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When to complain in a restaurant

What types of things have to happen when dining out that you would respectfully complain? To server? To management? To actually send the dish back? Order something completely different?

My husband will endure just about anything. My mother is on the other end and will complain if a carrot is out of alignment (that's an exaggeration, but you know what I mean). I'm in the middle. If I order my steak medium and it comes out well-done, I'll probably mention it (and may or may not send it back depending on how overdone it is). Just wondering what the norm is.

Also, something I don't think is the norm (at least among those I know) is to ask for management to pay a compliment if the chef is particularly deft of hand or the server has been better than average (with tipping reflecting that, as well). Do you do this, as well?

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  1. #3 Chef,if your feelings about the food are such you would compliment a friend,certainly do so with a stranger.Even if you only feel comfortable sending word via your server.

    Table staff,we always thank,tip extra regarding early rapport and good service,often telling the manager how pleased we were.

    #2 the plate..I like my meat of fish somewhere between RARE to medium depending on cut or species.At a new place an early rapport is important to and valued by us.I ask,can my ? be or is this a problem request.I order and expect my steak rare,yet many things are governed a bit by the house and safety regulations.Not everywhere can bring my liver medium,pork at 135*f instead of old standard 165*f.If my order was taken after positive communication,I expect delivery of the same thing.Sides tell another story,at incorrect or uneven temps gracious isn't always easy.Reheats,line cook or is our waiter sloppy,stretched to thin and it sat in the pass too long all need to be made right.Sent back or changed as graciously and delicately the circumstances warrant.How many mistakes in a party of 4 or more does it take?Little things don't always need to become big things.Unlike my Aunt,Chicken Little,The Princess and the Pea orders "realy well done ?" is gently reminded about dryness and tough.Then gets her knickers in a twist because it is.I would add whenever she tastes less done meat at any table,she always prefers it and WON'T ORDER that way.We simply protect staff from her the handful of times we have family outings.

    #1 mostly covered above If the server,wine steward etc is a road block,yes include management.Your,I quote "respecfully complain" should be taken with helpful respect by the front of the house.

    1. The waitress chewing and popping bubble gum and combing her hair while taking our order

      1 Reply
      1. re: beevod

        I might overlook this, so long as the hair, and the gum, do not end up in my dish.


      2. For me, it depends on what it is, and how much it affects my enjoyment of the meal.

        If I order my steak medium rare and it comes out closer to rare, I'll probably eat it anyway. If it comes out well done -- it's going back. I can usually spot switcheroos with fish dishes (menu says grouper, but it's not grouper on my plate) -- depends again - if it's good, and it's *not* flatfish (allergy) -- then I'll mention that it's not grouper, but I'll probably eat it anyway. If I know it's flatfish (sole, flounder, or haddock) then it goes back, because I'll be violently ill in a matter of hours if I eat it.

        It also depends on the price level of the restaurant and the rest of the visit -- I'm less likely to complain if everything else is going well, and/or if it's not expensive.

        Corked wine (or worse, a glass from a bottle that's been open for a couple of days) goes back -- no way am I drinking either of those.

        2 Replies
        1. re: sunshine842

          Amen on the old opened bottle. That KILLS me and is a certain request for a fresh glass. It's right up there with serving slimy browning lettuce -- but so many people WON'T send it back! I do not understand that. People really don't trust themselves when it comes to wine, maybe?

          1. re: Vetter

            It's right up there with serving slimy browning lettuce -- but so many people WON'T send it back!


            We dined with my mother, her husband and another couple at a really busy local place. It is a causal restaurant that has a tremendous turnover each shift.

            They all ordered entree salads (with grilled fish, shrimp, steak) and even with a quick glance, I saw that the lettuce was just gross. Everyone ate around the gross parts and said that the salads "weren't very good"

            It blew my mind that not one of the four thought to bring it to someone's attention.

        2. Certainly I would mention to the manager if a member of staff has been particularly good. It is the sort of thing that is not only generally appreciated but can be financially beneficial when bonuses are being handed out, or promotions being considered. I'm particularly likely to do this when a server is clearly new and inexperienced but is showing exactly the right attitude and making an effort.

          On the sending back - I've only ever sent something back twice in my life. I recall both incidents - one in 1972, the other in 1980.

          4 Replies
          1. re: Harters

            Has your luck been that good, or do you just eat it anyway most of the time? I cannot see paying for food that is not prepared correctly. I very politely tell the server what is wrong, and when she/he suggest they take it back to be corrected, I graciously accept the offer to do so, adding "if it won't take too long". This is to keep others from having to wait for me to finish my meal. If the server is good, it usually speeds things up a bit, and I show my gratitude by leaving a good tip.

            1. re: Harters

              And what were the reasons in 1980 and 1972?


              PS - I seldom send items back, and more often with wines, but there HAVE been times.

              1. re: Bill Hunt

                Apologies for not replying sooner. Must have missed it.

                1972 saw corn on the cob served almost cold and with a fork stuck inelegantly in each end of the cob. It was our wedding night, FWIW. (Hotel restaurant at Manchester airport, UK)

                1980 saw a steak significantly undercooked for how I would have then eaten it. (Unremembered place somewhere near Miami)

                1. re: Harters

                  Do not feel bad. I've been in Hawai`i for several weeks, and missed the reply, until tonight.

