HOME > Chowhound > Not About Food >


etiquette for being charged for wrong item ordered

We were in a Thai restaurant recently. The waiter delivered the wrong appetizer. He later came back with the correct appetizer, but my dining partner had already started eating the app we didnt order. He left the correct dish on the table, but then later charged us for both.
What's the correct restaurant etiquette for charging patrons for wrong dishes delivered even though they started eating them upon delivery?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. The waiter should have removed the incorrect appetizer and not charged for it. You might have had to pass him / ask him to remove the unasked for appetizer.

    1. "excuse me, but there is an error on our check. we did not order *item x,* we ordered *item y,* but *item x* was delivered to our table by accident. now it seems that we've been charged for this item which we did not order. may we please have this corrected, and get a copy of our correct tab for our records?"

      no hostility or attitude needs to be conveyed to the server. s/he may have accidentally plugged in the wrong app to the computer when starting your tab, which is why the dish was made and delivered to your table. people make mistakes, it happens. when the server realizes the mistake, it can be immediately corrected and apologized for, and you *still* get to eat the mistake app--free bonus. in the event that the server gives you any attitude, the same speech can be repeated to the manager, and again everything will likely be corrected asap, including disciplinary action toward the server, if s/he is pulling any sort of check-jacking scam. in any event, the patron will not pay for the mistake, so there is no reason to get upset or argumentative. it isn't the patron's fault, whether the un-ordered item was consumed or not.

      7 Replies
      1. re: soupkitten


        While I generally agree with what you say, the difference here is that rms9004's dining companion started to eat the appetizer knowing that it was the wrong one.

        If you eat something, even if you did not order it, I think part of the onus is on you to pay for it.

        Your approach above would work beautifully if the person did not already start eating the incorrectly ordered appetizer.

        If you are demanding a refund from the restaurant, then the obvious question has to be asked: "Why did you eat the incorrect appetizer?"

        1. re: ipsedixit

          ipsedixit's right- you eat it, you pay for it.

          Anybody who's ever worked in a restaurant is familiar with the old "this nearly-finished item was not what we ordered/bad tasting- I'd like a replacement, please, with something more expensive, for no added charge."

          1. re: EWSflash

            Sorry, in this circumstance I can't agree with you. It's one thing to order something as obvious (to an American) as a cheeseburger, get a plate of fish 'n chips instead, eat it and then try not to pay for it. But in an ethnic restaurant, a diner may order Miang Kum and receive Mee -grob and being unfamiliar with regional styles and different chef's approaches, may not know it's not what they ordered. In that case the responsibility lies squarely on the (figurative) shoulders of the restaurant, not the diner.

            1. re: BobB

              Jfood would fall into that camp of not knowing with many cuisines.

              But in your example, who told the patron that they received Mee-grob?

              Jfood has ordered Moo Shu Pork/chicken in various areas of US and the range is quite varied. He would not know if it was wrong or just a regional variation.

              1. re: jfood

                From the OP's description, it sounds like it was only when the waiter returned with the correct appetizer that the diner realized he had starting eating something he didn't order. That's the waiter's fault, not the diner's.

                1. re: BobB

                  That scenario jfood agrees with.

                  But for that to occur, the waiter would have to have noticed the wrong dish, had not told the patrons it was the wrong dish and just showed up a few minutes later with the correct dish. If those are the facts, no pay.

          2. re: ipsedixit

            i do hear what you are saying: "you eat it/break it, you buy it." it's so nice to hear from more than one person on this thread! i would find an offer to pay to be a very nice (unnecessary) gesture on the part of a customer who ate and enjoyed something that was delivered to their table in error. and i'd graciously refuse, and offer the unordered item for them to enjoy, with the complements of the establishment.

            i've been in hospitality for a long time, and for me, customers should never, ever pay for unordered items. when an unordered item hits the diner's table, that item is *theirs,* and if the diner(s) did not order it, it certainly should not be on the check, nor paid for by them.

