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Sending back food when you just don't like an ingredient. Is it good restaurant etiquette?

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I recently went to an Indian restaurant with a friend. The friend ordered chicken chettinad. When it arrived, the friend smelled coconut in it. The waiter confirmed that, indeed, it had coconut in it (as apparently do many southern Indian dishes). The friend decided to send it back because he reviles coconut.

The friend explained that the menu had not mentioned coconut and argued that it is a "key ingredient" that should have been included in the description. I felt it was wrong to send it back. I argued that if there is a particular ingredient that he simply can't eat, he should always ask whether the dish contains that ingredient, much as one with a peanut allergy would ask, for instance, about the presence of peanuts.

Please, we need your help to resolve this. Was he right in sending it back?

  1. It is always wrong to send a dish back because you just don't like it.

    5 Replies
    1. re: pikawicca

      My favorite dish is fried oysters. I live on the east coast, and wenever I see fried oysters on the menu, I order them. I like them because they are bigger and sweeter than fried clams. A couple of years ago I was in Seattle, I was in a seafood restaurant. I ordered fried oysters. A plate come out with what appeared to be burnt lima beans with some sauce on them. I stared at it until the waiter came over and asked what the problem was. I asked him what dish he had served me. He said they were supposed to be fried oysters but he would be happy to take them back and bring me something else in their place. Pikawicca, there is a saying that the Jews invented guilt but that Catholics perfected it. My Catholic heritage could not prevent me from sending those little nuggets to hell back where they came from!

      1. re: junescook

        Whoa, an Irish Catholic myself, I am all for the scorched-earth policy of disapproval. I love fried oysters. I love Pacific Northwest oysters. I would never fry the little guys from the PNW. They are meant to be eaten raw, IMO.

          1. re: pikawicca

            But I didn't know that then, nor really until you've explained it now. To me a fried oyster is a fried oyster, and these did not meet the criteria.

            1. re: pikawicca

              I agree with you, but shouldn't the kitchen/wait staff point that out to the patron to ensure patron satisfaction before wasting good PNW oysters? Or possibly suggest a different preparation? Or adjust the frying time? But then, hindsight is usually 20/20.

        1. Yes and no. It's one thing to be allergic to a specific item like peanuts....it's another simply not to care for a specific item.....to me they are two different issues , not the same. To assume most Southern Indian food includes coconut in the dishes is stretching it a bit and unrealistic....in fact, if you are not familiar with Southern Indian cooking....what would you know to even ask with regards to ingredients? Are you supposed to announce everything you do not like from a cue card.?

          If the restaurant menu describes the ingredients in each dish, if they left out coconut in the description, then the onus is on the restaurant to make good.....If the menu items are sans description......then your friend should have asked questions as to what the dishes were made of to be safe or made a declaration he did not like certain things.....even if were vague, e.g.. like he did not like sweet, spicy or sour.

          My position is this for your dilemma specifically.....since you thought it was wrong to send back....you should have accepted the dish and your friend could have ordered something else without coconut.....problem solved.

          1 Reply
          1. re: fourunder

            Thanks for the well-reasoned opinion. By the way, my friend wants everyone to know that it wasn't just coconut, but coconut "milk" which is apparently a more serious omission.
            PS: I did eat his dish and gave him mine to avoid sending it back. I'd still love more opinions.

          2. I once learned the "cloth tablecloth rule" - if there are cloth tableclothes on the table you can send back the food for any reason - it may be uncomfortable, but it's completely allowed and appropriate (if necessary).

            5 Replies
            1. re: brooklynkoshereater

              I don't know where you learned that "rule" but in my 62 years I've never heard of such a thing.. And I TOTALLY disagree.

              To the OP, I would suggest that if you're friend detests a/any food THAT much, that it always be stated before ordering. My opinion is that it's not alright to send it back because friend didn't ask.

              1. re: brooklynkoshereater

                Why are there these types of rules in New York (for New Yorkers) and nowhere else in the world???

                1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                  As a lifelong NYer, I can happily say I have never heard of such a ridiculous rule. I would never ever ever send back a dish in any restaurant simply because I didn't like it, or an ingredient in it.

                2. re: brooklynkoshereater

                  "it may be uncomfortable..."

                  If one feels uncomfortable, it's because one is probably committing a breach of etiquette or common decency.

                  1. re: brooklynkoshereater

                    That is so far over the line it is ridiculous.

                    To bring you up to speed...

                    You do NOT have the right to send back anything at anytime just because it has a tablecloth under the dish.

                  2. I would definitely not call me an etiquette specialist, but I would not send back the dish. I can be somewhat picky and often find ingredients to be off putting/overwhelming in dishes (ie green peppers!), but I either ask if the dish includes them before ordering or try the dish and if I can't get through it, I might stop for a burger on the way home. If everything is cooked properly, I don't complain. If the flavors are bad, I don't return.

                    1. This case doesnt seem so difficult to me:

                      if an ingredient is listed explicitly and it is NOT there, you have valid reason to complain.
                      i.e. if the "chicken chettinad" didnt have chicken. there may be some "hard cases" where
                      a description is used notionally, like a "risotto" which doesnt have rice, but that doesnt
                      apply here.

                      the resto does NOT have an obligation to list everything: they can list nothing, they can list some things.

                      if you ask an "agent" of the resto an explicit and non-vague question -- "does this have coconut/parsley/nuts' -- that does create an obligation on their part and rights on your part [i am not speaking legally, but "at equity" according to me]. again, there may be some weird cases where you ask the india waiter about okra or eggplant and they oly understand ladyfingers/aubergine/brinjal ... i'm inclined to go with the patron if in the US ... but these
                      issues do not apply here.

                      so your friend loses. the options clearly are:
                      1. suck it up and pass it around the table and figure there is probability P they will
                      take it off the bill
                      2. say "please take it away" and bring me X and *gamble* on probability Q, Q >= P
                      they will take it off the bill.

                      "hard cases" may or may not make bad law, but the norms in cases like this cant accommodate the fussiest. particularly at a south indian resto, it's not reasonable to
                      explicitly warn about a dish with coconut. it would be like a vegetarian south indian
                      being upset at a french/chinese place which didnt explicitly mention meat stock in a
                      soup. an advisory might be reasonable for raw meat, extremely spicy, eye of newt, but not coconut. especially not at a south indian resto.

                      1. It I hated what is a common ingredient in curry then I'd make a point of asking if it was present. If something is that big a deal then the onus is surely on the customer to ask.
                        Having said that I once sent back banana fritters that came doused in honey. There was no mention on the menu that honey was going to be poured over them and I felt completely justified in sending them back. But that's the only time I've done it because of a dislike (and not because of unexpected meat).

                        1. I would NEVER go out to eat with that friend again.

                          1 Reply
                          1. Please carve out the allergy analogy, totally different.

                            But your friend was wrong. If your friend knew it was a "key ingredient" as he argued he should have stayed away from it. Even if he was a novice and the coconut was not on the description, he has a voice and he could have asked before he ordered.

                            Last 48 hours in Jfood's life.

