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Sending Food Back for Unlisted Items in the Dish

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My love of food spans a great variety but there are a few keen items that I just cannot stomach even to smell. The most ubiquitous is cheese, in almost any form. (The one exception is ricotta and only in Italian cheesecake because for some reason it doesn't taste cheesy to me:} )
When I go to any Italian restaurant, even if a dish does not specify cheese, I almost always request "no cheese please" just in case. However, let's say that I'm in an American/continental place and order a sandwich which has no mention of cheese on the menu item. It's not 100% of the time but many times I will receive a meal with cheese on it. If it's in one piece I have removed it myself if I am starving, but I will often have to send it back because the smell and flavor has already penetrated the rest of the food, making it inedible for me. How do you respond in a similar situation? I am not expecting a restaurant list every single ingredient in a dish on the menu, and I do accept some responsibility in asking if unsure. However, when the addition of cheese arrives in a dish when I am not expecting it, I do believe I am in the right to request a new dish so I can enjoy it,

  1. If this is the only item that you have concerns about , then I would make the request of "no cheese" with any order that would have any expectation of having the "hidden item," such as a sandwich. Why would you not do this, if it is as important as it appears to be?

    1. If you do not like (smell/texture/taste) something, it's not the restaurant fault; just ask and maybe the restaurant will be happy to help you, but they have no obligation either.

      And I'm not talking about allergies which is something else completely.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Maximilien

        I'm not saying it is the restaurant's fault. However, if the item isn't listed, how am I to know? As I said, I take some responsibility if let's say I forgot to ask. At the same time, as the item was not listed in the menu description, and as a restaurant should want a customer to enjoy their meal, I would hope that they would agree to send me a new dish without the cheese.

      2. I only have a problem with unlisted items because of dangerous food allergies. But we always notify the server about it, and ask if there is any doubt.
        I have sent a few items back because of the allergy, but as far as food preferences, I just work around the offending item. :)

        2 Replies
        1. re: jujuthomas

          If the item in question were let's say lettuce (I have a friend who actually has a lettuce phobia!) I could work around it, if I didn't go hiding under the table:} However, cheese is not something you can always work around. The flavor and smell seems to penetrate the entire dish, with maybe a few exceptions.

          1. re: NicoleFriedman

            that's very true, it does seem to penetrate if it hasn't melted on! I also have a dairy allergy so I kinda understand your issue. :)

        2. Cheese should never be a "hidden" ingredient. A lot of people simply can't eat it, or have restrictions (vegan, kosher) around it. If cheese is put on something unannounced, it is 100% ok to send it back.

          8 Replies
          1. re: barryg

            If a customer is vegan or kosher the onus is on the customer to inform and ask about how food is prepared. You can't just assume that butter won't be used as a fat or that just because you ordered grill vegetables they weren't prepared on a grill that had just cooked bacon. The same goes for the OP.

            1. re: bookhound

              Agreed, but throwing a slice of cheese on a sandwich unannounced is pretty extreme, I think.

              1. re: barryg

                Cheese on most sandwiches is not to be unexpected. If I got cheese on my ice cream I'd be surprised if I got cheese on my turkey sandwich I would not be so surprised.

                1. re: bookhound

                  I'm with barryg on this one.

                  Cheese, if included on a sandwich, should be listed.

                  If I order a BLT, I don't expect cheese on it, and if it came with cheese I'd send it back.

                  If I order a roast beef or turkey sandwich, same deal. No expectation of cheese. If I get cheese, back it goes.

                  Now, if I order a grilled cheese sandwich, then it's a different story ...

                  1. re: ipsedixit

                    I agree with you, ipse. Cheese is a pretty major ingredient and should be listed. And in most cases,the type of cheese should be listed, as that has a very big impact on the dish.

                  2. re: bookhound

                    I disagree. There are some sandwiches I do not expect to include cheese- like a pastrami sandwich or some other sandwich where the focus is typically on the meat. I think I'd want to know in that case whether cheese would be included, since those types of sandwiches are often warm and it's hard to pick off melted cheese.