            think about it: in a normal restaurant scenario, customers arrive and are seated at the table. they peruse the menu and place their order. barring any mishap, all of the items the diners ordered will arrive at their table in proper sequence and be enjoyed, followed by the check with the correct items listed, and the diners will pay for for prix fixe or a la carte menu items, beverages, etc. . . *but* in the course of the meal, the server may (very commonly) bring items that were not ordered by the diners. basket of tortilla chips&salsa/bread basket, or other complementary starter-- not paid for. unordered amuse bouche-- not paid for. same for a small palate cleanser between courses. other complementary items may be provided at various restaurants that can and do range "from soup to nuts!" when i worked as a bartender, we'd occasionally have mistake pours. we could pour the item down the drain, certainly-- but in many instances, myself or another person would look around and make the call to instead serve the beverage as a complimentary item to a regular customer. this was a nice, hospitable gesture which the regulars appreciated, and served the dual purpose of occasionally letting folks try a microbrew or glass of wine that was new to them, which they would then subsequently order and enjoy on occasion. if an item is served at the table/bar seat, the diner can certainly accept that the item is theirs to eat/drink, and if they did not order it, they can reasonably understand it to be a complementary item provided by the establishment. even the complementary dessert item with birthday candle (never ordered by the customer, always a hospitable gesture on the part of the restaurant) is an example of this. from my pov: wrong item delivered to table, well, of course the diners would/should eat it-- it's at their table/bar seat, after all--and after it's served, we certainly can't take it back and serve it to anyone else! in any event it isn't the diners' fault, & they should not have to pay for a mistake on the restaurants' part. to comp the mistake item, whether or not it is eaten, is the only hospitable thing for the restaurant to do. to actually charge for the mistake item seems. . . so. . . very, *very* wrong. to me.

        2. Were both appetizers finished?

          The gracious thing for the customer to do is pay for food that's consumed, even though some of the food consumed wasn't ordered.

          The server or manager who wants to adhere to what etiquette dictates, that is to exceed the customer's graciousness; would realize that it was *their* bumble that was really a breach of etiquette anyway, in the first place, and that their customer, regardless of having sampled the dish, should not be responsible for the dish's cost.

          However, when the server placed the first appetizer on your table, it became unsuitable for sale to someone else. So there's a line of thinking that basically says there's no harm in eating the incorrect app, yet still demanding that it be taken off of the check. The food would've gone in the garbage and that does no one any good.

          All that being said, I'll go ahead and encourage the OP, by all means, *especially* if you didn't finish the appetizer that was brought incorrectly, you should bring it to the attention of your server that you were charged for the restaurant's mistake. If the server doesn't take it off your check, any manager worth his/her salt will.

          Now, there's no etiquette that especially applies to a situation like this. Just adhere to the golden rule and all other conventions and niceties that we use in any "business" situation (this involves money, so therefore it's business), treat those you're speaking to with respect, but should the people you're dealing with demonstrate that their manners are poor, keep up your graciousness; two wrongs don't make a right.

          1. If your dining partner ate it knowing it was the wrong dish, then he should have paid for it.

            After all, why did your dining partner start eating the appetizer if he knew it was the incorrect one?

            Of course, the gracious thing would've been for the restaurant to comp it, but seeing how your dining partner had started into the dish after noting the error I don't see how the restaurant was necessarily to blame for charging you both dishes.

            1. Of course you should not have been charged. The waiter should have left the incorrect dish on your table for you to enjoy - they cannot resell it. In a more expensive restaurant, the waiter should deliver the correct menu item and not charge for that EITHER. But in an inexpensive Thai place it is OK for them to charge you for the item you actually ordered.

              No, it does not matter that you ate the dish that was delivered in error.

              4 Replies
              1. re: Kater

                I agree. We were at a fairly upscale Indian restaurant in Old City, Philly this past spring. Not only did I tear my (favorte; and I don't have many nice clothes, as I'm a SAHM who lives in tee shirts ;-) linen slacks getting into the booth (there was a jagged edge of metal that had popped up, and I caught it as I slid across; my leg bled, too)....they brought us the wrong appetizer, initially. We were entertaining my daughter and her boyfriend (both were nervous; first meeting with the parents ) and it was dark and noisy and so several of us reached for the food (since we'd never had anything like this, before, we didn't recognize that the item was wrong, at first glance) and popped it in our mouths, before noticing.