                            Specifically told the server about his nut allergy before the order, the entrees were fine. Dessert menu brought over, three to choose from. Specifically tells the server again about nut allergy. Orders chocolate chip cookie tart with vanilla ice cream. Server brings over and explains that the tart is made in the same factory as other desserts that include nuts but no nuts in the dish. First bite great, second bit...crunch. Jfood excuses himself for a trip to the car for benedryl. Owner/chef comes over to table and asks how thing are. Jfood tells him about the nuts. He disputes, jfood insistent. Owner/chef leaves returns and then tells jfood that the server substituted pistachio ice cream for the vanilla. Chef/owner became very gracious and long story there. That is grounds for major apology, removal plus other comps.

                            Yesterday, jfood tried a new Thai restaurant and saw they had the little pepper symbols by some of the dishes indicating spicy. He ordered a green curry chicken with no pepper symbol. When he started eating it, it was very spicy for his taste. What did he do? He ate it, enjoyed it as much as he could, drank a bunch of water and noted that the next time he needs to order all dishes at this restaurant "not spicy".

                            Your friends was so totally wrong on so many levels it is not even in the grey area. Jfood hopes you bet $100 so you can collect today.

                            18 Replies
                            1. re: jfood

                              jfood:

                              Water just spreads the spice around your mouth. Ask for milk; it quiets the heat nicely.

                              1. re: FrankD

                                jfood understands the milk versus water paradigm but ordering a glass of milk is really, really hard. The water feels so good for the time it is in the mouth and then the aftershock takes hold.

                                Thanks for the advice tho.

                                1. re: jfood

                                  white rice is the antidote.

                                  1. re: whs

                                    that helped quite a bit. jfood spooned the curry inover the rice and tried to get an even balance.

                                    thx

                              2. re: jfood

                                The pistachio ice-cream was the same color as vanilla?

                                    1. re: linguafood

                                      Haagen-Dazs's Pistachio flavor is White/Natural in color.

                                        1. re: jfood

                                          Well when I read "lame", immediately took it to mean "Lame, that the 2 ice creams looked the same so that you couldn't tell the difference just by looking at it."

                                              1. re: alanbarnes

                                                An obviously bad attempt at humor -- rewarding Boychucker a 100 pts for the correct answer.

                                                Now something makes me think that you might be pulling my leg....(?)

                                                My brains don't seem to be working so well these days (i have a cold).

                                                1. re: linguafood

                                                  so a lame 100 points to the cold in berlin and the boychucker.

                                                  1. re: jfood

                                                    each, i hope '-). and currently, the cold is in PA.

                                                  2. re: linguafood

                                                    If alan is pulling your leg, be afraid. Be very afraid.

                                    2. re: jfood

                                      How did you not see the nuts in the pistachio ice cream, let alone the fact that pistachio is typically less white than vanilla?

                                      and what's so "really really hard" about ordering a glass of milk? "Waiter, may I please have a glass of milk?" Done.

                                      1. re: irishnyc

                                        The pistachios were small, the color of the ice cream was white, not green. If you have never seen housemade pistachio ice cream then do not comment on something you obviously have no knowledge of. This was not a neighborhood bar with 1000 watt bulbs and a juke box but a real restaurant so the lighting was dim. Likewise jfood was with friends and engaged in conversation.

                                        "hard" is probably the wrong word, how about "embarassing". Does that work for ya?

                                    3. If I don't like something, that is my problem not the restaurant's.

                                      I might say to the server that I can't eat the dish and could I have something else. I might then expect to be charged for both dishes.

                                      1. No, he wasn't right in sending it back. It's one thing if it's an ingredient that wouldn't logically be in a dish, but S. Indian food and curries commonly have coconut in them. It's like ordering something with a brown sauce at a Chinese restaurant and being shocked that it has soy sauce in it. Soy sauce tends to give me migraines, but I take it upon myself to ask the restaurant whether a dish has soy in it.

                                        1. Etiquette, schmetiquette. If I'm paying for a dining experience and someone puts something in front of me I don't want to eat, for any reason, I can send it back, rather than force feeding myself something I'm not enjoying.

                                          I'm not saying I do this all the time, but there are two food items I absolutely revile, and if a dish suddenly appears before me with one of those items on it, because I wasn't paying attention or didn't ask the right questions or because the restaurant didn't do a good job describing it, or, I'm not familiar enough with a cuisine to know that X dish always comes with Y disgusting foodstuff, I'm going to call my server over, and say, in my most humble and apologetic tone, "Hey, I'm really sorry, but I made a mistake. I thought I would enjoy this dish, but I just cannot bear X in my dish. It looks absolutely beautiful and I'm certain anyone else would be delighted by it, but I just have a thing against X. Would it be possible for you to bring me Y dish instead? I'm not asking you to remove this from my bill, but I'm just not enjoying it."

                                          And then, whether the item appeared on my bill or not (the one time in my life I did this, it did not appear), I made sure to tip my server on the value of the removed dish, also,

                                          I've done this, that I can recall, once in my lifetime. But, I absolutely reserve the right to do it again.

                                          Now, would i do this if I were dining with the Queen of England or my in-laws or a business associate or pikawicca, c oliver, or many of the other fine folks in this thread who seem to know proper etiquette? Probably not. But if it were just my husband, or a close friend, and me? No problem.

                                          Dining out is supposed to be an enjoyable experience. Why would the Chef want you to eat a dish you don't enjoy?

                                          Now, if this happens to you all the time, then maybe you should be doing something differently--asking more questions, making your food preferences known, but, once in awhile, I think it's okay under the right circumstances.

                                          I personally love coconut and coconut milk, but I know a lot of people despise them. The only thing in the particular situation the OP is describing that is problematic is that chicken chettinad often comes with coconut, and perhaps s/he should have known better, or at least should have confirmed, "There's no coconut milk in that, right?" (personally, I don't get why that's worse than coconut itself--coconut milk is simply pureed coconut flesh, nevertheless...)

                                          I think the OP's solution to swap dishes with his friend was a lovely one.

                                          ~TDQ

                                          23 Replies
                                          1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                            Whew...jfood was worried until he saw the clause about paying for the sent back dish.

                                            Yes any dish not being enjoyed that is prepared properly is on the tab of the customer (usually the restaurant removes) but that is not a must-do but a nice to have.

                                            Happy holidays out there TDQ.

                                            1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                              Your behavior seems reasonable to me. It's the people who send perfectly good food back to the kitchen and expect not to pay for it who get my goat. I can assure you that if someone served me a meat pie with unannounced kidney in it, back it would go in a flash. Not eating that, even for the Queen.

                                              1. re: pikawicca

                                                With regards to this topic, I guess *always* and *perfectly good food* doesn't always apply to you.....

                                                :)

                                                1. re: fourunder

                                                  If you're willing to pay for it, you can certainly send anything back. If you expect to have it taken off your bill, no, unless it's spoiled or improperly prepared.

                                              2. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                I'm with you, TDQ, because you didn't expect the restaurant to pay for the rejected dish.

                                                On the other hand, have you had your coffee yet (if I'm not mistaken, a couple of times you've come back later with a slightly different take, explaining the lack of early coffee)?

                                                1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                  HA! Coffee, check. Although, I do have a head-cold, which possibly could impair my judgment. I don't mind being wrong, once in awhile, or changing my mind after I've thought something through more (versus my original knee-jerk reaction...)

