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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....


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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.

              1. I don’t send something back if I simply didn’t like my meal. The chef might have interpreted a recipe his way or created their own. If I don’t like the food, it could just be a matter of taste. Now, if my food is inedible, poorly cooked, or includes a foreign object – I’ll send it back. The proof is there, point it out and get another serving.

                A bad meal would be a nail in the resto’s coffin and it doesn’t take many to close that box for good.

                1. I don't send anything back. I just don't eat it.

                  If the server or chef asks me why I don't want to eat what I'm not sending back, I'm generally vague. I don't like having arguments with hostile servers who claim I ordered something I didn't order, or discussions with chefs who insist that their shrimp are fresh because they smelled them this morning. And I don't like giving anyone any reason to mess with my food.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: phoenikia

                    So you pay for the food you didn't eat?

                    1. re: linguafood

                      I do, although sometimes the management realizes there's a problem and offers to compensate.

                      I see it as a "you win some, you lose some" type of situation. If something ends up compensated, I still tip as if the original item was part of the bill.

                      It's more stressful for me to have a confrontation with a server or management, or to wonder later if anyone served me tainted food after I have complained about something. Many servers and managers (at least in Toronto, where most of my disappointing dinners takes place) don't know how to take constructive criticism, and any type of critique or suggestion is taken personally.

                      Usually, I still will talk to the manager as I'm leaving the restaurant to let him/her know there was a problem, after I've paid.

                    2. re: phoenikia

                      I understand what you're saying... but don't let a few hostile servers cause u to condemn the whole lot. Most are there to help and make a decent wage and so will do what's reasonable and necessary to keep you happy. Same is true of the BOH staff.

                    3. badly prepared or spoiled food should be sent back.

                      waiters , when they ask, should be told the truth - "this dish sucks" or " i fond this dish inedible" or "those shrimp taste spoiled" or whatever.

                      you help no one by not speaking up, yourself least of all.

                      why are you trying to protect a place that is serving crap?

                      (and lay off yelp)

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: thew

                        You have seriously sent back food after you uttered the words "this dish sucks"? Wow, you're brave. LOL

                        1. re: thew

                          I hear what you're saying, thew, but I don't think its ever balck and white.
                          Depends on the diner's personality.
                          Depends on the server's personality.
                          Depends on the atmosphere (with a familiar friend/spouse or a first date, etc)
                          Depends on relationship with restaurant (only time there on a road trip vs neighborhood hang out)
                          Depends on how many drinks you've had.
                          Depends on how postal you're feeling on this particular day.
                          Etc etc

                          Am I saying don't send dishes back? No.
                          What I'm saying is that it depends on the circumstances. Sometimes I will send it back right off and complain to no end. Other times I'll poke around and just pay and move on. Other times still, it'll be a compromise between the two.

                          Whats the worst is a restaurant owned by a friend. It becomes really touchy feely. Yeah, I know, if they're really your friend, you'd complain so that they can improve.
                          Sounds simple, really, but what if its an issue greater than lousy shrimp that night. How do you explain that the portions are getting smaller, but that you'd rather pay more to keep the portion the same, knowing that their philosophy is at odds with yours?
                          How do you tell them that their last employee is kinda rude, knowing that its the sister of their wife? etc etc.
                          OK, I'm running on as usual...

                          lynnlato, maybe I'm living in sweet bliss, but I never worry about staff messing with my plate because of my complaints.
                          I've been on the other side as well. Yeah, criticism is sometimes difficult. Sometimes its uncalled for. But there are proper ways of handling it.
                          We would never endanger customers (like spitting or garbage or whatever). Even joking along those lines would get my staff in shit.
                          Although, when a customer gets in my face to say something isn't hot enough, or insists that we cannot get his fries crispy enough, even though he's asked 13 times now....well we do our best to prove them wrong. And even then its an extreme situation...

                        2. I send my steak or burger back if it is overdone. I always stress that I want it very rare and that I WILL send it back if it is overcooked. I say this with a smile and as a statement not nasty or anything. The only time I didn't send it back was when I was with a large group and it was medium rare so edible. Ended up taking it home for DH to cook for himself the next day (he likes medium well).

                          1. I usually only send food back if it's undercooked. e.g. cold raw burger, deep pink roasted chicken, etc.

                            I once was served a $45 steak that was all gristle and fat. But the GM was family and it was free, so I didn't make a huge deal about it. But if I was paying, I'd definitely send it back.

                            1. I have only sent back food twice in my life. Once because my steak was not cooked as requested and once because the meal I was served had so much salt I could literally feel my blood pressure rising with every bite

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: Johnresa

                                When you send food back, do you want them to bring it back out to you? Do you actually eat it if they do? Haven't you ever known anyone who worked in a restaurant?