                  Thanks for the descriptions - I think. They sound dreadful, and sorry that you had to experience them.

                  No one should have to abide by those events. I have your back on this one!


            2. It completely depends on where I am, who I am dining with, my expectations, and how much money is being spent.

              2 Replies
              1. re: haggisdragon

                Ah yes, the ubiquitous non-answer answer. Of course it all depends. That's why I'm asking the question. :) It depends for me, as well, but not for my mother or dh.

                1. re: haggisdragon

                  For me, it often depends on who I am, on that night.

                  Sometimes, all goes back, but on others, only half.


                2. I do complain. I try not to be a pain in the ass, but I'm so tired of paying good money for bad food. If my steak is overdone, it's going back. If the food is cold, likewise I'm not eating it. I rarely want the dish remade though. Just take it back and take it off the check. If they couldn't make it right the first time, they don't get a second shot.

                  I don't deal well with bad service. Having been in the business so long, I'm probably more tolerant than most, and willing to overlook a lot. I've been spilled on, stepped on, burnt and forgotten. An honest mistake is no biggie. I know what's it's like to wake up in the middle of the night and suddenly remember that table three never got their bread. If a server is weeded, they get a pass. Over seated, they get my sympathy. New, I'll be gentle.

                  But rude? No way. Goofing off, sitting, texting, gossiping, truly makes me loose my mind. Especially if my drink is empty! I once had a server go missing for what seemed like forever. I assumed there was a problem and she was tied up in the kitchen. Everyone around us was getting their food, though. On a trip to the ladies room I passed by the back deck. There she was, huddled outside, smoking. And talking on the phone. And laughing. Definitely having more fun than we were.

                  I went right for a manager.

                  On the other hand, I am thrilled to get a great meal, as so often the opposite is true. I joined Chowhound originally, because I was blown away by a restaurant near my house. I had to tell everyone, give them props. I will absolutely tell management about great service. Recently, I emailed a place to let them know what a great job the busboy did.

                  It's funny, I never tell a server how much I enjoyed his/her service. As a server, nothing was worse than the "verbal tip". A guest tells you how much they love you, they'll always ask for you, make a show of telling the manager / host how wonderful you were, bla, bla, bla. Then, you check the tip line - nothing - barely 10%. So, I always say it with cash.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Whinerdiner

                    the only time I ever completely didn't mind a short tip was a young couple who were obviously celebrating at the pizza joint I worked at. They carefully went over the menu, and I pretty quickly picked up that they were counting every penny. (small rural town in the mid 80s, so a pretty tough economy, and these were not highly educated folks)

                    At the end of the meal, they left me 50 cents and a very sweet note thanking me for being so nice, and that they wished they had more money so they could leave a better tip. But they had scraped their plates onto one plate, neatly stacked all the dishes and silverware, stacked the glasses, and had even bundled all the trash into a napkin-wrapped bundle. All I had to do was pick up the stack and carry it back to the kitchen...that was worth something!

                    They came in again months later, and things were obviously better -- they were seated in someone else's section, and left a standard tip -- but no note, and still bused their own table.

                    1. re: sunshine842

                      I would have been ok with that too. :)

                  2. I order a $16. Caesar Salad. It came, no anchovies, no croutons, no garlic? It tasted like the cook mistook sugar for salt. I asked the waiter if he brought me the correct salad, and he assured me did, so I said it was the worst Caesar I've ever had, and I didn't want it. The manager storms out and rebuked me for my comment, but took it off the bill. None of the rest of my party of seven finished their meals, because it at best mediocre, but all asked for doggie bags, then when we got home, they tossed it my trash! The average price for an entree was $26! If you really don't like it, but take it home, you are sending the wrong message to the management! A chef sees an empty plate come back into the kitchen, he thinks everything was great!

                    6 Replies
                    1. re: debs20

                      I agree that an empty plate sends a message. Sending back a plate barely touched also sends a message.

                      This weekend, we were eating at a local Italian restaurant in a nearby town that we had enjoyed once before over the summer. This time was different. I didn't actually even complain to anyone. I simply poked at the manicotti that tasted like cardboard. The server did notice that I was not eating it, and asked if I'd like something else, but we were under a time crunch on the way to a string quartet concert. When she asked if I wanted it boxed up I told her "no, thank you". They removed the item from the bill. Although I didn't complain, I also didn't give them any ideas that I enjoyed the meal. My message was received, for which I have to give them credit. The server was thanked for her perception through the tip we left.

                      1. re: velochic

                        You cannot ever *assume* that people understand your unspoken message.

                        If you don't open your mouth and tell them clearly (but NICELY) what is wrong, then you cannot hold them responsible for fixing it.

                        You got lucky, velochic -- if they'd been busy and she was in the weeds, it's considerably less likely that she'd have noticed...

                        If it's not right, you have to say so (NICELY) -- otherwise they must assume that everything is okay.

                        1. re: sunshine842

                          I try to never assume anything, sunshine. I would have been fine paying for the dish. I chose the dish and I chose poorly. I was just appreciative of them picking up on the non-verbal cues. I certainly don't expect it. Just a nice surprise. The dish was not, IMO, complaint worthy. It wasn't inedible, just not tasty. (That is the difference between me and my mother. She would have sent it back.) However, it was nice that they noticed that I didn't eat much and made amends. They will get our return business.