                                                  But, yeah, this time, it's my opinion and I'm sticking with it.

                                                  I certainly think there are situations where I might not feel comfortable sending a dish back, but, I just think it's crazy to assume that I have to eat something I don't enjoy (or that I should go hungry) because I made a mistake. But the key here is realizing when I've made a mistake vs. when the restaurant made a mistake, and who should bear the cost of the rejected food.

                                                  Also, it's something you need to decide right away, after your first look or first bite or two of your dish. And your "replacement" dish can't be something elaborate as you don't want your dining companions to have to feel uncomfortable that they are eating while you are waiting, and you don't want to be the last person at the table still eating, after everyone else is long past done. Order a bowl of the soup.

                                                  Come to think of it, I have probably sent a dish back more than that one time I recalled above (and, oddly enough, I recall it very vividly, but, what restaurant it was, who else was there, etc. but, I don't recall what I didn't like about the dish. I can only assuming it had raisins in it or was "sweet" when I expected savory...)

                                                  I have, on more than one occasion, sent a dish back because I didn't expect it to be deep fried or covered in gravy. But, again, that's my problem for making an assumption that the dish was "light" and not asking enough questions.

                                                  And, P.S., Happy New Year (or decade, if you're in that camp, as I am) everyone!

                                                  ~TDQ

                                                  1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                    Er I assume In spite of the OP writing "I felt it was wrong to send it back" the question
                                                    is really about "who should eat the cost" not "who should eat the food". I think the
                                                    cost question is a fairly easy one ... but the food question is even easier. Of course
                                                    nobody can force an adult to eat anything ... not the resto, not the co-diner.

                                                    Yes wasting food is bad. Yes, if the resto intends to charge for the meal, they
                                                    should ideally ask "shall i leave it, take it away, or pack it up for you gentlemen".
                                                    Yes, if they are willing to take it off the check, they have the right to "repo" the plate
                                                    [avoid moral hazard, or for inspection, depending on the nature of the complaint].
                                                    Yes, I suppose if they take away food you merely expressed disapproval of but didnt request to be removed AND it appears on your bill, that might be an slighly more involved case.

                                                    BTW, I'm pretty judgemental [i'd like to think reflective and then judgemental] but I think writing off a friendship/diningship over this is a little harsh if the person is otherwise pretty reasonable [esp considering some of the other stories i hear on "not about food"].Say this persion is usually perfectly sociable but was just really hungry, or caught off guard ... and reflecting in tranquillity realizes that he overreacted etc. One of my best friends -- and one of the most considerate and polite people i know -- was outraged when his flannel hash contained BEETS ... we of course made fun of him for his ignorance, and intellectually he knows he doesnt have a leg to stand on, but he hates beets so much, he thinks all dishes containing beets should have explicit disclaimers and the waiter should ask you three times if that is really what you want.

                                                    1. re: psb

                                                      Maybe I'm just Captain Obvious, but the question was about whether it was proper etiquette, which is more than just a matter of who should bear the cost.

                                                      ~TDQ

                                                      1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                        Proper etiquette is to work it out without yelling or being nasty. Whether the dish is sent back or not, whether it is charged for or not is not controlling.

                                                        "I'm sorry, I didnt realize this had coconut in it. I'd like to see the menu again
                                                        and pick another dish." --> good etiquette

                                                        I dont think you should berate the waiter about not disclosing the coconut, nor should the waiter imply "you should have asked/known better" -> bad etiquette.

                                                        I re-read the title of the post:
                                                        yes, sending food back you dont like if perfectly fine ettiquette as long as:
                                                        1. you treat it as a "no fault" situation
                                                        2. you are prepared to pay
                                                        3. and yes, civil conduct on your part leads to some obligations on the
                                                        resto [waiters] part, but not including taking it off the bill.
                                                        4. appropriate dining companion(s) [the ettiquette issue is a lot more
                                                        complicated if the other people at the table are not all "close" ...
                                                        but in that case the restorant isnt the other party in the dicussion ...
                                                        and the dicussion devolves to "how much complaining should you do
                                                        at a dinner with the boss/inlaws/not-super-close-friends-who-are-hosting"
                                                        and doesnt center on disclosure of "key ingredients" ... since the similar
                                                        question can be asked about food not prepared quite how you like it or
                                                        food you just dont like.

                                                        OP: if you are worried about some how insulting the resto/wasting food,
                                                        you could always ask for the item "to go" and then chuck it.

                                                        so is the real issue your friend embarassed you at the resto because
                                                        of his conduct in HOW he refused the coconut dish? refusing the dish
                                                        certainly isnt IPSO FACTO if out with a single good friend.

                                                        [i have to emphasize coconut really is a signature ingredient of south indian cooking. it would not have been appropriate for the waiter to call the patron on his ignorance of south indian cooking, but he could in a friendly way say
                                                        "you'll need to pick carefully because a lot of out dishes have coconut ...
                                                        may i recommend the coconut-free uttapam].

                                                    2. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                      Hey TDK,

                                                      Just to play a little devil's advocte.

                                                      Instead of sending it back in which there is the implicit suggestion of please take it off the bill, why do people just not ask for that dish in a to-go container and order something else. In that way there is no expectations for the dish to be removed from the bill.

                                                      Just a thought and interested in your take on it.

                                                      Ciao

                                                      1. re: jfood

                                                        That works fine for me, especially if you think there's an implicit implication that the dish be removed from the bill (in the one case I remember so vividly, it was indeed removed from the bill), although, it's a little nonsensical/contradictory to ask for it in a box because you're effectively saying , "I don't want to eat it now, but I might eat it later..."

                                                        I do like the possibility that the food won't go to waste, though. That's also why I like the OP's solution of just swapping dishes (which I've done before, too).

                                                        ~TDQ

                                                        1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                          thanks tdq. the thought behind the question was maybe mr Q or one of the little Q may have liked it at home.

                                                          1. re: jfood

                                                            Mr. Q is my most-frequent dining companion (to be funny, I was going to call him TDK, but there is another poster on chowhound--Midwest board-- with that moniker who is not my husband, so, I'll resist making that joke in order to avoid confusion...), so, whenever I imagine these scenarios, I always imagine him as being there. The most likely outcome, if he were there, is that he'd chivalrously suggest we trade plates. If he weren't there, then I do like the take-away idea, because, again, it's nice to think the food won't go to waste.

                                                            The one situation I remember so vividly was long before I even met my husband.

                                                            ~TDQ

                                                        2. re: jfood

                                                          jfood

                                                          Such a proposal may work in North America where taking food away from a restaurant is culturally acceptable. Not an option for we Europeans where,if we made such a suggestion,somewhere other than Pizza Hut, would get some very strange and quizzical looks from the resto staff.

                                                          1. re: Harters

                                                            Thanks H. If you have read some of jfood's post he sides with the europeans on this one. he never does a take away (european) or to-go (US).

                                                            1. re: jfood

                                                              jfood never does to-go? Or, jfood never does a doggie bag (for leftovers)?

                                                              Different things, right?

                                                              ~TDQ

                                                              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                Nope, same, never does it. no doggie bag. I hate him for that.