                              2. I send food back if it is undercooked, less so if it is overcooked.

                                Typically most of the time I send food back, it is if I asked for a modification (like no mayo), was assured it was possible, and then the food comes without it. I can understand if it is difficult or impossible to change a dish, but in those cases the server typically just comes back out and says it would be better to choose another dish.

                                I don't send food back if it is not quite what I expected or if it seems a little cheap for the price charged.

                                1. This is a very "touchy" subject because the consumer does not have a direct relationship with the kitchen staff. There are so many variables to deal with dining out. The host, the waiter, the bartender, the busboy and then the kitchen staff where there could be up to 5 different people putting together the components of the meal. Whether it is a large or small restaurant, talking to the manager is the best option. Among the many people who handle your food it takes only one to be offended to the point of action. I remember a bartender putting eye drops in the drink of a patron who was overly picky to the server. The server was the bartender's girlfriend. I was a patron at the bar and witnessed the goings on. The bartender was fired on the spot, because I talked to the manager. Thankfully the patron did not consume the beverage. If they did consume the beverage, the resulting "sickness" most likely would be blamed on the food. Things like this ARE isolated, but one has to remember that even though we may be spending a lot of money to dine out, we are all human and NONE of us is perfect.

                                  1. I send it back if it's improperly prepared. If I just don't like it, whether it's because it's not prepared the way I usually like or that the ingredients are really cheap and nasty and the food is obviously thrown together without care, I just don't eat it. If the server is good, they usually ask if I didn't like it when taking away the plate because the dish is nearly untouched, and I just say I didn't care for it. If they ask if there is something else they can get me, the answer is that there usually isn't, because if my dish is bad and so is someone else's I'm with, probably anything else they send isn't going to be good either, so I just say no. Sometimes they take it off the bill, sometimes they don't, doesn't matter to me because I'm not coming back if I don't like the way they do food.

                                    5 Replies
                                    1. re: rockandroller1

                                      Thanks for all the replies. I think if it had been something as simple as "the short ribs are undercooked" we would have sent it back. But if there are multiple problems (and with almost every appetizer and entree), I still don't think it worthwhile to complain about every dish. I should have been more clear in my initial post--we saw it more as an indication of that restaurant's inability to prepare food. If we weren't naturally optimistic people, we would have canceled the rest of the order and left after the appetizers.

                                      And again, like I said in the initial post, this is in the suburbs, not the city. This is an area with 3 Walmarts and littered with chain restaurants and only movie theaters for entertainment. Very few chowhounds live here (which is why I go to YELP when we stay local). This restaurant obviously has its fans, which we really can't fathom at all, but I think they may not be as "picky" as we are.

                                      I went back to YELP after posting here and a new review had the SAME experience as me with the gnocchi, but the rater said she didn't say anything as it seemed like everyone else in the restaurant was having a good time. As I said in my first post, this is a tiny restaurant so the entire restaurant would have heard/noticed if I had complained about every item (or even only the most egregious, the rock-hard gnocchi). I also re-read some of the 5 star reviews and noticed they were more than a year old. Apparently, there was a chef change somewhere in there, so YELP users weren't completely off their rocker.

                                      thew: For what it's worth, I don't think I was being overly critical of YELP itself. I just said I was surprised that they had so many rave reviews for this obviously below-average restaurant. Chowhound has very few members living down here in the suburbs, so I only come here for my City dining choices. YELP isn't always accurate, but it's rarely this out of line.....I also think you've ignored my other points about this being in the suburbs and a TINY restaurant. It's not a place that would meet any gourmand's expectations but they obviously satisfy enough fans to stay in business and fill the house. How does it help me to insult the rest of the patrons who obviously like this kind of swill? Frankly, your post struck me as condescending and rude, devoid of any consideration of the nuances of this particular situation.

                                      1. re: smiles33

                                        Thanks for starting the discussion, it really stinks to look forward to going out, usually it is a special night out, and feeling ripped off. This is one great thing about the technological age..... there are forums available for all of us to share experiences eating and cooking... good dining to all!

                                        1. re: smiles33

                                          I am not sure what being in a suburb has to do with serving bad food. This is the Not About Food board, so you're not necessarily talking to people who are familiar with what a particular suburb serves. I am from an area that is mostly suburban and you can find fantastic food amidst the chains. Bad food is still bad food, wherever it is. It seems like whatever happened in the restaurant in the past year has decreased the food quality. I don't think you're insulting the patrons by saying you aren't enjoying the food.

