                1. re: fara

                  Are you kidding? It should have been sent back, and you shouldn't have paid a PENNY for it. And if they said no, I would have insisted and wouldn't have left enough money for it, period.

                2. In addition to the obvious (wrong order, spoiled food, etc) I will send back anything that arrives on a dirty plate. Ditto for glasses. Recently a martini was served to me in a glass with a huge red lipstick mark on it and back it went. The server actually seemed puzzled after she'd suggested that I drink out of the other side of the glass because the alcohol would kill the germs. I demurred and requested a fresh drink.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: Sherri

                    with that attitude about cleanliness, i wouldn't return to that restaurant. imagine all the things you don't see.

                    1. re: Sherri

                      The server probably took a sip of your drink ... LOL ... that's actually pretty funny (though I would have, of course, sent it back, too)>

                      1. re: Sherri

                        That's a funny reaction from the server, not very professional! However, I never worry about lipstick, that all night formula that they make now can stay on through the dishwashing cycle. Which doesn't mean the glass shouldn't have been buffed before the drink came out.

                      2. With meat, if it smells funny, don't eat it. If it tastes off on the first bite, don't eat further.

                        Expensive dry aged steaks may sometimes turn bad during aging. Unless the grill man smells it up close before cooking, he will not know the meat has turned, nor will the waiter or maitre d'.
                        RETURN IT. Having a few steaks age badly is part of the cost of the steakhouse doing business.

                        When being treated to lunch, I received a steak at Smith and Wollensky that was half-bad, so I only ate the good half. The Maitre D' and my host, a food executive, both said I should have spoke up, because sometimes dry aged steaks turn bad.

                        Wet aged steaks, like they serve at Ruth Chris and Flemings, Outback Steakehouse's high priced chain, are less likely to spoil, but they usually don't taste as good as dry aged steaks.

                        Also, many grill cooks in diners and coffeeshops will leave hamburger patties out near the grill rather than taking them out fresh from the refridgerator every time. The meat can spoil and fill up with listeria that'll stay alive even if the burger's well-done. ALWAYS RETURN THAT. Don't make a scene. Be polite and firm. Also, ask to speak with the manager to let him know. A half-dozen people getting food poisoning on single day in business can put a 50+ year old business out of business in only a few weeks.

                        1. This is an interesting exchange. I am more liable to send food back than most people I know, but I've never tried to articulate a rule. If I order something and don't like it, I would never send it back though, as geg5150 noted above, often a great server will notice and take care of it. I would never ask and I always tip really well when it happens, and go back to the restaurant if I can.

                          But short of that, I think eating out implies a contract between diner and kitchen -- like Akatanbo says, there is a promise to perform. I come prepared to be pleased and be pleasant and enjoy the food as advertised, and, if it's an expensive place, to spend a lot of money doing that. In exchange, I expect them to deliver. I guess that means more to me than clean glasses and nonspoiled food and a steak cooked to order -- if they have a reputation for great cooking, I expect great cooking. If something is wrong, I send it back and give them a chance to get it right. I am ALWAYS really nice about it, and always tip well, but I do want their best.

                          I know some folks who treat eating out like a test the restaurant can pass or fail -- if they mess up they don't say anything but they never go back and don't have much good to say about the place. I guess I'll give a place more rope, but a shorter leash, if that makes any sense. They get a second chance to get things right, but I hold them accountable to a pretty high standard.

                          Goes without saying I am not talking about going to Applebee's here. I never expect a place to be better than it tries to be, but a restaurant that wants a reputation as a great place should turn out great food.

                          Guess maybe I am a kitchen's worst nightmare, but I've noticed two things in many years of dining out. 1) I am almost always happy when I leave a restaurant and as I spread the word accordingly, we are all better off for me sending back whatever it is. 2)Those places where people accept things as they come without complaint, no matter the quality, lose quality over time. People produce what they are asked to produce. So, unless there is a pretty tough critic either inside the kitchen or out....

                          1. First up to mind was a shrimp dish smelling like ammonia.

                            I have asked to have a duck dish cooked some more. Too many biology classes.

                            Being served steaks "undercooked" to my order, has resulted in my thinking hey this is really good and loosened me up.

                            The "contract" between establishment and patron means you should speak up. I got served a gristly steak once at a Gerald Hirgoyen restaurant. It was a large party, so I just ate what was edible. I'm sure he would have liked to know his purveyor was giving him substandard food. And that I have never stepped foot in a restaurant of his again.

                            1. We always order our steaks "medium-rare-towards-rare." There is so much hold-over time with a steak waiting to be picked up by a waiter, that they can often cook further than what was ordered. We find ordering this way helps a lot.

                              1. My feeling is that if I am spending my hard earned money on a product I would like it to meet a standard. If i order a med-rare steak and it's not, back it goes, if I order risotto with wild mushrooms and it comes without, back it goes. Oversalty soup, back to the kitchen. If I am paying top dollar, top quality goes in my tummy. Very simple philosophy. If I am trying a new type of fish, wild game or something funky and I do not like it, that's my risk and I may not eat the dish, but I'll eat the charge.