                          My only point being that if you don't like the food, but ask for it to be boxed up and then just throw it away at home, there isn't even a non-verbal cue going back to the kitchen. However, an astute staff will pick up on everything and your actions without words can also send a message. That's all.

                          If I do complain, I do so very nicely.

                          1. re: velochic

                            I'm with you on the doggie bag...if you wouldn't eat it in the restaurant, I can't imagine why you'd box it up and take it home....because my luck would be that it would spill and I'd have something I didn't even like spread all over the back seat....

                            1. re: sunshine842

                              Some people who dislike their dish but ask for doggy bags might actually want to give it to their dog. I know some people like this - their steak is overdone but still borderline acceptable so they bag it and bring it to Rover.

                          2. re: sunshine842

                            I agree. I dine with some friends (many young ladies), who hardly touch their mains, though they love them, and each is quite good. They just do not eat much, if anything, at all. Were I the chef in those instances, I'd grab the server, and ask, "what was wrong with that plate? It was hardly touched!"

                            I would highly recommend speaking up. Heck, if something IS wrong, maybe you will save another diner the grief of an off dish, or similar.

                            When my server asks, "how was everything," I just assume that they actually care, and want to know. If things ARE off, I signal them immediately, and quietly discuss the situation.


                      2. I'm picky. I'll be the first to admit it. Please bring me the RARE steak I ordered. Please bring
                        me the "extra hot from the fire" soup I ordered. Please bring this with a smile and you'll enjoy
                        a 20-25% tip. But if you say "but I can see the steam rising from the soup" you will lose the tip AND get the soup back. I'll send back cloudy iced tea; I'll send back a wilted salad; I'll send back ANYTHING cold that should be hot and vice-versa. I'm very nice, but very specific about what I order so I expect the kitchen and the server to get it right first time around. Again, I'm very polite about returning any item but I'm paying and tipping and I want it to be the way I ordered it. Bad me? Okay. Maybe I should just eat at home. All that said, if you get my order correct and deliver it in a timely manner, I will write a letter to the owner complimenting the kitchen & server or tell the owner, assuming he's on site, how good everything was as well as leaving the aforementioned tip.

                        1. I'm usually pretty patient and rarely send anything back but I did order manicotti recently only to find that the tomato sauce on the outside was plenty hot but the cheese filling was still refrigerator cold. I brought it to the attention of my server and she was pretty skeptical telling me that it really shouldn't be cold. Well, it was. I will say that the manager came out to apologize and it was hot when it came back to the table!

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Jambie

                            Yeah, I have a real problem with the waiter telling me something is or is not to my liking. I'd be more upset if they tried to tell me that a dish was the right temperature when it wasn't.

                          2. I will only send something back if it's inedible. Otherwise, I'll just eat it and deal with it. If a server forgets to bring me something, I'll just keep asking until I get it. My comments are reflected in my tip, and if I get the worst service ever, I will tip nothing. To me, good service is about attitude. If mistakes happen, things get forgotten, or the cook sucks, but the wait-person tries their best to be polite and accommodating, I'll still tip them. If the wait-person is rude or lazy, then I will not tip (or only little, if I can find something to enjoy about the whole experience).

                            I think the only thing I've sent back in years was a pecan waffle that was straight-up wet in the middle. It came back after another was made, and was still so doughy inside that it was like eating deep-fried batter. Nasty. I did not send it back a second time, I just didn't eat it. (But I did tip the waitress well for trying to get it resolved. She provided good service...not her fault the cook can't cook a freakin' waffle.)

                            As to compliments, I will absolutely take the time to mention if the cook is particularly good, or I had a good experience. If a restaurant has an online survey option, I will fill out the surveys for especially good service.

                            1. I'll complain about anything that I feel isn't up to par or isn't what is described on the menu. I won't complain if something isn't to my taste unless it's obvious, like oversalted etc. I am also an excellent complainer (my friends often comment on it). When I do complain I'm unfailingly polite and friendly and make it clear what I would like them to do to satisfy the complaint (usually a replacement item or dish).

                              I ALWAYS get what I want when I complain, sometimes even more than I was expecting (in a good way).

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: Billy33


                                That is a good practice. While I ascribe to it, I sometimes am not direct enough, IMO. However, all such discussions are quiet, and no one (even my guests) usually know what I am speaking of.

                                Fortunately, I seldom encounter dishes that need to be addressed, however the salt issue came up with one guest, three times in one seating. Things were just OFF in the kitchen that night, and they made up for it, plus agreed and covered all of her costs. Hope that I saved some other disappointments that night. Were I a restauranteur, I would definitely want to know of any issue.


                              2. The older I get, the less tolerant I have become with regard to poor service and poorly prepared food. I can understand and forgive an off-night here or there, or an honest mistake, but given menu prices these days I have to say that I expect restaurants to earn my patronage. I don't think it's unreasonable to have high expectations depending, of course, on the venue.

                                I have only ever once sent back a dish. It was at a now-defunct celebrity chef's restaurant in Boston and my entree was so oversalted that it was inedible. I am a salt lover, and if I think something is too salty, I can only imagine what others might have thought of that dish. I politely asked the server to return it to the chef because of the saltiness -- I even asked if it could be toned down just slightly. She removed my plate and came back shortly thereafter to snottily inform me that the chef had tasted my entree and pronounced it "perfectly seasoned." She then left our table and didn't come back. Talk about an epic fail on both the food and service fronts. We paid for my husband's entree and left no tip. You can probably imagine the things I had to say to the manager.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: rorycat

                                  Oh, bad move on the server's and the chef's part. Things can happen in the kitchen, and one should be open to criticism, and learn from it.