                2. re: barryg

                  I think it depends on what it is. Cheese on a sandwich -- yes, not expected. But if I see chef's salad or quiche on a menu, I will automatically think there's cheese in it, even if unlisted.

                3. I hate onions but only send pizza back if it comes with onions that are not listed on the menu. I find it happens far more than I'd like. If I order a pepperoni pizza that lists pepperoni as the sole topping, I don't expect it to also include onion. I think the same could be said for any secret pizza topping. For anything else, I feel like it's my responsibility to ask if something includes onions, since most dishes don't list every ingredient.

                  I do think that there are some situations where cheese should be listed. If it's a salad I often expect that many ingredients will not be listed, so I make sure to ask. I have seen occasions where you'll get a sprinkling of cheese (or bacon) on a dish where it's not really expected. A lot of people can't eat pork products or dairy, so when a dish otherwise looks to be dairy/pork-free, it's a little misleading for diners.

                  1. I have a similar deal with mayonnaise, can't stand the stuff. I used to assume that all restaurant sandwiches and burgers would have mayo, so I always asked for no mayo, then my brother (who was working as a line cook at the time) told me that it could cause confusion if the waiter put "no mayo" on the order for a dish that already didn't come w/ mayo b/c the cooks would just see the "mayo" part and think I was asking to *add* mayo. I don't know how true or universal that is, but it did change the way I order. Now I ask if the sandwich comes with mayo first, then ask to omit it if needed. Every now and then I'll get something that has mayo anyway - if I had asked to omit it, I will send the dish back. If I didn't specify no mayo when ordering, I consider it a stupid tax moment, and just try to work around it.

                    8 Replies
                    1. re: mpjmph

                      In every restaurant I have ever worked in, the cooks could read - and as long as "no" was placed before "mayo" there wasnt a problem. If a server put a "no mayo" comment on a dish that didnt contain mayo to begin with, they were usually yelled at by the cooks to "learn the f**king menu!" The server should know what ingrdients are in the dishes they serve.

                      1. re: joe777cool

                        "If a server put a "no mayo" comment on a dish that didnt contain mayo to begin with, they were usually yelled at by the cooks to "learn the f**king menu!"

                        Ha! Very true, in any restaurant. BOH will chew your ass off for unnecessary mods. Hey, those servers gotta learn it one way or another. :-P

                      2. re: mpjmph

                        I'm with you on the mayo---it is one of the few foods I will not eat. After receiving mayo on my burger at a chain resto once, I always ask the server if the burgers are dressed with mayo. If I get a burger with mayo I send it back. I do find it very odd that anyone would put mayo on a burger... growing up in NYC I never encountered it until I traveled out of state.

                        But to the OP's point, Cheese is a pretty substantial ingredient and should be listed.

                        1. re: iluvcookies

                          If I get served a burger that has (AARK) mustard on it, I send it back fer sure.

                          1. re: Sharuf

                            You and me both. What really bugs me was that the last time this happened to me, it was at a McDonalds, a place where one would assume that exactly what goes on a burger automatically is RIGIDLY defined by the Chain. and of course, nowis having had that happen, when I now specifiy "no mustard" when I order a burger they of course take OFFENSE if they weren't planning on putting it on in the first place.

                            A simllar occurence in my life was the night when I went out to one of my favorte Chinese places and ordered a dish of lamb with scallions a dish I had order from this place countless times before and which is not spicy. When it arrived and I took one bite my mouth exploded in pain as the cook had decied to lace the dish with unlisted kung pao peppers. When they questioned him (after I sent it back) he defended himself by saying that he had simply assumed that eveyone preferred very very spicy food, like him and that by spicing up the "bland" dish I had ordered he was doing me a favor.

