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When to send something back to the kitchen?

My husband and I had a HORRIBLE meal at a local restaurant in the suburbs that bills itself as offering "Wine Country Cuisine" and charges wine country prices (not suburbs' pricing). We literally looked at one another during the meal and talked about sending it back but just didn't feel comfortable doing so. At one point, the waitress came by to clear some plates and asked how everything was. Before I knew it, I said, "Good." Yes, I'm one of those people who has trouble sharing bad news in a social setting. This a small restaurant with a capacity of about 25 and it was only 1/2 full. You could hear almost every conversation so I just didn't feel comfortable doing it in front of the whole restaurant. Then again, I've NEVER sent anything back to the kitchen before so who knows if I would've done so if it had been a large noisy restaurant. I think it would have been much easier for me to complain about poor service than poorly executed food. The waitress was very prompt and friendly and did her job well.

Anyhow, I'm here because I feel conflicted. I still posted a horrible review of the place on a website (not YELP, which has "rave reviews" about the place) so I feel like I did the cowardly thing by criticizing them publicly without having given them the chance to try and remedy it. But seriously--I'm not sure they could've remedied it other than comping the entire meal. Leaden lumps of dough were passed off as gnocchi and they had the nerve to charge me $18. A "braised short rib" dish had overcooked stew meat like clump of meat and undercooked carrots (around $25). The roasted beets dish tasted (and looked!) like canned beets....

Thoughts?

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  1. I don't send food back (unless, I was obviously served the wrong dinner). If it's bad, I just don't eat it. If asked why I didn't eat any/much, I usually explain my problem. Sometimes, charges are taken off the bill, sometimes not. Either way, it's usually the last time I ever go to the restaurant.

    1. I will send food back if it's overdone, underdone, overly salty, or otherwise inedible. I've ordered carpaccio and gotten roastbeef instead. I didn't send it back, but made it clear to the waitress that this was false advertising.

      If I am spending good money on food that is prepared sub-par, you bet I'll try to get what I'm paying for.

      2 Replies
      1. re: linguafood

        Same here. I always give them a second chance to get it right. Everyone makes mistakes. That said, I am sure to be friendly and easygoing about it because I know what can go on in the BOH. I don't want that stuff "goin' on" in anything I eat... if u catch my drift.

        1. re: lynnlato

          Yes, I am always reasonably friendly and polite about it. I've seen my mom bitch out waiters too many times, who certainly have no freakin' thing to do with how the food is prepared. Don't kill the messenger '-D

      2. Last Friday night jfood was presented with an app dish that was so badly prepared as it was inedible. He sent it back.

        The entree arrived, and it too was horribly prepared, mushy tasteless. Since jfood was with friends, he nibbled through the entree. He had a great time with his friends so it was a great friday night.

        He spoke to the owner the next day to give feedback. The owner was appreciative and Jfood was told they would try to do better next time. Guess what, probably no next time. Jfood already spent $100 for a glass of water.

        1. I'm pretty much the same as you and the previous posters - generally I don't send stuff back.
          If the server asks how things were, its 50-50 on how I'd answer. Kind of hard to describe, but if I feel the place will actually use the info to improve, I'll point out what I liked and disliked. If I figure its a waste of time, I'll just say 'yeah, fine'.
          Half the time, the server just clears the plates and doesn't ask.
          If its horrendous, I'll complain.

          Same as with jfood himself; if I'm with a group and everyone's having a good time, it'll be a judgement call. I've often seen my mother, who can be a restaurant customer from hell, ruin the mood at an otherwise fun table by complaining, nit picking, sending back stuff, and generally bitching (and she doesn't even notice. "Well, I'm paying for it aren't I?" is the attitude...but lets not go there on this thread...haha).

          One thing I find common is kitchens overdoing my steak (I like rare) or screwing up the lobster. So I speak to the server beforehand, something like "You guarantee my steak will be RARE?"
          "Yes, of course"
          "If its not rare, can I send it back?"
          "Well yes"
          So when it arrives medium, I simply point it out and away it goes. They mostly get the second bang on.

          6 Replies
          1. re: porker

            Why wouldn't you be able to send it back if it weren't prepared the way you ordered it = rare? You are paying for it after all.

            1. re: linguafood

              I'm not saying that I wouldn't be able to send it back, I'm just trying to turn the table, as it were, on the server.
              If I simply complain (without prior asking) about the steak, I oftentimes get a condescending look and some lip to go along with it
              "Whats the problem with the steak"
              "Its not rare...I ordered it rare"
              "It LOOKS rare"
              "But its not, look here"
              "Well the cook does rare like that"
              etc etc.

              By asking beforehand, a couple things may happen; the server might stress to the cook on how I want it (the cook may not otherwise care), ensuring me a properly steak. I also pre-warned the server that I'd be sending it back if it wasn't to my liking and she previously agreed. So if its not done right, I avoid any backpeddling, the server simply takes it away.

              I know, if its necessary to always go through this rigamarole, the resto might not be worth it, or if I was in a GOOD place, I shouldn't have to worry about such details, but thats not what I mean.

              Like I said, same for lobster. A place might advertise a whole, steamed lobster. I'll ask the server if it comes whole and they'll say yes.
              "If it isn't whole, can I send it back?"
              "Of course, sir!"
              Well howdy ho and a bottle of rum, how does the lobster arrive? Split in half with most of the roe and tomalley washed away and no more 'juice' in the claws (they were nicked up as well).
              "Ahhhh, Ms? Remember I asked for this critter whole?"
              What can she say?

              Oh and dinaofdoom, I completely agree, you gotta complain here and now, not after the fact, to let the place rectify the situation

              1. re: porker

                I find that there's really no consensus on what is rare/medium rare/medium/well. You may have better luck describing your steak in terms of color, temperature, etc. -- eg. red with slightly cool center. Though there's a fine line because you may end up sounding like Niles from Frasier! : )

                1. re: Miss Needle

                  I find that, despite the fact that it's a chain, Outback waiters do a pretty decent job explaining exactly what to expect. Rare = cold red center, med-rare = warm red center, etc. etc.

                  And I've actually never had a steak overdone there.

                  1. re: linguafood

                    That's could have something to do with the MANY diagrams in BOH and then many lectures about how to check and how to take a steak order. It was drummed in my head alright and I was a hostess.

                2. re: porker

                  these are all really good points you make, and i am totally gonna use them next time!

            2. you know, i grapple with this too.

              the last time i had a really bad experience with the food, i also had a problem with the waiter, so my feedback fell on deaf ears.
              i sent the manager an email about the experience, but never got a response.
              so, i think it has stressed to me the importance of speaking up when something happens (bad service, bad food, etc.).
              if it happens again, i am going to try really hard to not feel badly about speaking my mind.
              reading all these posts, i feel a little bolstered, because hey, i am paying for it.