                                  It's now at least two weeks, since I was on CH, so at the risk of repeating, and maybe in this thread, we were at Restaurant Daniel in Dec, 2010. One dish on the chef's tasting menu had some lovely crab meat. Cannot recall the dish at this time. We encountered some crab shell pieces. They were tiny, and we are both from the New Orleans Area, so have encountered crab shells over our lifetimes. I pulled our service captain aside, and whispered about the shell pieces, so that she could alert the prep chef for that dish, and spare others, not so lenient, as we, that there was a little problem, regarding the cleaning of the crab meat. She rushed away, and returned with another dish w/ the largest white truffle, that I have seen. She shaved, and shave that truffle on the dish, and during that time, had two additional wines served for that dish. I was astounded, and pulled her aside again, and whispered that that was never my intent, and that I only wanted to alert her kitchen of a possible issue. The tiny shell pieces really meant nothing to us. Her reply was, "I am so thankful to you for pointing that out, that I wanted to reward you, and this is how I have chosen to do it. You have saved us presenting a dish, that is not 100%. Please accept our apologies and this dish." When the bill arrived, it had also been adjusted down for the crab, and not adjusted upwards for the extra dish, or the wines. That showed me how much they care about perfection. I could not have been more impressed, though a bit shocked. Some restaurants take what they do very, very seriously, while some others, take themselves very, very seriously. I choose the former.


                                2. I have complained about lousy service - one dining event a few years back had me sending emails to the manager and corporate head office - as a server you do not belong standing beside tables talking to other staff LOUDLY and OFFENSIVELY, then when I call your attention you put your hand up and say "1 minute" and continue with your vulgar conversation. That dinner ended with no tip being given and my various emails - which I never heard back about. (this was at a Boston Pizza).

                                  If you give me excellent service no matter the situation or location I will tip as well as provide comments to the host/hostess/manager depending on availability. I appreciate anyone who does a service job with a smile and pleasant demeanour.

                                  I like my food to come the way it is described in the menu or by the server. If I order a steak I order it medium rare to rare. It better come that way - if it is overcooked more than to medium I will complain and ask for a replacement. My dh likes his steaks medium-well to well-done as does my mother. They constantly complain that the meat they are eating is tough, dry and many other things. I cannot convince either of them that they are overcooking the meat and of course it will not be as good as the "slice with a butter knife" piece I am eating. I remember my mother complaining when we were in the Dominican Republic at a 5* resort that her Steakhouse restaurant sirloin steak was tough and hard to cut - I ordered the rib eye and had no issues, she just doesn't get that some cuts don't do well with being cooked well. On the other hand, my dh will just suck it up and eat it if it isn't cooked to his liking, he doesn't usually mind and would rather just eat it than complain and send it back.

                                  My mother is definitely the food snob in our family - she worked in a large downtown Toronto 5* hotel for most of her life - either in catering, the bar or restaurants as a server/bartender. She has some high-faluting ideas about what you are supposed to do as a server and not to do. It has gotten to the point that I hate going out to eat with her. She will complain loudly, and sometimes rudely to the server if things are not to her exacting standards. I prefer to phrase my complaint as a polite query rather than accusation. I have sat by while she asks a server "is this how you serve your burgers???" She had ordered a charcoal grilled burger well-done and it had some nice charring on it - unfortunately due to being cooked well-done it did resemble a hockey puck, but she asked for it in my opinion and irregardless you don't treat anyone that way (unless they have been rude/offensive/vulgar first - and even then I would take the high road and find management to deal with it).

                                  Velochic - maybe our mothers are related??? Mine would do that to, complain about presentation.

                                  1. ... I don't know if I've EVER sent anything back in a restaurant. The most I'll do is, when something doesn't come out, I will say something if that item appears on the bill ("I never got my salad - that's okay, it's no big deal, but I just didn't want to pay for it, could you take it off?"). Or if it's really noticeable that I didn't eat something, and I'm asked about it directly, I will answer more or less honestly - especially if it's something actually wrong, like "No, the soup tasted fine, but it had a hair in it," rather than "I just didn't really like it."

                                    I'm starting to think I'm Doing It Wrong, though! Most of my food is either okay, or meh, or I happen to not really like what I ordered, but sometimes it's clearly something that could be tweaked and I'd be happier. I think I'm afraid that if I ask for something to be heated up or if I tell them my eggs are undercooked or whatever, the item will be spat on. Does anyone else just feel rude or actually afraid to speak up? just me?

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: occula

                                      occula, not just you! I am also reticent - although I can't say why, whether fear of rudeness and speaking up, or just plain feeling like I don't want the hassle. I'm easy-going and very forgiving on most service fronts, and as for food, I generally know what I'm in for when choosing a spot, so unless something is really inedible, I just chalk it up and continue with the easy-going.


                                      I have been reading this thread with interest as I've had a string of really bad experiences in restaurants lately, both with food and service. Really quite bad, and surprisingly so, especially in a couple of old favorites. I feel a little out of my depth regarding bringing such things to the restaurant's attention, as I don't really have much experience with the best protocol of expressing such a complaint. Yeah, I do read the various CH threads related to such, but I still don't have a lot of practical experience! In light of the sub-sub par experiences lately, I think I'm going to have to assert myself a bit more. These threads really help me sort out my thoughts about the issue!