                Our entire meal cost was cut in half by the restaurant, as a "thank you" and without any demands on our part.

                That's the way to run a classy restaurant!

                  1. re: phofiend

                    jfood had the same questio. According to google...stay at home mom

                1. I think it depends on the situation. I think there are a few situations where you might not know you got the wrong appetizer until you started to eat it- e.g. something like dumplings or spring rolls where there may be vegetarian/meat options. Presumably in that case you wouldn't need to take more than a bite or two before realizing you got the wrong dish.

                  However, if it's a situation where it's obvious it's the wrong app- like you ordered spring rolls and got dumplings, I am not sure you should expect to get both apps for free when it was clear from the start that one appetizer was wrong and a significant amount of the app was eaten before the mistake was reported.

                  1. Devil in the details.

                    When the incorrect dish was delivered it should have been mentioned and then removed from the table. It appears that after this was mentioned and the server went and then returned with the correct dish, but your companion had already started to eat the incorrect dish. In that case, jfood would say there was acceptance of the wrong dish and therefore you need to pay for both. In rare occurances the server would state that you can keep and eat the wromg dish as well, but without this statement, you ate it, you paid for it.

                    4 Replies
                      1. re: Karl S

                        Agreed, but perhaps I'm naive, I just assumed that the patron did not know it was the wrong dish until a bite was taken. I think the OP needs to divulge that info before we can comment on the etiquette of either the diner or the establishment.

                        1. re: 16crab

                          Let's take that question:

                          1 - Knew it was wrong dish without a bite - "Excuse me server, this is not our dish, please take away." Patron - No Pay
                          2 - Did not know dish was wrong dish and took a bite - "Excuse me server, this is not our dish, please take away." Patron - No Pay

                          If the server in OP example did not say anything but just brought over another dish AND the patrons were, like jfood, unaware of the nuances of Thai dishes, probably no pay as well in that case. But, as you said, the devil is in the details.

                          1. re: jfood

                            I had scenario 2 happen to me. I ordered creme brulee; what arrived didn't LOOK like creme brulee, but it was a sort of custardy thing, so I figured it was just their take on it. One bite and I realized that it was instead a lime tart. Whoa was *that* a surprise bite. I immediately told them it wasn't what I ordered. I did not pay (though I did feel a little silly having bitten into something that perhaps after the fact clearly wasn't what I ordered)

                    1. I liken this to a company sending me an unsolicited product. If a server puts an item down and walks away, it's no longer available for consumption for anyone else. I didn't order it or ask for it. You left it and the only alternative (health codes) is to throw it in the trash. Common sense would dictate that you don't put the onus back on the customer for the reastaurant's mistake. It's called the cost of doing business and isn't worth the risk of damaging their reputation.

                      1. rms9004 doesn't specify the length of time between the wrong app being dropped off and the right one arriving, but if it was, say, 10 or 15 minutes, then I think the wrong app should have been removed from the bill even though it was eaten. I've been in a similar situation in a restaurant. If the server is busy or just incompetent, you may not see them for long periods of time. If you sit there and eat nothing, you never know when you're going to see the server again, and after that, how long it will take to get what you actually ordered. I ended up just giving up and eating the wrong thing, which worked out because I liked it and because the server had totally blown it, even when they came back they were totally unaware that anything was wrong. I just left it be, but at that point if I had piped up it would have been another 5-10 minutes before the right dish arrived, at which point my dining companions would have been finished with theirs for 30 minutes already.

                        1. I just heard a doozy of a story in this vein. My husband was on a business trip, and went out to a family-style dinner with a group. A communal dessert was placed on the table at the end of the meal. One diner realized that the dessert had not been ordered, he told everyone else at the table, and they (excluding my husband) immediately began digging in. After it was half-finished, they called the waiter over, told him that they never ordered the dessert, and that it shouldn't be billed to them. The waiter realized he had delivered the dessert to the wrong table, but asked the party to pay for it because otherwise, the cost would be taken out of his paycheck. They argued back and forth about it, and it got quite heated and embarassing. The party ultimately did not pay for the dessert.