                                          1. re: queencru

                                            Queencru: I mention the restaurant is in the suburbs and not the City because the typical client here is not one who frequently dines at avant garde/fancy restaurants with trendy preparation methods. In fact, there are very few non-chain restaurants in the suburban area that we live in and I can't think of any non-chain restaurants that use nice tablecloths other than this one and a local traditional Italian restaurant. Thus, I had been excited to think that instead of driving 2 hours (round-trip) to get roasted beets, gnocchi, crab bisque, duck confit, etc. I only had a 10 minute drive. Every other restaurant around here seems to be a TGI Friday's, El Torito, Texas Roadhouse, etc.. There are certainly a good number of hole-in-the-wall ethnic places (which is where we tend to eat if we don't drive to the City), but they're not places I'd go to celebrate a special occasion/date night without the kid. Most of the folks who live near us (and yes this is not our first choice place of residence but my husband owns a small business here and I commute to another area to work) are the typical Wal Mart shopper. The average age not including us in that restaurant that evening was probably 65, with some considerably older (and us skewing it downwards a few decades since we're in our 30s). I felt so overdressed in my little black dress, as most people looked like they just came from shopping at Walmart rather than dressed for a nice night out. It's clearly more of a neighborhood hangout than a special occasion restaurant. That's why I felt like it WOULD be insulting to that group if I had complained.

                                          2. re: smiles33

                                            I think a lot of people on Yelp are off their rockers too for what it's worth. There are places that have horrible food and multiple people posting about how great it is, so I wonder how "foodie" that site really is.

                                        2. My first reaction to the post was - of course you should say something! But then I got to thinking about my birthday dinner... and I think I know where you're coming from.

                                          My SO and I were in NOLA for a conference and for my b-day dinner (30, so a kind of "big one") he took me to Galatoire's, one of the "old line" restos that everyone talks about. The dinner was HORRIBLE - probably the worst food I've ever eaten (my SO and I are familiar with and enjoy NOLA food, so it wasn't that). We had their famous oysters rockefeller but the creamed spinach was watery and flavorless, and I had shrimp etoufee. The sauce was fine tasting, but the shrimp were overcooked to the point that I could barely chew them, and the rice was so underdone I thought I might chip a tooth on some of the uncooked bits. I was so bummed - this was my 30th b-day, so I was sort of in a weird mood anyway, but this place has such a reputation I just didn't want to make a big deal about anything and send it back. Plus, it was all so bad that I didn't really have faith that they'd get it better the second time! As it happened, the waitress (who was very nice) noticed I wasn't eating and insisted I order something else, which I did (she suggested the crabmeat sardou) and, as I feared, it was also horrible (soggy tasteless creamed spinach, bland hollandaise, watery crab a bit past its prime). It was a total bummer, and I was just too depressed to make a big deal about it. We decided that dinner was my "practice" b-day dinner and had my "real" b-day dinner the next night at August, which was OUTSTANDING.

                                          I went back and forth about posting a review of the place. On the one hand, I don't want anyone to waste a nice dinner in NOLA on an experience like mine, but on the other hand, lots of people have excellent experiences and I really didn't give the resto a "fair" shot at fixing my dinner. I didn't really elaborate on what was wrong with my first dish, and I agreed to order the waitress's favorite dish as the replacement, which was something I'd never normally order on my own. Maybe if I'd given them a second shot at the shrimp they'd have hit it out of the park?

                                          Anyway, I feel your pain.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: akq

                                            Oh AKQ, I feel your pain. 30 is a "big" birthday fraught with other issues already, so to get a crappy meal on top of that just further reinforces your already mixed feelings about the night. For us, the dinner was our first date night w/o our older daughter in a while (I'm 7 months pregnant and haven't had an easy pregnancy). It was supposed to be a wonderful evening out to enjoy some good food and each other's company without leaving our daughter for 4+ hours (2 hour drive plus a leisurely dinner). Instead, we spent most of that hour picking at the food, making faces at one another, and whispering about how bad everything was. Don't worry--I already made a reservation at our favorite 5 star restaurant so we can have a proper date night to make up for this atrocity.

                                          2. I usually won't send it back unless it's completely spoiled or inedible. Usually, it's enough to simply leave the entire plate untouched and the server will often ask if everything's all right, leaving the door open to discussion. However, I have pointed out when something is obviously spoiled (muddy lettuce) and should not have been served, and have had the unpleasant experience of debating whether indeed, the lettuce is off or not (!!), as well as not receiving a new dish, compensation, an apology or anything. It's all depends on the place.

                                            Today, I ordered a club sandwich that was advertised on the menu as having avocado. When the sandwich arrived.....no avocado. I didn't send it back and ate it as is...but it made me wonder -- should I have pointed it out? The sandwich was good without the avocado and I certainly don't need the extra calories, but it made me wonder if they had actually had run out of avocado or if they simply forgot it. How do you handle it when the order is wrong, but not bad?

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: melisky

                                              I point it out. I would've pointed out the missing avocado, because I like avocado.