                                    2. My rules are:
                                      If I'm in a place where I have no faith in their ability to make it right (IOW, the substitute food has just as high a risk of being as nasty as the food I send back), then I just resolve never to eat there again.

                                      If the food is spoiled, I always complain and ask them to take it off the bill.

                                      If it's overdone or underdone, and I think they can get it right, I send it back.

                                      If I order a wine and it's "hot," (super high in alcohol), I send it back, as in the case of a Pinot Noir that was 15.9% (yes). How did they get it that high thru fermentation alone, I wonder?

                                      And my number one rule for complaining is to do so graciously. You never want to piss off someone who is alone with your food.

                                      6 Replies
                                      1. re: Isolda

                                        Why should the restaurant be responsible for the alcohol content of the wine? If you know you prefer wines under a certain percentage, why not let your server guide you to a selection you'll enjoy?

                                        1. re: babette feasts

                                          Babette feasts i agree with you on that point. Most odd, just request a lower % wine when you order?

                                          1. re: babette feasts

                                            They aren't responsible for the content, obviously, but it would be nice if they'd state what it is on their menu, just as they state food allergens or ingredients that might be of interest in helping one to make up one's mind. And I do inform the server. When they mess up, that's when I send it back.

                                            But there are times when I just want to look at the list, and pick my wine without involving the server or sommelier (if the restaurant has one.) That's why it would be nice to have the alcohol content on the list.

                                            To clarify, I'm not actually looking for low alcohol wines, just wines that don't follow the current trend of high alcohol content (over 14.5% or so). .

                                          2. re: Isolda

                                            You are supposed to know enough about the wine you order to choose one that is to your liking, or you should ask for guidance. If you know you don't like high alcohol wines, ask about the alcohol content when you order, or at least check it on the bottle before it is opened. The only reason to send a wine back when you taste it is if the wine is flawed (corked, for example).

                                            Just a few days ago Mr. MM and I were in a restaurant, and I ordered a bottle of wine. The server, who admittedly was on the young side, asked if either of us had had that wine before. I said yes, we had, and she said, "So we can skip the tasting then!" and started to pour the glasses. I put an immediate stop to that. Tasted the wine and it was fine. Told the server it was fine. "So do you want me to pour your glasses?" Poor kid just had no clue as to what the whole tasting ritual is for.

                                            1. re: Isolda

                                              I agree with Babette on the wine. Now, a deciding factor would be if I have specified a particular wine, and the sommelier/server recommended another with flaws. Now, and with that said, I do not really look into the ABV, except as a "parlor game" of guessing the ABV, but then it HAS to be balanced. I love many big Zins, some big PN's, and Syrahs, but balance is highly critical. Some Santa Rita Hills PN's look lopsided, if one just looks at the specs., but work well, when taken as a whole.

                                              If I have ordered an offending wine, then it is mine. If the sommelier/server has recommended another, after my initial order, then I discuss that choice with them. If I have ordered a lighter red Burg, or OR PN, and they insist on the Sea Smoke Ten (about the mentioned ABV), and I am not familiar with it, then they need to explain things. If I ordered the Ten, then it's mine, regardless, unless it is corked, or maderized.

                                              Just my opinion,


                                            2. Having worked as a bartender and a waitress as two different very busy, very popular places (family-owned and they worked there full-time) I am both super tolerant and very intolerant about dining issues.

                                              If a place is busy and the servers are moving, I have all the patience in the world as long as my glass is kept full.

                                              I respectfully complain as well as compliment.

                                              Reasons for complaints? When an appetizer comes out with the entree. When that happens, I tell the server to return it to the kitchen and please take it off the bill. I am always calm and polite but also to the point and explain why that is not acceptable or why I won't eat a salad with brown lettuce or why I want my $30 steak to be cooked to order or if hot food comes out cold, etc.

                                              Because I have weeded our restaurant garden over the years, I have more reasons to compliment than complain. We are regulars at our local places and management chit chats with most visits. I will absolutely compliment the servers, giving specific examples as to why they did a great job. If the food was particularly tasty, I will also give details about why I liked it.

                                              1. I will complain if it is either entirely the wrong thing or somehow inedible. Recent memories of sending food back: food served luke warm and gross (and then sent back again when it was clear that all that happened was it was microwaved and came out rubbery), food that was so salty as to be inedible, food that has onions on it when I have clearly asked for no onions (and they are easily not added, as in a salad or sandwich). I have also sent back wine that tastes funny. Never had quesitons asked.

                                                1. My general rule for complaining in a restaurant is: If I feel it is something they can fix, I complain. If not, I just deal with it.

                                                  1. I complain when I order gluten-free food and it arrives with gluten all over it after making my dietary restrictions very clear (but nicely). It is not possible for me to eat it if it has been contaminated so have no option but to send it back. :-( Usually high-end restaurants are very good and knowledgable about this (and I always do call to speak with the chef in advance); however, more casual places sometimes bring my salad with house croutons sprinkled on it. I tell them they must make me a new salad; simply removing the croutons is unsafe.