                                                                1. re: jfood

                                                                  jfood never brings you his leftovers because a) he think it's poor form, b) he always cleans his plate and there are no leftovers, c) he thinks leftovers are unsanitary (or something along those lines)?

                                                                  For the record, my cat turns her nose up at all people food (and most certainly leftovers, harumph!), except that batch of raw cookies that was queued up waiting for the oven when Ottolenghi was COTM...

                                                                  ~TDQ

                                                                    1. re: jfood

                                                                      Oh dear. Well, I usually get a doggy bag, particularly from any restaurant that serves family style. I hate to say, it, but in those settings, I know when I order that I'll probably take food home because, in order to have sufficient variety at the meal, I'll have to order more food than we can eat in a sitting. I guess I'm just too cheap to leave so many leftovers knowing they will throw them out. Plus, I genuinely enjoy them the next day!

                                                                      That's not to say I'm going to get a doggy bag in every situation (certainly not at a business dinner, for instance), but, when it's just my sweetie and me and it's a casual setting, yep, I'm going to get a doggy bag if there's a significant amount of food leftover so that the food isn't wasted.

                                                                      ~TDQ

                                                    3. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                      Hey, TDQ! Happy NY. My etiquette comment was based upon the "white tablecloth rule." I see nothing wrong with sending it back with the expectation that I'd be paying for two dishes. Totally agree with you. PS: Would you take a picture of the offending dish??? :)

                                                      1. re: c oliver

                                                        HA! I suppose it would really depend on when I realized that there was something "wrong" with the dish.

                                                        ~TDQ

                                                    4. Your friend was wrong. If you eat at an Indian or Thai place, you can guess that many of the dishes will have coconut in them. If you don't like an ingredient, let the staff know--they are not mind readers. Your ill-intentioned friend, the apparent "food snob" he believed himself to be, should know well enough that if something is abhorred it should be mentioned. Places don't list the type of oil they cook in, so if one doesn't like/can't eat a certain oil, it should be mentioned.

                                                      It's not a tablecloth vs none rule. For awhile I didn't like coconut milk except in sweet things, until it was actually prepared well in a savoury dish.

                                                      I agree with a previous poster--I would never go out to eat with this friend again. He appears to be the type who might be offended by a cake because it had eggs in it and it wasn't specifically listed on the menu that the cake included eggs.

                                                      1. it's not possible for a restaurant to list EVERY ingredient - it's not a packet you buy at the supermarket.

                                                        If you don't like something you need to say upfront. I don't eat any meat from pigs and you can be sure I ask whether the meat is minced pork, if the soup has a ham bone, or if the salad comes with bacon bits. If I don't ask the onus is on me NOT to complain and pay for a switch.

                                                        1. Reminds Jfood of the scene in Steve Martin's The Jerk.

                                                          He ordered Escargot and when the dish arrived he was appalled that the restaurant served him snails.

                                                          1 Reply
                                                          1. re: jfood

                                                            Exactly. As others have stated, it would probably be best to find another friend to dine with.
                                                            I would never accompany a picky eater to an ethnic restaurant (and I generally avoid dining with picky eaters at all when I have a choice in the matter). Dining with anyone who has to know _every_ single ingredient in a dish (especially in those ethnic restaurant situations) can be a cringeworthy experience.

                                                          2. i think that a menu is one conversation the diner has with the restaurant before ordering. it's useful to get the jist of what is offered, but every single ingredient will not be disclosed-- and if there are any special issues, then that is where the server's skills are called upon. *tell* the server if the inclusion of any relatively common ingredient is unacceptable to your palate. the allergen issue (which i agree is a completely different subject) should also be part of the conversation with the server. i agree that the op's friend was wrong to send back a well-prepared dish, and commend the op for switching the dishes as a solution.

                                                            i want to know if the fussy person tasted/tried the dish which contained the "reviled" coconut milk at all-- perhaps, like Caralien's post illustrates above, he could have learned that a formerly disliked ingredient can be prepared in a delicious way he enjoys. i understand there are preferences but folks who are gratuitously fussy end up looking like five year olds sometimes when they don't disclose a long list of "reviled" foods, then they are shocked at a mushroom accompaniment to game, tomatoes in a sauce, or a seasonal vegetable garnish on their plate. really, the restaurant can't guess that the ingredient everyone else finds delicious is unpalatable to you. please tell them before the food is ordered.

                                                            1. I have a co-worker who is fussy as hell, never seen anything like it, she picks peas out of dishes, sneers at most everything. So when I go to dinner with her I say Sharon please ask what's in the dish BEFORE you order cos I cannot abide your facial expressions when you get unannounced peas or whatever today's problem is. I do this tongue in cheek, she gets it, she quizzes server to the ends of the earth or orders what she has had and managed to eat without a fuss before.
                                                              problem solved. I have threatened her with no more outings unless she does this.

                                                              1 Reply
                                                              1. re: smartie

                                                                Now if the rest of the world would just do what you do. You dealt with it in a direct way and got the desired result. Yay, you.

                                                              2. I do this with one ingredient. Pork. If a dish has pork in it (usually bacon is the offender, most other pork menus warn you about). I order something else, because I don't just want them to pick out the bacon, and send it back. My wish and desire for all menus is please, please, please, describe your dishes as throughly as possible.

                                                                Now, I take it upon myself to know which cuisines have it running rampant. (I always ask and ask again in Italian restaurants). But it's enough of a big deal to me that yes, I send it back. So I understand your friend completely, because, poor etiquette or not, I will not eat pork. But I do think that he should take it upon himself to familiarize himself with cultures that use a lot of it.

                                                                1. If I am served something I don't like at a restaurant, I usually don't make a fuss but I have never NOT been asked by the waitstaff if I wanted something else, more to my liking. Maybe I have just been lucky?

                                                                  1. No, he wasn't right. His bad for not inquiring about the dreaded coconut when ordering. Menu item descriptions are marketing material, not contract language.

                                                                    On a more petty note, it really irritates me when people won't even *try* things they profess to hate. Note that I am not talking about allergies. I give my kids constant grief about it and I would it hard to dine with the coconut-hatin' friend.

                                                                    2 Replies
                                                                    1. re: tcamp

                                                                      In the case of kids who say "I don't like it" when they've never tasted it, sure. But you cannot and should not assume that someone who professes to hate a certain food has never tried it...often the dislike is quite well-founded.

                                                                      Growing up my sisters and I were always allowed one food that we didn't have to eat. Period. The only restriction is that we were not allowed to announce that we had changed our one food just as we sat down to dinner....to avoid having a food of the day we didn't like. But we were allowed to change from time to time as long as we gave advance warning. That seemed to work pretty well...

                                                                      1. re: janetofreno

                                                                        Yeah, I know. That is why I inserted the "petty note" caveat. However, I know plenty of folks who haven't really given a hated food a fair shake; they just don't like it no matter what. There are a few things I don't like but I do always try to take just a teeny bite to see if circumstances have changed.

                                                                    2. I really dislike onions. If I'm unfamiliar with a restaurant dish and there isn't a good description on the menu, I will ask the waiter if there are a lot of onions, how they are cooked, or if they can be left out.