                                If you let the kitchen serve sub-standard food without this feedback they, like may establishments, will get complacent and the quality will go in the wrong direction. My normal restaurants want my input, it keeps the kitchen on its toes and keeps the standards up. As long as you keep it professional, courteous and diplomatic and not blow a cork, it should not be a problem.

                                My customers expect very high standards from me and it just goes to the next part of the food chain.

                                1. I'll send seafood back without hesitation if it tastes off with the first bite. If you've ever had seafood poisoning---you know why!

                                  Also if a steak is not done the way I ordered it(medium) then back it goes. Doesn't happen that often. The thing that really happens more than it should these days is asking for poultry to be well cooked and getting it rare. Yuck! After just one bite of that the appetite leaves the room. Hard to explain to those who enjoy rare meat, but for those who don't that taste really kills the night.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: SugarFrosted

                                    Poultry is supposed to be cooked through in the United States -- half the damn rules in the health department's ridiculously huge rule book are designed to prevent contamination through poultry.

                                    If you get undercooked chicken, send it back... in some jurisdictions, the restaurant can be closed for the night if undercooked chicken is sent out.

                                    I don't know about duck -- I don't like duck cooked through and won't eat it rare, so I have no points of reference.

                                  2. I don't like cheese and I find it is an ingredient in many dishes even when it isn't a listed ingredient.

                                    I always say "No cheese" if I suspect there might be some, but sometimes it gets put in anyway. Sometimes it is an ingredient in dishes when I least expect it (Like a BLT should have bacon lettuce and tomato, a bacon lettuce tomato with cheese would be a BLTC).

                                    Anyway, if a dish has cheese on it (or sour cream or some other ingredient I don't eat but ended up in the food anyway) I send it back and ask for no cheese.

                                    If I forget to say no cheese and it was a listed ingredient, I suffer and don't sent it back.

                                    5 Replies
                                    1. re: PaulF

                                      Can you even BE a CH and not like cheese?


                                      1. re: TexasToast

                                        I think I already asked Paul that in another thread. ;-)
                                        Or, we have two people here who hate cheese (unbelievable!).

                                        1. re: TexasToast

                                          My wife is a major 'Hound but simply doesn't care for cheese, at least not when added to other things, and especially not melted. She does like a little bit of fine cheese on its own from time to time.

                                        2. re: PaulF

                                          Ok so the ingredient that I HATE is onions and it seems to be in every dish. I will send an item back that has onions it in if I ask for no onions and it comes with them. I usually try to ask if the item has onions if I think that it might. But so many times items have onions in it when it wasn't listed.
                                          This is when I am always confused. Should I send the item back cause it has an item in it that wasn't listed that I don't like? Or should I just suck it up and not expect that every item in the item is listed on the menu?
                                          I am not allergic to onions, so I would never tell a server that I am to have an item returned, cause people who do that annoy me.

                                          1. re: camp1980

                                            You and My father must have been seperated at birth!? He despises onion(but inexplicably loves my chili, which has loads of onions in it.....). One time he orders a steak that came with onions on it, he says "no onion", well of course it comes with onions. Just before he sends it back I tell him to cut into it to see if its atleast done correctly. When the "new" steak comes out, it has the exact same cut mark in it.........all they did was scrap the onion off?? that was pretty funny.........that was the last time I think I have ever darkened the door of that chain of Australian-themed steakhouses.

                                        3. I have returned many of dishes for a variety of reasons. I'm forgiving so I return back to these restaurants. I won't return to a restaurant if the overall food is just poor quality and taste. If the entire experience sucked, then why bother??

                                          I don't know if I read too quickly, but has anyone found hair in their food and returned it back. I've gotten pizza with hair (not my hair color) IN the crust, not ON the toppings. Or hair mixed in the hamburger (not my hair texture). This is so common, I don't usually say anything if there's hair just lying on the plate.

                                          I've returned mussels when the beards were attatched, I screamed as I pulled it out of my mouth. Excuse me as I cringe reliving the moment.

                                          I don't usually return my steaks, but always bring it to the server's attention. Usually the manager comes and visits my table. One manager came out with a small flashlight and agreed the steak was a cooked more like medium well rather than their medium rare.

                                          I usually bring what's bothersome to my server's attention. I figure I'm not the only one eating at the restaurant. The kitchen should know that some of there food prepared isn't coming out as they should at least for that night. I do have more horror stories. My friends advise that I should never eat out because something happens with my meal. More than often I get the cost of the dish off my bill or free dessert or something. So it's always a bittersweet ending for me when I eat out.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: rumgum

                                            I laughed about this comment: I recently had a cioppino and one of the mussels still had its beard. I should have screamed. I just discreetly put it to the side, but it was hard to enjoy the rest of the meal.

                                            I cringe when I order anything with mussels: I am always afraid they will come out as large as bread plates, and sometimes they do.