                                                    4 Replies
                                                    1. re: chefathome

                                                      absolutely and totally acceptable...when it's your health at stake (and we're talking genuine medical issues here, not diet-of-the-week hogwash) -- you owe no one any apologies for insisting it be made in a manner in which it will NOT make you ill.

                                                      1. re: sunshine842

                                                        Exactly. A short time ago as I explained my restrictions to our server she literally rolled her eyes, put her hands on her hips then sighed loudly. She continued to be extremely rude. When I asked her to confirm things with the chef she said loudly to attract attention, "I told you I already did. I told him at least six times." It was at a higher-end place, too. We complained about her and a few minutes later she was suddenly drippingly sweet and kind (incredibly insincere). The food was excellent but if we ever returned I have her name and would ensure we did not have her serve us. It was so offputting that it nearly ruined our otherwise lovely evening.

                                                        1. re: chefathome

                                                          the problem is that all of the "diet-of-the-week hogwash" people screw it up for those of you who have real issues...they swear they're gluten-free, but then they take a bit of somebody's pasta...and everybody knows that they're not really sensitive to gluten. So like the little boy crying wolf, I'm sure it gets hard to take when you're a server and hear the whiney voices all the time. She didn't handle it well *at all*....but I can see how she could have been driven to that sort of reaction.

                                                          To me it's like riding around Disney in a wheelchair to get the express treatment on rides....the karma for that kind of crap has to be pretty harsh.

                                                          I like the signs posted on the handicapped parking in Europe -- it translates to "If you're going to take my parking space, make sure you take my handicap"

                                                          I genuinely wish that all of these "diet-of-the-week" d-bags could spend just a few hours going through what you have to deal with if you eat something that's been cross-contaminated. It would cut down considerably on the "give me special treatment" bozos.

                                                          1. re: sunshine842

                                                            Exactly. Those of us with celiac really bristle at the gluten-free "fad" that really ruins things for us. The one positive thing about it is more and more GF products are becoming available. But it is so hurtful when we are so restricted with where we can eat, anyway, to be treated like criminals because of something we cannot help. I would so love for people to go through just one day of living with celiac disease - having to read labels and be constantly aware of every morsel that goes into your mouth. Not only aware but we must contact companies to ensure their products are produced in dedicated facilities, know what their cleaning practices are, and so on. Many prescription drugs, vitamins, etc. contain gluten. Same with some toothpastes and many mouthwashes. My dentist cannot use his rinse on my teeth as it contains gluten. Same with fluoride - I cannot have their fluoride treatments. If someone dips a knife into butter then spreads it on their bread and touches the butter or something else with it, that item is then contaminated. More difficult than just avoiding bread, that is for sure.

                                                            Thanks for understanding.

                                                    2. I've many times sent back salad that had raw onions in it when I asked for no onions, and salad that was drenched in dressing when I asked for dressing on the side. I once sent back a piece of fish that was frozen in the middle, and once a pork chop that was raw in the middle. I don't specifically recall sending back overcooked steak, but it's probably happened, as I like mine rare. I've never gotten an argument--or indeed, anything but an apology and a replacement--from a server or manager over something like that. And if the food was especially delicious, I'll convey that to the server or the chef. In my view, dining out is a business transaction. If the food isn't as described on the menu or as agreed upon between the customer and the server, the restaurant has failed to keep its end of the bargain and should either provide an appropriate dish in a reasonable amount of time, or make good in some other way, such as by removing the charge from the bill. If the restaurant has prepared and served the food properly and I simply didn't like it, I'll admit it if asked; but I don't expect a replacement, and I feel it's still my responsiblity to pay for it.

                                                      1. I always ask for dressing on the side when ordering salad as I find most restaurants use way too much. It's not an unusual request but I think I only get it right half of the time.

                                                        5 Replies
                                                        1. re: ola

                                                          I can't believe that I read the whole thread, but I did; in part because of my experience in Chicago this past weekend. In the past I was more assertive when it came to responding to less than adequate service and ill prepared food. I now live in Tampa Bay, another tourist heavy area and this may account for my increased passiveness/tolerance. We went to O.J. in Old Town Chicago. Other than having the food delivered to our table and the initial pouring of water, no one ever came to our table or asked us if everything was fine. IT WASN'T. It was obvious that the management was also serving and return customers were getting service and communication. The only service that we got was that our empty plates were removed - silently. My dish was beyond being edible. Spices were great, however the thinly shaved lamb was the texture of sandpaper. My husband's dish was different and edible. He ate mine since no one even asked why mine sat there for about 15 minutes untouched. I ate his. At the end I tipped about 12% vs my customary 18 to 25%. While we were in the vestibule reading - antiquated & outdated reviews - the waitress came out to get my missing signitaure on the CC receipt. At this point she madea comment about seeing us when we came back. I responded that based on the service and quality of food that would never happen. She stated that we never called her over to ask for anything or to complain - my response was: "You're right no one ever came back to check on us or ask us if we were doing OK." I am not accustomed to hailing people down - I'm from the South. She wanted us to speak to the manager - I graciously declined and we left. Within a minute the owner came outside and stopped us. His position was that if we were unhappy with the service or food it was our responsibility to bring it to their attention. My position was and remains that it is not for me to try to hail down a server as they provide services to other tables. They should have noticed that I was not touching the food, while 2 others ate, and should have asked. Also it is their job to bring water, not mine to ask for it. Had the owner and server given me 1/2 the attention during my dining experience that they did after it - things would have been better for all parties concerned. Also he made excuses why the meat was so dry and brittle - and said that they could have put some "gravy" on it to moisten it. Personally all this did was reaffirm the fact that they could/would not have been able to rectify the situation adequately. Rehydrating "jerky-like" meat with a blanket of gravy does not solve the problem. I closed by stating that my level of expectation and requirements were not compatible with his product and letting bygones be bygones is the best solution. Sometimes - walking away is the best part of valor. I bet he's still scratching his head wondering why we felt that "flagging down" the staff would be rude.