                          2. re: iluvcookies

                            Another mayo hater here. Like you, i grew up in the Northeast, where mayo is rarely, if ever, put on a burger automatically. Later, I lived for a while in California, where burgers are slathered with the stuff. I quickly learned to say "Hold the mayo" when ordering. One day, I was at a museum cafe and ordered my usual "no mayo, please" burger. It arrived drenched in thousand island dressing (gag!). When I reminded the server that I had requested no mayo, she replied, "It's not mayo, it's thousand island dressing." Of course, I sent the burger back. I wish that places would leave the addition of condiments (even ones that I like) to the discretion of customers.

                            1. re: cheesemaestro

                              When it comes to condiments or toppings on sandwiches, I am somewhat fussy. I always ask what condiments are on the sandwich, and then specify which I do/don't want. Works fine and that way I'm not surprised by something being on the sandwich that I'd not foreseen.

                              1. re: cheesemaestro

                                Most times when a burger is sent back for wrong dressing, it is washed off and slapped on the grill/chargrill for a moment and reserved.

                          3. I once ordered a braised dish (I forget what) in a Japanese restaurant. Along with the listed ingredient, it contained surprise (!) chunks of chicken liver. This took me unpleasantly by surprise, and I sent it back and ordered something else.

                            1. I get surprised when bacon is added to a salad when it's not listed. They can list every darned wilted green leaf that passes for lettuce!

                              My daughter announced that not only was she going to be vegetarian but vegan. We went to a local italian that night for dinner and she ordered a pasta with mushrooms and tomato sauce and she was not happy to find cheese melted into the sauce. We asked for another menu to check ingredients and nope not listed. She ate it anyway and started her vegan quest next day. Thankfully the vegan trend lasted a week.

                              1. It is up to the customer to ask if there is a particular ingredient that cannot be tolerated. Just like a vegetarian who doesn't want a sauce that contains meat product or a salad dressing that might contain egg. If you treat it that way, you will erase all doubt as to what should be provided.

                                5 Replies
                                1. re: Steve

                                  I dont think that is often times practical. Years ago a woman died in RI when she ate a bowl of chili that was thickened with peanutbutter. She had a severe allergy to peanuts - and how was she to know that there would be peanutbutter in chili? It is the DUTY of the restaurants to inform the guests of the (main) ingredients in food. Most herbs and seasonings are secret, but cheese, mayo, TI dressing, mustard etc etc etc need to be in the item description especially if it is not a common ingredient in a way a dish is prepared. Otherwise it is up to the restuarant to eat the cost of the food when it is sent back!

                                  1. re: joe777cool

                                    Why not practical? This thread is about detesting/ hating a particular food. It's very simple: if this is going to kill you or make you wanna throw up, then alert the restaurant. Very simple, very practical. I can't think of a single restaurant that lists every ingredient in every dish. And that's what it would take to assure a deadly allergic reaction is averted.
                                    The question is not who is going to 'eat the cost.' The question is avoiding a bad situation and having to send something back in the first place. Warn the restaurant, and in almost every case the problem is solved.

                                    This from a website on peanut allergies:

                                    "Sauces. Many cooks use peanuts or peanut butter to thicken chili and other sauces."

                                    "Tell everyone who handles the food you eat, from relatives to restaurant waitstaff, that you have a nut allergy. If the manager or owner of a restaurant is uncomfortable about your request for peanut- or nut-free food preparation, don't eat there."

                                    and this.....

                                    "some peanut oils are processed in a way that won't cause problems for people with a nut allergy. But not all...."

                                    http://kidshealth.org/teen/food_fitne...

                                    1. re: Steve

                                      LIke I said, some places put very unusual ingredients in dishes that they dont normally go in. I once ordered lasagne in a restaurant only to find out they put hard boiled egg in the dish and I detest it. Out of the thousands of times I have eaten lasagne in my life, I have seen this maybe twice. So should I list off every ingredient I dont like to the waiter before I order it to make sure none of them are in the dish? Is there liver in thne dish? Are there hard boiled egg in the dish? is there mayo in the dish? Are there pine nuts in the dish? Is there gorgonzola cheese in the dish? Is there tunafish in the dish? Are there olives in the dish? Are there mushrooms in the dish? Is there cilantro in the dish? Is there blue cheese in the dish? Is there broccoli in the dish?