                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                      1. re: Boychucker

                                                                        I'm with you when it comes to onions. I am okay with them in a sauce/soup but get really annoyed when I order a pizza with all the toppings, sauces and cheeses listed except the raw onion on the pizza. In most cases I will ask just to be sure, but in that case I am not going to assume that onions might be included if a restaurant has taken the time to detail every other ingredient.

                                                                      2. My husband is picky about certain Indian dishes. For example, he thinks that bengan bhartha should have yogurt in it. Period. If it doesn't have yogurt, he's not happy. OTOH, he realizes that not all restaurant chefs seem to join him in this opinion...so he always asks. If there is no yogurt, he nicely asks if they can bring him a side dish of plain yogurt...they usually are fine with that. Of course, its a lot easier to add your own ingredient than to remove it...

                                                                        Its also true that asking can sometimes backfire as well. For example, I don't eat bananas. Not an allergy, I just don't like them...enough that I won't eat a dish that contains them. And they have this sneaky way of getting into deserts. So if I'm not sure, I ask. But I have a friend who says that the first time she met me she was really turned off by the fact that I interrogated a waiter about which deserts contained bananas (we were joint guests at a group dinner). She felt I should have just taken my chances. I guess sometimes you can't win :-)

                                                                        1. No, he wouldn't have been right to send it back. (It sounds like he didn't in the end, and you all compromised on the solution?) I've ordered dishes after asking questions and still found I just didn't like the dish. I've not yet sent something back in this situation. Usually, I will share, or reorder and make conversation while my dining companions eat slowly. It usually works out, but yes, is a bit awkward. (Good reason to order appetizers before entrees!) It doesn't happen often, gladly.

                                                                          1. <...if there is a particular ingredient that he simply can't eat, he should always ask whether the dish contains that ingredient, much as one with a peanut allergy would ask, for instance, about the presence of peanuts.>

                                                                            In principle, this is correct. In practice, it doesn't always work. I think the majority of responses here are right: no, it is not good restaurant etiquette to send a dish back because it contains an ingredient you don't like. But in my experience, it's sometimes impossible to predict whether one of those ingredients might appear before you.

                                                                            I don't eat meat, so obviously, I don't order things that seem like they might have meat in them. But! Once, in Budapest, I ordered noodles with cottage cheese and was served noodles with cottage cheese...and bacon. A week later, in Vienna, I ordered cream of broccoli soup and was served cream of broccoli soup...with bacon. I said nothing either time and just ate around the bacon, because a) my German is terrible and my Hungarian is worse, and b) I am a wuss. But if I were more multi-lingual, and braver, I would've sent both dishes back. I should not be compelled to deal with the bacon that dare not speak its name.

                                                                            5 Replies
                                                                            1. re: small h

                                                                              I get so irritated about sneaky bacon. I wish people would always put that on the menu, because it shows up in places I would never think of.

                                                                              1. re: GirlyQ

                                                                                I'm not a person who thinks bacon makes everything better, so I have to agree. I find that bacon tends to overpower a lot of dishes, so if you're going to put it in mac & cheese or creamed spinach, it is really something that I'd like to know.

                                                                                1. re: queencru

                                                                                  I'm Jewish, and I still feel bad about sending it back. But yeah, it changes a dish so much, for good or for ill, that I feel it should be listed on a description. But I'm sure that's mostly my desire to know.

                                                                              2. re: small h

                                                                                This is a pet peeve of mine, not only because I don't eat pork, but because the flavor of bacon is so dominant. IMHO, if a dish contains bacon and there is a description on the menu, absolutely the description should mention bacon. I grew up in central Kentucky, land of bacon in oh, just about anything, so perhaps I'm more annoyed than many.

                                                                                1. re: amyzan

                                                                                  Manhattan restaurants have been infested with pork belly and lardo for a couple of years now, and I cannot wait for this little fad to run its course. You can get a bacon martini - which is at least CALLED a bacon martini, so you know what you're in for. Stealth bacon sucks.

                                                                              3. Nothing wrong with asking POLITELY if item can be exchanged for another, just dont demand it. Most restaurants will be more than happy to exchange as long as they are not being told to.

                                                                                1. Thank you for the guidance. My friend and I are still at ethical loggerheads as we watch your replies come in. In spite of the overwhelming sentiment against sending the coconut laden curry back, he is unconvinced. He claims that I should have mentioned two key facts in my original post. First, that the coconut was not merely coconut flakes but coconut MILK, apparently, a stronger iteration of coconut, making the mention of it in the menu essential. Second, he asserts that the dish in question was not part of a separate Southern Indian section on the menu. Any additional thoughts would be much appreciated.

                                                                                  12 Replies
                                                                                  1. re: AaMo

                                                                                    I wish people would take some responsibility for their dislikes. If you don't like raw onions on your salad and ask for a mixed salad why not just ask the server if the salad comes with raw onions please leave them off mine. If the minestrone has carrots and you hate carrots then order something else but please ask first.

                                                                                    A restaurant is a business just like the one you are in. Why should they trash food because you didn't think to ask a question. You also put the kitchen into difficulties while they fire up a new order and everybody else in the restaurant is put out. Unless something is wrong with the meal such as tough, overcooked, undercooked, cold when it should be hot, gone off or sour it is their interpretation of food and I believe if you order it it becomes your problem if you don't like their recipe. Anyone who is nervous of trying new things should maybe stick to dishes they know they will eat without being an annoyance to themselves and other dinner guests including others at their table.

                                                                                    Sorry but I don't get it.

                                                                                    1. re: AaMo

                                                                                      Doesn't matter, and if that is the reasoning then he is grasping at straws.

                                                                                      As someone earlier stated so well, the description is just an ovrview not a contract, nor a recipe.

                                                                                      Your friend is still wrong.

                                                                                      1. re: jfood

                                                                                        Still wrong. He's starting to sound petulant.

                                                                                        1. re: Vetter

                                                                                          yes. quite petulant.

                                                                                          otoh lots of fussy eaters do tend to act like 5 year olds. can we get a chorus of: "EEEEwwww. . . you eat COCONUT MILK? YUCKY!!!!"

                                                                                      2. re: AaMo

                                                                                        "he is unconvinced"

                                                                                        Tell him to have a good night's sleep and get over himself.

                                                                                        You asked if it was good etiquette. Most of us have said it wasnt (unless friend was prepared to pay). Is there really any more to be said?

                                                                                        1. re: AaMo

                                                                                          Why do either of those points matter? He was in a restaurant where he knew coconut was a likely ingredient (either as milk or flakes) and he chose not to ask about it.

                                                                                          I dated a guy who had a seafood phobia. I thought it was a mere dislike until I ordered a dish with shrimp on it. I had forgotten it included shrimp (but it was on the menu) and he sulked the entire meal because he was so afraid of the shrimp that he could not bring himself to pick it off. If you hate something so much you can't pick around it or even take a bite of the dish and it's not that uncommon and ingredient in the particular style of cooking, it's your responsibility to ask. It ruined the meal for me and I'm sure this has happened in the past with other people who were clueless about his extreme phobia.

                                                                                          1. re: queencru

                                                                                            queencru I am confused -- YOU ordered the dish with shrimp in it; HE couldn't pick around it? Did you order FOR him? And he SULKED? That would definitely be my last date with THAT guy.