                                                          1. re: Afternoon Delight

                                                            You cannot assume that they can read your mind.

                                                            If the food is ill-prepared, SAY SO. If the service is inattentive, SAY SO. If you bring it to their attention and it's not changed, then ask for the manager.

                                                            But if management was serving, there was something wrong and they were pretty deep in the weeds...and it's up to you to say HEY....FIX THIS. (nicely, please) because they're running ragged trying to keep up with the tables when something has pretty obviously gone very far off the tracks.

                                                            Chicago is a food town -- and bad food and bad service don't survive...the owner tried to make it right...but you didn't give him the chance to follow through.

                                                            They can't fix it if you don't tell them it's broken. Why should they KNOW you don't like it? Why should they KNOW it's too dry? They're zooming around trying to keep the lid on things, and no, they aren't taking the time to notice that you're sitting there staring at your plate. Maybe you're in a bad mood...maybe you're not all that hungry...maybe you're having a conversation that is killing your appetite. Open your mouth and SAY SOMETHING.

                                                            But you can't expect them to read your mind, swoop in, remove your plate and replace it with something better, apologize, and remove it from the tab all without you having to lift your arm or exercise your vocal cords.....that's simply unrealistic. I called Tampa home for over a quarter of a century, so I know fully well that not only would the servers there be no better at noticing your untouched plate, but that there is also not some undiscovered community of clairvoyants staffing all of the city's restaurants, so yes, I'm calling BS on your claim that Tampa servers are all-knowing and hover over you to make sure everything's wonderful in your world. They're not, and they don't (and I love my hometown, but I broke my rose-colored glasses a long time ago).

                                                            And make sure you change your expectations should you ever leave the US...it's expected that the waitstaff will leave you the hell alone until you indicate you need something from them (it's not rude or inattentive...it's leaving you to enjoy your dinner and the company you are with)

                                                            1. re: sunshine842

                                                              I sympathize with Afternoon Delight and feel that Sunshine was a bit harsh... until I remember an experience I had as a very young man who for some reason got upgraded to first class. When the steward served me chicken instead of beef and walked away, I turned to the older businessman next to me and said, "I asked for beef and he brought me chicken." The businessman, instead of sympathizing with me, got almost angry at me, and said to me very pointedly, "You should get what you want."

                                                              It was a lesson that stuck with me about being in control of my own situation, not allowing myself to become victimized. I later understood it is about codependency and the life outlook of people who complain. You make a decision to either be content with the situation or to change the situation, but don't sit there and stew.

                                                              1. re: GraydonCarter

                                                                But isn't it SOP for the server to at least check in at the table at least once throughout the evening? Not just when you take the first bite of food to ask how are things but at some other point during the experience. Then maybe dissatisfaction can be communicated. Besides, if the owners are running around like crazy, it may have been a challenge to get their attention.

                                                                1. re: binkychow

                                                                  It *should* be...but it sounds like things were pretty far off the track that night, and so if it's not right, you have to take control over your own experience.

                                                                  It's nowhere near the same seriousness...but this calls to mind the sexual harassment seminars I had to sit through when I worked for a Fortune 500...one of the most important points that was rehashed and rehashed that "everyone's definition of acceptable is different...and if you don't say it ISN'T acceptable, then you can't blame someone for assuming you think it's acceptable.

                                                        2. I sent a bagel back. The breakfast I ordered was supposed to include a whole wheat bagel. I got a raisin bagel instead. NOT what I wanted or ordered.

                                                          Once our party got some spoiled mussels. The manager noticed that we were just looking at our appetizer, and when we explained, they were taken away. Another time we got some bad shrimp for an appetizer, and we did send them back. So I guess for me, if the food is inedible, I'll send it back.

                                                          On the other hand I got some Chinese food that inexplicably sweet. (Pork with garlic) I hated it! But I didn't send it back.

                                                          1. Maybe I'm lucky, but I rarely complain or send anything back. Once, raw steak (and I like things rare) and once a literally frozen chicken thing on a kids menu. For a server to not get ANY tip he/she would probably have to tell me to go f&^% myself. Their salary is usually less than half of anyone else’s minimum wage and if my minimum wage employee sucks at his job, I still have to pay him right up to the minute he’s fired. I will ask that something I ordered and didn't get be taken off the bill and if I got the wrong thing altogether, I'd have that replaced. Other than that, the only time in recent memory I complained about bad (non-existent) service, I did so by email to the owner.

                                                            Sometimes the restaurant's food just isn't that good. I tend to not return rather than go through the entire menu until we get to something I might like. I do hold pricier places to a higher standard. If McDonald's burger sucks, I don't send it back because it's supposed to suck. If I'm dropping $30 on an entree, I expect more but still, unless it was totally inedible, I’d probably deal with it and either order something else next time or, if I think the restaurant is just not very good, I won’t return. If you’re an adventurous eater you have to plan on trying things you might not like – in those instances, it’s usually not the restaurants fault.