                                      I could list off a few more things I really dont like, but I think I have made my point. Its alot easier for the restaurant to just list the ingredients than for customers play a guessing game.

                                      1. re: Steve

                                        Luckily now most restaurants that use peanuts will put it somewhere on the menu so that people with allergies can take special care to ensure they're able to get a safe dish. However, in other cases it's not always obvious that a certain item is included. I don't think it's too much to ask that any really unusual item or bacon, cheese, and nuts are listed on the menu. Additionally, a server doesn't have time to wait for each diner to list out every single dislike/allergy on the off chance a dish has one of the offending items.

                                      2. re: ospreycove

                                        Its not a matter of "embarassment" its a matter of life or death for many people. That having been said, I think its common knowledge that peanuts are prevalent in Thai cuisine, and im not sure where the "please do not try to redesign the Thai culture" reference comes from???

                                    2. I think it's reasonable to send something back if it has a major ingredient not listed. Cheese in a sandwich I would consider a major ingredient, but in a caesar salad or a pasta sprinkled on top not so much so.

                                      If it was listed as a ham sandwich and it had cheese on it I'd have no qualms about sending it back and asking for a new one. On the other hand, I don't have any special dietary restrictions or anything I really hate, but if I did, I'd consider it safer to specify when ordering and not rely on the menu listing everything - eg. if the menu listed a reuben sandwich without any description, I didn't know what it was but ordered it and sent it back because it had cheese that would be unreasonable.

                                      4 Replies
                                      1. re: hsk

                                        If I order a pasta dish and it arrives with Parmesan on it that wasn't specified in the description I send it back. I think something like that, that so many people have problems with ought to be mentioned. I know a lot of contemporary kitchens do it without a second thought.

                                        Enough refusals and maybe they'll figure out to ask.

                                        1. re: slds

                                          I think you'd be sending back a lot of pastas. Many Italian restaurants I go to list the Italian name of the pasta with just the major ingredients listed and don't specify that there's cheese or parsley sprinkled on top. I'm not saying that's right, just that when it comes to "garnish" type uses of something it's common not to list it and it's safer to specify.

                                          Of course you can send it back, but unless you're by yourself it's going to be a less than pleasant dining experience waiting for your meal to be remade while others are eating (or waiting for your meal with you), when you could have avoided it by mentioning it when you ordered.

                                          1. re: hsk

                                            Sadly this is true and my surprise ingredient that can ruin a dish for me is fresh parsley. Years ago a pizza place my parents would frequent would put it under the cheese on my parents favorite pizza. I never ask to change it and it is never listed on the menu. I just have to suck it up and try to eat around it if possible. Funnily enough I love both cilantro and basil but parsley takes like soap.

                                        2. re: hsk

                                          Context really matters. I don't like olives. They are of course a typical garnish in salad, and they are not listed as such on the menu, and I don't expect them to be. I don't fault the restaurant for failing to mention the olives, and I just pick them out of the salad. On the other hand, if I ordered an entree, such as fish or chicken, that was covered in chopped olives, and the menu failed to mention that preparation, I'd probably send the dish back -- i.e., that is an unusual enough use of olives that I would expect some indication of their presence on the menu.

                                        3. DH and I had lunch recently with a long-time friend of his. We were at an upscale restaurant in CA, lunch entrees were in the $40 range. Friend ordered a chicken-pasta dish of some sort having heard it was highly recommended, his wife really wanted the roasted duck.

                                          When the entrees arrived, friend's chicken-pasta had a lot of fresh tarragon in it. He despises tarragon. He and his wife quietly exchanged their plates, no muss no fuss.