                                                                                            1. re: Cheflambo

                                                                                              We were sharing a large appetizer platter and a main course. I ordered both and he sulked because I did not take care to ensure that the shrimp was removed. I didn't realize it was such an issue because he'd tried shrimp before.

                                                                                          2. re: AaMo

                                                                                            I would be interested to hear your friend enumerate what are the other "key ingredients" which *must* be disclosed under some kind of "strict liability" standard ... coconut milk ... fish sauce? onions? garlic? cloves? bananas? tarragon? nigella? mustard seeds? parsley? cinnamon? whole pepper? bonito flakes? mushrooms? blue cheese?

                                                                                            1. re: AaMo

                                                                                              The problem with that logic is that the restaurants will now start to stop placing the descriptions of the dish on the menu and it will only read

                                                                                              Beef - $35
                                                                                              Fish - $28
                                                                                              Veal - $32
                                                                                              Other - MP

                                                                                              Your friend needs to grow up.

                                                                                              1. re: jfood

                                                                                                I like it when places have "wacky" menu listings which don't really tell you what you're going to eat. As in this one from a Michelin 1 star tasting menu meal about this time last year:

                                                                                                Tamarillo martini fizz
                                                                                                Cod yolk crispies
                                                                                                Egg drop hot & sour soup
                                                                                                Surf & turf
                                                                                                Razor role reversal
                                                                                                Squid ravioli & vodka
                                                                                                Chick o'hake
                                                                                                Hotpot
                                                                                                LA11 venison, orange & clove
                                                                                                Expearamenthol frappe
                                                                                                Sticky tacky pudding
                                                                                                Violets & yuzu.

                                                                                                Probably the best eats we had in 2009 - but I suspect there are few readers who would make out exactly what we did eat.

                                                                                            2. Oh no, I feel more rebukes coming from CHer’s, but I just cannot resist jumping into the fire.

                                                                                              A little while back the same question was asked about returning a craft brewed beer that the person did not like. It blew me away that CHer’s thought it normal to accept and pay for a product they did not like nor that they would use. I had entered the twilight zone so I asked the same question on a professional restaurateur board and it came back 19-1 that returns are the norm if you are not happy with the product.

                                                                                              I agree send it back and get something else, here is a little newsflash, restaurants don’t sell food, anyone can do that, we sell and experience. If you are not happy than you experience is not ideal and we have not done our job.

                                                                                              Interestingly enough I just competed a 7 day trip in the Eastern US that hit two major cities, I was so intrigues about CHer’s responses that I decided to test it, much to the embarrassment of the people I was with. In virtually every eating and drinking establishment I visited I complained about a portion of the meal or beverage just to see what would happen. This was in over 15 different independent places and 2 chains and in each and every case they would have happily replaced my meal. Ironically I ordered a new item at a national chain that the server very candidly told me that more than half the people send it back, so unlike CHer’s, the practice of sending back something you don’t is actually pretty common practice in the restaurant world.

                                                                                              Accepting that a guest does might like your dish and replacing it with one they do is the normal policy of most restaurants, making a guest leave hungry because they don’t like something is simply bad, neigh, very BAD business practice.

                                                                                              To answer the question, yes he was right in sending it back and getting an experience he wanted, we restaurateurs and chefs want you to be adventurous and try new things and to scold you or to force you to eat an item you do not like is ridiculous.

                                                                                              27 Replies
                                                                                              1. re: RetiredChef

                                                                                                RC

                                                                                                You need to separate the absolute right of sending back whatevr you do not like free of charge for a replacement and good business practice.

                                                                                                Noone has the absolute right to try and see if they like before paying, that is part of the social contract of the customer. It is rare that a restaurant will not replace an item not to he satisfaction of the customer, but there is nothing that says they must.

                                                                                                Not sure whether most disagree that it is good business practice on the part of the restaurant and many will agree that if the customer orders something s/he does not like he can ask but not totally expect a free replacement. If not comped then the customer needs to decide if they will return.

                                                                                                1. re: jfood

                                                                                                  We had a group of seven the other night at a pretty high end, innovative Italian place in SF. One of our party is a fellow Chowhound and his 15 y.o. daughter ordered a pasta dish that had shaved tuna heart on it. I can imagine the reaction of said CH if she'd said "ewww, Dad, I don't like it." She ordered it, she ate it and is now bragging to her friends about it :)

                                                                                                2. re: RetiredChef

                                                                                                  you say it's the norm but I think it's more the norm in the USA than across Europe. Having been in the US 5 years, but a visitor many times, and having travelled extensively across Europe and being a native of the UK I would emphatically say that Americans are much fussier eaters than Europeans and more expectant of getting things their way.

                                                                                                  I am still amazed at the number of 'allergies' I have heard about in America and have to say not one of my English friends have ever mentioned nor have I observed allergies across Europe. That is not to say they don't have them but I do believe they are quieter about their likes and dislikes and their food allergies. Maybe Europeans are wrong and Americans right - perhaps you should not pay if you do not like something but to me that's odd.

                                                                                                  1. re: smartie

                                                                                                    Greetings from across the pond, UK native here, and yes I was talking about the peculiarities of the yanks, which I am now one of.

                                                                                                    You comments are well put and I believe very factual, been wondering about the allergy thing myself too, however my aunt in England was born with an allergy to strawberries, but they do seem much more common over here. (My gut says the high intake of processed foods might have something to do with it, but that’s only my gut.)

                                                                                                    Cheers

                                                                                                    1. re: smartie

                                                                                                      I think smartie's right about Americans being more prepared to send back food than Europeans. In the Uk and when travelling in other Euro countries, I've occasionally seen a dish go back because it wasnt cooked right ( a steak over or underdone and the like) but I can't recall ever seeing someone send something back because they didnt like it.

                                                                                                      1. re: Harters

                                                                                                        It's a more pronounced sense of entitlement.... the whole 'have it YOUR way' attitude. Just my personal theory.

                                                                                                    2. re: RetiredChef

                                                                                                      The practice of wasting food because you don't do due diligence is incredibly thoughtless and irresponsible. People are hungry, and that chicken gave its life to wind up in that dish. It's fine to judge a restaurant based on how they respond to this kind of thing but the question was whether the diner should do it. No, he should not. There are times when something really isn't what you expected when you read the menu and you can't eat it but that's different from ordering stuff when you don't know what's in it.

                                                                                                      1. re: bibi rose

                                                                                                        So I invite you out to dinner and take you to a place that serves a cuisine you have never had before – are you going to excuse yourself and refuse to eat before you do you due diligence?

                                                                                                        Most people are not experts on food; I’ve been in the business for over 40 years and still learn stuff every week. The only way you will expand your palate is by taking risks and trying new things and this is the goal of most restaurateurs and chefs, they want you to expand your palate.

                                                                                                        This case is clear the person ordering did not know about Indian food, should he have been sequestered to the corner until he got some sort of basic education in it? You think so, I think not. I welcomed people into my establishments and loved it when they tried new things, some may not like it, but I would never judge them over their unique and individual taste.

                                                                                                        1. re: RetiredChef

                                                                                                          If I go to a restaurant and am not familiar with the cuisine or dishes offered, I ask someone at my table and if they don't know, I ask the server. I go to one Chinese restaurant that offers no descriptions on its menu, so usually I end up asking about the type of sauce and what comes with the dish to decide whether I'll like it.