                                          2. I return food that is substandard, regardless of the price. I feel that if I'm paying for a service/product, I should get edible quality. My biggest peeves are soups not described as having a cream base (or servers not even knowing), or cooking methods not described, ie. deep fried.
                                            I have returned lamb curry that looked and tasted like dog food. It was at a pub and my dining companions weren't that impressed and had the attitude 'what did you expect?' I expected a curry taste with pieces of lamb, not meaty tasteless mush.
                                            I've returned a 'Mongolian stir fried beef' that was deep fried, not stir fried.
                                            I've returned many too-salty and/or cream based soups.
                                            I'm always polite about it, recognizing it's not always the servers' fault.
                                            When I order something I don't like, I don't say anything unless asked, then I explain that I ordered the wrong thing, but that the dish is as explained in the menu, and that it's my own fault. Sometimes something is done about it, sometimes not.
                                            I do feel that the kitchen needs to know when food is substandard - how are they to get better? Even if you like it but think it could use more/less cheese or more/less seasoning, let them know in a polite way!! I know that I like to know if people like the food I cook for them. I hate when people say they like what I've made and they really don't! Tell me, I won't make it again if no one likes it. If I make tomato salad and you don't like tomatoes, that's different. If I make tomato salad and dump a bunch of salt on it and it's inedible, I'd like to know.

                                            1. I usually only send back items if its necessary (ie if the meat has turned, or its been fried when I ordered grilled, if its still partly frozen and undercooked, etc); but at places where I'm a regular I am less lenient.

                                              At one of the chinese restaurants I frequent, over the past 2 years I've probably sent dishes back a total of maybe 5 or 6 times -- once due to egg shells in an egg dish, once or twice due to oversalting (but not to the point where it is inedible) and other times because either the item is slightly overcooked or just doesn't look right (ie not golden fried but darker almost burnt color).

                                              The first time I was confronted by a dish that didn't look right, the manager was shocked that I didn't speak up... he told me that I should always bring it to his attention so he knows to speak to staff about the necessary corrections.

                                              2 Replies
                                              1. re: S U

                                                That seems like a lot of sending back . . . why still go there?

                                                1. re: Covert Ops

                                                  Well, the food is generally pretty good... and because sometimes the choice of restaurant is not mine to make (the owner is close friends w/ a relative of mine).

                                              2. Just had tapas tonight and I sent the grilled calamari back. It was chewy to the point where I couldn't swallow it. The waiter took it off the bill without my asking and I gave him an additional tip because of it.

                                                1. I rarely have problems with the way food tastes. Yes, I have had bad lobster and the like, but .................

                                                  If my hot food is not hot and my cold food is not cold I send it back. It really annoys me when restaurants can't get this right, especially when I am paying 25-30 plus $$ an entree. It's just not acceptable.

                                                  1. Made the mistake of ordering beef with onions at a carryout. What I got should have been called onions with two slices of overcooked beef. And the sauce tasted like the effluence from the black pepper monster. Bye bye!

                                                    1. The nicest dish I almost sent back was an undercooked risotto. Flavor was all there but the grains were stiff almost crunchy. Acceptable?

                                                      4 Replies
                                                      1. re: sasserwazr

                                                        Truthfully I am afraid to send food back, although I have when it is absolutely necessary - too well done steak, wrong order etc.. A good friend was a waiter for many years in some of San Francisco's top restaurants. He told me horror stories about what they sometimes do to 'returned' food. Gross stuff - spitting on the plate etc..

                                                        1. re: Canthespam

                                                          From my experience in FOH and BOH, that stuff only happens when the food is sent back and nothing is wrong with it. For example, sending back a perfectly cooked medium-rare steak when you ordered it medium-rare (and insisting on a whole new steak instead of recooking the same one) might get you something "extra" on your plate, but sending back a dish that was flawed is safe. It's the kitchen's mistake. The kitchen would never punish a customer for their own mistake.

                                                          1. re: invinotheresverde

                                                            I've never heard of anyone doing this at my restaurant. We complain about people when they send back a perfectly cooked steak (there seems to be many opinions about what Medium rare looks like) but I've never seen anyone do anything to someone's food.

                                                            1. re: Missmoo

                                                              I've seen it...and all at upperclass, highend, expensive places.

                                                      2. Kind of funny story...

                                                        Years ago, a new Chinese Take Out-only restaurant opened near us.

                                                        There were two families of us together with a passel of kids. All of us loved Chinese, so we decided to order from the new folks in town.

                                                        My order was a noodle stir fry; perhaps a shrimp lo mein. I'm not sure. Dealing out the dishes I noticed the noodles in mine were fried "very" dark. No matter. I dug into my supper with relish and thought I'd died and gone to heaven. The flavors I tasted were sublime. That dish became my immediate favorite. Guess what? The next time we ordered from the restaurant, my Shrimp Lo Mein was prepared as it should have been (I guess). The taste of this correct dish was SO disappointing.

                                                        1. Steak that's overcooked is at the top of my list (I cringe when I hear someone ordering steak well done). The standing joke is that I'm not ordering steak, but rather an autopsy (I like my steak very rare). Too salty food is next on my list. Already dressed salad when I've asked for the dressing on the side.