                          17 Replies
                          1. re: dump123456789

                            Why was it embarrassing? From your account, I read that the diners at the table knew exactly what their mission was. To eat a desert without any intention of paying for it.

                            If I were your husband, I would reconsider doing business with such a petty and dishonest group.

                            1. re: fourunder

                              All that you say is true, but even if no one had eaten the dessert, it still would not have been delivered to the correct table (I hope), and the waiter still would've had to pay for it.

                              1. re: small h

                                Where I come from, staff cannot be held accountable for mistakes, breakage or shortages, and expected to make up for the costs or money........however, NJ is employment at will, and the staff can be fired at any time.

                                1. re: fourunder

                                  But it makes no difference whether the diners at the "wrong" table eat the dessert or not. In the example dump123456789 cites, the waiter is liable, whether they do or they don't. In your case, the waiter is NOT liable, whether they do or they don't.

                                  I agree that it is "petty and dishonest" to eat the dessert, but it makes no difference to the waiter one way or the other.

                                2. re: small h

                                  "but even if no one had eaten the dessert, it still would not have been delivered to the correct table (I hope)"

                                  You're kidding, right? If the waiter set it on the table, walked away, and was immediately called back to the table and told it was not their dessert, then that dessert could not be taken from the wrong table and brought to the correct table? Why, because somebody looked at it?

                                  1. re: lisavf

                                    Perhaps I'm overly finicky, but I would not want to be served a dish that had made the rounds of the dining room. I want one that goes directly from the kitchen to me. If a table finishes their dinner without eating anything from their breadbasket, should that breadbasket be served to someone else?

                                    1. re: small h

                                      re the breadbasket, not if it sat there the whole meal, no. But if it was placed on the table and the patrons asked for it to be taken away because they didn't want bread, then yes, I would think it could be served to someone else. I guess I'm not that finicky.

                                      1. re: lisavf

                                        Huh. So you've just been seated at a restaurant table. One table over, the server delivers a breadbasket. The patrons there ask that the bread be removed - they're all on low-carb diets or whatever. The server shrugs, picks up the breadbasket and puts it on your table. This would be ok?

                                        I realize there's no health-related reason for it NOT to be ok. But there is an etiquette reason, I think.

                                        1. re: small h

                                          Absolutely - why on earth not? It hasn't been touched, sneezed at, or in any way rendered less than pristine. How paranoid can one get?

                                          EDIT: Ok, you edited your post to add that last line so I will too. If there is an etiquette issue here, I think it would be appropriate for the waiter to bring the breadbasket back to the kitchen, then turn around and bring it out to your table. Still perfectly healthy and no perception of being served someone's rejects.

                                          1. re: BobB

                                            <How paranoid can one get?>

                                            I guess I'll let you know when I get there. But hey, I do run down to check the mail while the oven is on, so I'm not consistent in my paranoia, obviously.

                                            1. re: BobB

                                              <I think it would be appropriate for the waiter to bring the breadbasket back to the kitchen, then turn around and bring it out to your table.>

                                              This, perversely, would be fine by me.

                                              1. re: small h

                                                OK, we agree on that. But here's another wrinkle: the example that started this subthread was of an instance where a server had mistakenly brought a dessert to the wrong table, and you objected to the idea that the server could then pick the (untouched) dessert up and bring it to the correct table.

                                                To me that is different, in etiquette terms, from the bread example we just discussed. Why? Because the item in question was not intended for Table A, rejected, and then brought to Table B. Rather, it was intended for Table A, brought in error to Table B, then correctly transferred to Table A.

                                                To give it an even more specific flavor, suppose Table A ordered a birthday cake for one of their number to be brought out at the end of the meal. The server brings it out and with much fanfare presents it to the adjacent Table B, where they say, "hey, no one here's having a birthday!" The server then realizes the error and moves it three feet over to Table A, where everyone has a good laugh and the birthday girl cuts the cake.