                                                                                                          1. re: queencru

                                                                                                            totally agree with you QC. Ask. Caveat Emptor.

                                                                                                            1. re: smartie

                                                                                                              It is not caveat emptor, it is a customer having some responsibility.

                                                                                                              If you do not know the difference between manual and automatic transmission, ask before you buy.

                                                                                                          2. re: RetiredChef

                                                                                                            Sorry, Retired Chef, I can't follow your logic at all.

                                                                                                            1. re: bibi rose

                                                                                                              Sorry if I was unclear, let me give a real-life example.

                                                                                                              The other day we went to a local high-end restaurant where a semi-knowledgeable person ordered Branzino Al Finocchio, the description was grilled sea bass with a light lemony cream sauce. When the person’s dish arrived it had an over-powering odor of licorice, while the sauce was light and creamy and had some lemon in it the main component was fennel and that was left off of the menu description.

                                                                                                              The person who ordered this dish finds licorice revolting, what should be done, the menu clearly state Al Finocchio = with fennel. But the English description gave no indication of any fennel in it.

                                                                                                              It seems from you post that you want diners to bone up on the cuisine, maybe learn a little bit of the culinary language before they venture into a different cuisine with which they are not familiar with. I disagree. First of all that’s highly impractical, in this case this person did not know we were going to an Italian restaurant and secondly why should the diner have to do homework before daring to step foot into a restaurant. It is true that if this person knew what Finocchio means they would not have ordered it, but I put the onus on the restaurant to put forth a clear and concise description of main flavor components.

                                                                                                              In this case as in almost every case, the restaurant apologized and the guest got another meal, the experience was saved and the night went off very well.

                                                                                                              What I truly don’t get is why everyone here wants to punish a guest for venturing out of their known comfort zone – that is logic I cannot follow.

                                                                                                              1. re: RetiredChef

                                                                                                                What I truly don’t get is why everyone here wants to punish a guest for venturing out of their known comfort zone – that is logic I cannot follow.
                                                                                                                ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

                                                                                                                It clearly evident form this post and your past posts you believe the customer is always right and should be 100% satisfied with not only their meal, but their experience as well......that's fine, great and I commend you for what works for you....however, there are others who do not believe the customer is always right....if you ordered it, you bought it....and it's not the responsibility of the establishment to cover the cost for someone's desire to experiment food items on their dime.....and last, if the menu item is unfamilar, ask questions about it so you won't be surprised later when it arrives at the table ......

                                                                                                                1. re: fourunder

                                                                                                                  Forunder,

                                                                                                                  You are incorrect.

                                                                                                                  >>>It clearly evident form this post and your past posts you believe the customer is always right

                                                                                                                  I used to teach a seminar (that I developed) for the California Restaurant Association that was titled “The Customer is NOT always right.”

                                                                                                                  I don’t take that stance at all, what I do take is that we are humans and we make mistakes and we should not be so quick to judge someone else. It’s more of humanistic, personal approach to dealing with people rather than beating them over the head because the made a mistake.

                                                                                                                  I just have found that it works better for both parties involved, a win-win rather than the classic lose-lose that people here seem to advocate.

                                                                                                                  >>>if the menu item is unfamilar, ask questions about it so you won't be surprised later when it arrives at the table ......

                                                                                                                  I have stated this, what everyone seems to overlook is that not all customers are savvy about a particular cuisine or know the correct questions to ask.

                                                                                                                  1. re: RetiredChef

                                                                                                                    RC,

                                                                                                                    >>>It clearly evident form this post and your past posts you believe the customer is always right

                                                                                                                    I apologize for the first comment, the incorrect notion you believe the customer is always right.
                                                                                                                    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

                                                                                                                    >>>if the menu item is unfamilar, ask questions about it so you won't be surprised later when it arrives at the table ......

                                                                                                                    How about this.....*How is this dish prepared and what are the ingredients*....It's really not so difficult and the question can be universally asked about any cuisine.
                                                                                                                    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
                                                                                                                    As others have stated....it's not about the act of making a mistake that's the problem...it's about the attitude about how the mistake was made...ignorance is not a defense if you have choices to make and can ask questions to come to an informed decision. Regardless of cuisine, parsley is pretty common as a garnish on plates, If you don't like parlsey, or to use your words, find it revolting, isn't the onus on the customer to announce his desire it be left of the plate explicitly?

                                                                                                                    1. re: fourunder

                                                                                                                      And hopefully a diner's list of hated foods is quite short. And a semi-knowledgeable diner would know that the possibility exists within certain cuisines for certain offensive foods.

                                                                                                                2. re: RetiredChef

                                                                                                                  >>The other day we went to a local high-end restaurant where a semi-knowledgeable person ordered Branzino Al Finocchio, the description was grilled sea bass with a light lemony cream sauce. When the person’s dish arrived it had an over-powering odor of licorice, while the sauce was light and creamy and had some lemon in it the main component was fennel and that was left off of the menu description.

                                                                                                                  The person who ordered this dish finds licorice revolting, what should be done, the menu clearly state Al Finocchio = with fennel. But the English description gave no indication of any fennel in it. >>

                                                                                                                  In my opinion, that is a very serious snafu with the menu. I honestly cannot recall a time when an ingredient important enough to be in the name of the dish was not featured in the description. Thanks to whoever wrote that menu, that fish was wasted.

                                                                                                                  In a case like that, sure, send it back. But that should not be a common scenario at all.

                                                                                                                  1. re: RetiredChef

                                                                                                                    Google tells me that "al Finocchio" is with fennel. Your friend should have eaten what he was served.

                                                                                                                    1. re: KTinNYC

                                                                                                                      I'm not with you on this one, KT. I wouldn't expect everyone to know that finocchio is fennel. Since I LOVE fennel, I DO know this. But I'd have sent that one back if I didn't like it, I'm thinking. I think that description on the menu was totally inadequate.

                                                                                                                      1. re: c oliver

                                                                                                                        Anybody who goes to a "high-end" Italian restaurant should be conversant with the cuisine. Or else ask what's in the dish. I'm reminded of the time I was in a restaurant in Venice and the lady off the cruise ship at the next table flipped out because the fish was served with the head on. In this case, the incredibly gracious waiter, who probably dealt with stupid tourists on a regular basis, took it back to the kitchen without question.

                                                                                                                        1. re: KTinNYC

                                                                                                                          Ah, just reread and saw "semi-knowledgeable." Please allow me to do 180 degrees :)

                                                                                                                          1. re: c oliver

                                                                                                                            Semi-knowledgeable YES

                                                                                                                            Upper class Japanese woman, ESL, traveled Asia, North and South America extensively, smart educated, speaks and read English fluently, is knowledgeable about those cuisines, not about Italian.

                                                                                                                            I knew it contained fennel but did not know she did not like fennel, English description which she read contained no mention of it.

                                                                                                                            1. re: RetiredChef

                                                                                                                              Should you ever entertain another guest.....it may be prudent for you to ask your guests if there is anything they do not like with regards to food items or cuisine. This way you and your guest won't have any issues when the food arrives at the table.