                                          I felt bad for him and his wife. He didn't eat his first choice and neither did she. Before anyone chimes in to say "he should have returned it" let me say that he is exquisitely polite, soft-spoken and wouldn't have dreamed of making anyone uncomfortable by calling attention to this. That would have been completely out of character and disquieting.

                                          Yes, it would have been nice if the menu had mentioned tarragon, but it didn't. Life goes on. For me the lesson here was two-fold:
                                          Good manners trump personal likes and dislikes (we're not talking about serious allergies)
                                          If I had something I truly disliked, I would ask about its inclusion

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: Sherri

                                            at $40 a plate for lunch, a restaurant of that (aspiring)caliber should have noticed that they switched plates and rectified the situation. just sayin.

                                            1. re: nkeane

                                              Why? My SO frequently split entrees and switch plates (discreetly). Neither one of us is unhappy with the food. Many people share.

                                          2. This is a variation on the theme. I have always had a hard time getting a hamburger served without cheese in any establishment that serves cheeseburgers! I thought the definition of a hamburger sets it apart from a cheeseburger, but apparently that's a bad assumption on my part. I also don't like condiments so I always end up saying that I want a hamburger with no cheese, plain, just meat and bun.

                                            6 Replies
                                            1. re: soxlover

                                              Sherri....WELL STATED....... All to often people think (or believe) "It is all about them."

                                              1. re: ospreycove

                                                Honestly, when I am paying top dollar for a dinner out, yeah I do expect it to be all about me. In the above case Sherri described, that tarragon laced dish would have been sent back without a second thought. At $40 per person for lunch, I expect to get the meal prepared the way I like it. The customer is THE BOSS - they pay the salary of everyone in the restaurant. Any special request, WITHIN REASON, should be met without question.

                                                1. re: joe777cool

                                                  wrong. the customer is NOT the boss, they DO NOT pay the salary of everyone at the restaurant(I have never seen a paycheck signed by "the customer" in my life.....). Simply put, regardless of price point, if the way the restaurant prepares/presents their menu is not to your liking, get up and go somewhere that does. Everyone(you, the chef, staff and other patrons) will be much happier in your absence.

                                                  1. re: nkeane

                                                    “There is only one boss. The customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.” -Sam Walton

                                                    Maybe you have heard of him?

                                                    1. re: joe777cool

                                                      heard of him, he is wrong as well. Unless people become ants at some point, A single customer will have zero effect on a given restaurant.

                                                      "the customer is always right"- the most repeated fallacy in the business.

                                                      1. re: nkeane

                                                        Sorry but I think I will take the advice of a multi-billionaire

                                            2. So far on this thread there has been more than one call for restaurants to list their ingredients, whether because of an allergy or aversion.

                                              I'd like to know if there is a restaurant in the US that does put an ingredients list on their menu..... does anyone know of a website they can point me to?

                                              10 Replies
                                              1. re: Steve

                                                I dont think anybody is advocating restaurant list ALL the ingredients in a dish - just the main ones and/or the ones that could potentially cause allergy issues.

                                                1. re: joe777cool

                                                  Tarragon doesn't cause allergies and probably wasn't a "main" ingredient in the dish described up thread by Sherri. Would you have sent that dish back if you didn't like tarragon?

                                                  1. re: bookhound

                                                    "When the entrees arrived, friend's chicken-pasta had a lot of fresh tarragon in it. He despises tarragon."

                                                    ALOT is the key word to me in that sentence. I happen to dislike both dill and cilantro. Would I send a dish back say if they put a bit of fresh cilantro in my taco or some dill on my roasted potatos? NO. If my taco came and there was ALOT of cilantro or dill to the point where it became a main flavor profile in the dish - yes I would send it back and ask to have it remade without the offending ingredient.

                                                    1. re: joe777cool

                                                      If he despises tarragon would a little have been palatable to him? I doubt it.