                                                Problem? I don't see one.

                                                1. re: BobB

                                                  Ooh, the birthday cake is good example. But in all likelihood, it would never hit the table. And even if it did, seeing as the wrong table would reject it immediately, the cake would never be left unattended by the waiter. So it would be fine to move it over to the right table.

                                                  The misdirected dessert WAS left unattended, and for long enough that people started eating it. If I got a dessert that had been parked in front of someone else for any length of time, I would be concerned that it may have been poked or coughed on or perhaps even sampled just a tiny bit. And then, of course, I wouldn't want it.

                                                  If you feel differently, I understand. But I was once the recipient of a bowl of crunchy noodles in a Chinese restaurant. After eating down to the bottom, I found a bottle cap. That's what can happen when an apparently untouched item gets shifted from one customer to another.

                                                  1. re: small h

                                                    Hey, I remember being served a basket of bread that was all nice and fresh except for one inexplicably hard, stale slice. I don't know whether it was returned from another table or left out on in the kitchen from the previous day - either way I'll never set foot in that establishment again!

                                      2. re: lisavf

                                        There's no "magic 5-second rule" when it comes to situations like this. The moment a plate hits a table, it should either a) remain there or b) be whisked away into the kitchen. The very moment.

                                        It's worth the cost of just about any dish to leave it where it's at instead of clattering haphazardly all over the dining room with it and dropping it in front of a diner at another table, only to have them send it away.

                                        Poster small h isn't being overly finicky at all. No one should be presented any item that has spent even a second on another diner's table. Never. Ever.

                                    2. re: fourunder

                                      It was embarassing for my husband, because he didn't like being around people who were so aggressively attempting to take advantage of a situation. Haven't you ever felt embarassed for someone because they were being ridiculously nitpicky, or inappropriate, or unethical ?

                                      (I don't think he has much say as to whether his company does business with those people. And I don't think his company really cares about this type of behavior, and what it might or might not imply about their business dealings.)

                                      1. re: dump123456789

                                        Regrettably, I have relatives who behave abominably in a restaurant setting. They complain about the most tiny things. They will be told "your entree includes a salad, what dressing would you like..." and respond "does that mean the salad is free?" At a wedding, one of them spilled red wine all over her dress. She demanded that the hotel where the reception was given comp her a hotel room so she could clean up. Later that night, she and eight other wedding guests were thrown out of the room for having an ancillary party that included room-service alcohol... and marijuana joints. They're lucky they didn't get arrested.

                                        Why do I find myself occasionally (once, twice a year) going out with some of these annoying people? One can't pick one's relatives -- and sadly to enjoy the company of the good ones, one must endure the transgressions of your fellow family members.

                                        In the case of your husband and his colleagues, I'm sure he was aghast at their behavior and am sure he'll not join that particular work-crowd out for a meal again. Every once in a while business, more than any other obligation, puts us together with people we'd never dream of entertaining socially. We must do the best with the hand that's dealt us.

                                  2. This topic could go on forever, or until the OP comes back to explain whether they did or didn't realize they had been served the wrong appetizer. The way it is stated in the original post: "The waiter delivered the wrong appetizer"....... is ambiguous at best.

                                    I'd agree that, in some ethnic cuisines, I wouldn't necessarily know I'd been served the wrong thing. I DO know a shrimp from a chicken leg, but not all dishes are that distinctive.

                                    1. I've been on the opposite end of this - at a tapas place - most of our order did not show up, and when we called over the waitress she checked her pad and insisted we HAD had the food - she showed us where she had ticked them off to show the orders were served. She refused to accept we hadn't had our food (despite the absence of dishes on the table) so we called over the manager, who had a look round and found our food had been given to another table (who were enjoying the unexpected extra dishes). The manager apologised and offered us free drinks while we waited for fresh food to be prepared. When the bill came we had been charged for the 'free' drinks. After another complaint we were given vouchers for a free meal next time we visited. We threw the vouchers away.
                                      I am guessing the other table were not charged for our food.
                                      Surprisingly the restaurant is still open - unsurprisingly I have never been back.