                                                                                                                              1. re: fourunder

                                                                                                                                I entertain all the time, both at home, on the town and abroad. I have never seen the need to mollycoddle an adult and supervise them in their dining choices. When incidents like these occur, and they do albeit rarely, the restaurant has never once balked at taking a dish back and preparing another that is to the guests liking.

                                                                                                                                Luckily restaurants are usually run by professionals and they understand the intricacies of customer relations and good business practices so there is never a problem in getting a win – win solution for all involved in the real world.

                                                                                                                                1. re: RetiredChef

                                                                                                                                  RC, you keep talking about these win - win, lose/lose/lose situations and scenarios. You also mention you developed and taught a course as a seminar for The California Restaurant Association......

                                                                                                                                  >>>>I used to teach a seminar (that I developed) for the California Restaurant Association that was titled “The Customer is NOT always right.”

                                                                                                                                  Is is possible for you to direct us all to this reference you have made and boasted about for a read, so we can all understand your position better as it relates to this topic, and we can all win and put this topic to rest?

                                                                                                            2. No way. He was at an Indian restaurant. The burden was on him to clarify if the of the major elements of that region's cuisine(s) was being used in the dish.

                                                                                                              I think it's totally akin to a vegan at a Vietnamese restaurant. The fish sauce isn't going to be listed, nor should it be.

                                                                                                              7 Replies
                                                                                                              1. re: Vetter

                                                                                                                So you take a friend out to an Indian restaurant as a surprise - they have never eaten that food so they have no idea what the major ingredients are, should they excuse themselves to the nearest internet café to bone up on the cuisine? Or is the diner supposed to present a pre-printed card with a list of ingredients that he objects to?

                                                                                                                In this case you would be totally happy with your friend sitting there not eating?

                                                                                                                As the owner of the restaurant would you be happy that a person ordered something, detested it and therefore left your place hungry and upset?

                                                                                                                As being the person who ordered it would you be happy paying for meal that you could not eat?

                                                                                                                Does not everyone see that this is a LOSE/LOSE/LOSE all the way round. No-one wins if he keeps the meal and everyone loses.

                                                                                                                As I said before if you go to a professional forum that caters to restaurateurs you will see the vast majority 95%+ want to replace that food so that you can have an optimal dining experience. That is a win/win/win all the way round.

                                                                                                                1. re: RetiredChef

                                                                                                                  A) I detest mushrooms. I won't eat a dish if they're in it. I ALWAYS ask if there are mushrooms in something I'm unfamiliar with. It's my responsibility.

                                                                                                                  B) What's your professional restaurant forum?

                                                                                                                  1. re: RetiredChef

                                                                                                                    hold on, there's nothing to stop him ordering something else altogether and paying for both.

                                                                                                                    1. re: RetiredChef

                                                                                                                      This happened to me a few years ago. A friend took a few of us to a Pakistani restaurant and most of us were not really familiar with the cuisine. I asked the friend for his recommendations and went with one of them, while others asked the server for a description if the friend was not too sure. It was really not that challenging and all of us ended up enjoying our dishes immensely.

                                                                                                                      1. re: queencru

                                                                                                                        agree. it's just not that difficult. if a person has strong preferences or aversions, s/he can glance over the menu descriptions and then query the server further about the preparation(s) that interest her/him.

                                                                                                                      2. re: RetiredChef

                                                                                                                        Howard Hughes, Albert Einstein and Pablo Picasso were eating lunch. When the bill came, Howard told everyone that he never pays for anythink, Einstein told the group he was so forgetful that he left his wallet at home. Pablo said, "No Problem." He took the check, scribbled his name on it and handed it to the owner who gladly accepted a Picasso autograph for the meal. So who paid for it?

                                                                                                                        The point is someone paid for the meal. You may only be the chef, but the pwner paid for the meal that was prepared using the ingredients and was not compensated.

                                                                                                                        1. re: RetiredChef

                                                                                                                          Been there...done that exact situation and jfood was the "friend." What did he do...he used his brain and mouth in unison and asked questions, mentioned what he did not like and then the group ordered.

                                                                                                                          If you sit in silence and the first words out of your mouth are, "I don;t like it." or "I did not know..." well too bad.

                                                                                                                      3. If you order a cheeseburger, the expectation is no coconut. But if you're in an ethnic restaurant, it's your responsibility to educate yourself a little about what's coming out of the kitchen. If you want a specific preparation, you should ask. I was craving shad roe and drove 60 miles into Boston to have it. My assumption (shame on me) was that it was going to be served with bacon and butter. It was served blanketed under a tomato sauce. Did I love it? No. A lesson learned, a meal eaten, a bill paid.

                                                                                                                        1. I've got a huge aversion to eggs in their natural format. (in cakes or custard are fine, as are most white salad dressings, but mayo is acceptable only under very limited rules and if it's in a sandwich) We're talking bite into an airport tuna salad sandwich, look down and discover bits of hard boiled egg and start uncortrollably gagging level of aversion.

                                                                                                                          It's not a rational thing, and I'm not self-centered enough to expect the world to revolve around my food neuroses, so I don't expect a restaurant to cater to me in that specific area. But it sure is nice when I find a place that is willing to work with me when I discover some renegade unadvertised egg, and I will give them business back many times over if they do come me that first evil unadvertised egg intrusion.

                                                                                                                          1. The responsibility is with the customer to know what is in the dish. If there are allergies or specific aversions such as coconut milk then something should have been said before placing the order. The only time a dish should be sent back is over cooked or under cooked meat and poultry or burnt or something that should not have been served. If the waiter was told before hand to leave out an ingredient then that justifies another dish.

                                                                                                                            Taking the perspective of the owner of the establishment this impacts the timing of the kitchen and cost of another meal. If dishes are sent back all the time this makes it impossible for the owner to make a profit.

                                                                                                                            With respect to a to go bag and ordering something else the expectation is that it will be consumed at home and should be paid for.

                                                                                                                              1. This sounds like the water cup discussion.

                                                                                                                                1. I think I'll do a summary of all our comments.

                                                                                                                                  If you are not sure of the cuisine - please ask for explanations
                                                                                                                                  If you are not sure of all the ingredients - ditto
                                                                                                                                  If you are fussy and won't eat fennel, coconut, peas, liquor, bacon, shellfish - ditto
                                                                                                                                  If you are allergic to nuts, shellfish, dairy, wheat or anything else TELL the restaurant. If they cannot promise a nut free environment area in the kitchen don't risk it.
                                                                                                                                  If you are a picky eater stick with what you know so as not to ruin everyone else's outing.

                                                                                                                                  If you want to try new cuisines, ingredients, concoctions, fusions et al then be prepared not to like the dish but YOU PAY.

                                                                                                                                  If something is wrong with the food, too cold, burnt, over/undercooked, wrong ingredients, sour, off, wrong item RESTAURANT PAYS/SWITCHES at THEIR cost.

                                                                                                                                  Go out, have fun, try new things at your risk and expense, communicate with the server or even the chef if it's very important to you, but please less fussiness. Just cos the dish is not how you or mamma makes it doesn't make it wrong.

                                                                                                                                  2 Replies
                                                                                                                                    1. We've had to remove a number of contentious responses from this thread, and the discussion as a whole is increasingly unfriendly. We're going to lock this topic now.