                                                  2. re: joe777cool

                                                    The point of the thread is to avoid particular foods you have an aversion or allergy to. Many people have an aversion to cilantro. For others, anise does the trick. My wife can't stand dill. If you have an aversion, I suggest telling the restaurant beforehand.

                                                    1. re: Steve

                                                      As I stated the other day, its MUCH easier for a restaurant to simply list the main ingredients of a dish than have every single customer list off every single ingredients they may have an aversion to. Im guessing you ahve never worked in a restaurant before - if you had you would understand (specifically the time constraints servers have when juggling several tables in a busy dinner rush)

                                                      1. re: joe777cool

                                                        Listing the ingredients won't make any difference, the majority of diners won't read the list anyway. How many menus list all the sides, all the salad dressings, and all the drinks---and how many servers spend most of their night reciting the lists back to diners who couldn't be bothered to read them on their own. If you really hate an ingredient, or you're really allergic to something, you have to take responsibility and ask. No bitching otherwise.

                                                        1. re: Samalicious

                                                          "If you really hate an ingredient, or you're really allergic to something, you have to take responsibility and ask. No bitching otherwise."

                                                          Yes. All this speculation and madness-- if you really hate something or something might kill or harm you, ask.

                                                    2. re: Steve

                                                      http://www.mcdonalds.com/us/en/food/f... is one example, but I don't think anyone here will run out to eat there. ;)

                                                    3. I swear, one day I am going to open the "allergy cafe" and figure out what the top 10 food items that amount for the most claimed(I say claimed, meaning the small fraction that are true plus the larger majority that are faked) allergies and design a menu that ONLY contains those items. I am fairly certain the clientèle would the most easy going, low mantainence on earth!:-)

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: nkeane

                                                        or a restaurant with a list of today's proteins and produce and just tell the customers to design their own dish!

                                                      2. you should tell them at the beginning of the meal, at your first contact with your waiter, that you cannot have cheese on any dishes in any form. Do it before you even see the menu. You're absolutely right to say "I can't enjoy this, can I have it remade this other way" BUT if it's been a recurring problem, you should tell your server on first contact to save both of you the trouble.

                                                        Also, you should buy some cheese and eat a little bit every couple days. These types of sensitivities can be overcome by eating a small amount of the hated food every couple days over a few weeks. Jeffery Steingarten has a great article about overcoming his dislike of certain foods this way somewhere on the internets.

                                                        3 Replies
                                                        1. re: TheFoodEater

                                                          Sensitivities and dislikes are different. For instance, I can eat little bits of dark chocolate and soy at home without having any problems, but the quantities used in most restaurants will give me fairly horrible migraines. Luckily with soy I won't get the headache if I take an NSAID before I have the soy, but it's not a problem that has been fixed by small quantities on a regular basis.

                                                          1. re: TheFoodEater

                                                            I do take bites of cheese on occasion and I detest it just as much as when I was five years old:}

                                                            As I stated in the OP, I usually do ask. However, I am only human and sometimes I forget, especially when I am extremely hungry. I also stated that I do accept some of the responsibility as I usually do ask. However, if I forgot to ask or did not think it was necessary (for example, I would not think to ask about cheese if ordering chicken terriyaki), I would send it back for the simple reason that I am paying for food and I would like to be able to actually eat it:}

                                                            1. re: NicoleFriedman

                                                              I agree that if you are not happy with a dish, then tell the restaurant. If you can't eat it, I imagine almost any place will offer you something else.

                                                              However, as you already stated, the best policy is to tell the restaurant beforehand if you have an aversion. The question in my mind is not who is at fault, but how best to avoid unpleasantness in the first place.

                                                          2. If I can't eat a certain food (cheese, nuts, eggs, shellfish), the onus is on me to tell my server.

                                                            1. Folks, since we've pretty much covered all the ground possible on this topic and replies are becoming increasingly unfriendly, we're going to lock this now.