                                                            No one looks at it from the side of the restaurant. My son cooked in two steakhouses and you would be amazed how often a perfectly cooked medium steak is sent back because it is "overcooked" costing the restaurant the profit on the next 2 or 3 steaks they serve. At least in the places he worked, they’d eat it and send out another, going rare the next time (yes, they did sometimes under/over cook a steak that might have been sent back as well, or eaten). There are a lot of people out there who do not know the difference between a medium and a medium rare steak. Then there is, as some have mentioned, the "very well done" customer who then complains that the steak (or tuna as in the case of my MIL) is too dry.
                                                            I have yet to be out with MIL where something was not sent back. Soup? Always not hot enough even if it were bubbling like lava. Once she finished an entree only to be asked how it was - she replied that she didn't care for it and they insisted on bringing out something else. She took one bite, declared it meh and then asked for a doggy bag for the rest.

                                                            Finally, there is actually a fairly sizable group of people who complain just to get comped something. The average chowhound? Probably not. But believe it or not there are those out there who are aware that if they complain, management will take something off the bill or maybe even comp an entire meal. When my son was working at another place, he jokingly told me to eat there, complain about the food and, not to worry; it will be on the house. These people are well known in the business and every now and then a legit complaint might not get the treatment it should deserve because of these… ah, people.

                                                            1. I really wish I had complained at a gastropub we went to lunch at a fortnight ago. BUT - it was the leaving party of someone who worked for me, and they had chosen the venue, so I was very reluctant to make a fuss in front of them.

                                                              I did leave a review on a local review website - to which the management responded, if rather snarkily. I felt heartened that the only other reviews were also negative.

                                                              The service was atrocious, the portion of the main course was tiny, and the menu descriptions were so minimalistic that it wasn't clear what was going to turn up. For example, "egg custard" on the menu transpired to be a custard tart, not something like a creme brulee.

                                                              Unforgivable however, was the "traditional bread and butter pudding" which came stuffed with dried fruit and nuts, and the bread was not adequately soaked through with custard, resulting in stale clumps of bread.

                                                              I did think about complaining but didn't want to spoil the atmosphere.

                                                              1 Reply
                                                              1. re: serah

                                                                in a case like that, it's for the greater good...and I think you did the right thing.

                                                                I'd only send something back in that sort of situation if it was so grievously awful as to be genuinely inedible (undercooked chicken, burned steak that couldn't even be trimmed, etc).

                                                              2. I was also wondering what the proper thing to do is, and whether it's possible or appropriate to send feedback after the fact. The chance to complain to the restaurant is long over (and I regret not sending it back now), but I'm wondering if I should send in written feedback to highlight there is inconsistency in the kitchen?

                                                                We recently had a very disappointing expensive steak. It ended up being medium when we asked for medium-rare (also the default suggestion), so the texture was tough even though it was cooked sous-vide and then grilled. I wouldn't have thought to complain (it's not a steakhouse), except my husband had it previously and kept raving it was the best steak in his life. But when he tried it the second time with me, it was an utter failure. Even our steaks made at home had more crust.

                                                                We were with another couple, so it seemed a bit nitpicky to say anything at the time. But I'm still bothered that we got an inconsistent steak at that price point and also at a celebrity chef's restaurant. What would be the proper way to inform the restaurant about this inconsistency? My goal is more for helpful feedback (not compensation) because the restaurant had put out an exceptional steak before, and it's disappointing to think that the experience can never be repeated.

                                                                1 Reply
                                                                1. re: tofuflower

                                                                  I've only complained to the management a couple of times.
                                                                  The trouble was by the time I felt compelled to complain I was so POed I couldn't enjoy the meal after.
                                                                  I hate the feeling of going to any restaurant and knowing I'm likely going to have to 'run the gauntlet' server/food quality/too loud music/obnoxious people sitting at the next table/crappy house wine/prices too high/portions too small etc etc.
                                                                  That's why I now seldom go into any restaurant unless I'm travelling.
                                                                  We always book a motel with a kitchenette.

                                                                2. WHEN YOU ARE STILL IN THE RESTAURANT!
                                                                  ( i did not read this thread)
                                                                  THEY WANT YOUR FEEDBACK BEFORE YOUR LEAVE-------- if you had a great meal you tell 5 ppl, if it wasnt so good you tell 15( or in some posters on my local board,you tell 1000!
                                                                  ( and now i will read the entire board, thank you)

                                                                  1. When my meal is not the temperature I'm expecting, I say something. i.e., Oh, I'm surprised that the soup is served cold; the menu didn't mention that. OR. When the menu is revised, please include in the description that the salad has a warm topping. OR... was this dish meant to be cold/room temp?
                                                                    I sent back a steak dinner (in a newly opened location of a popular, moderately priced steakhouse chain) for being cold. Yes, cold. Plate was COLD. Cooked vegetables barely warm. Steak at body temp. Second version was also cold. Third plate was delivered by the manager. Wine, cocktails, dessert and my entree were comp'd.
                                                                    Since opening, some changes of infrastructure and logistics have improved the situation.
                                                                    The location does brisk business, and I'm glad that I was smart enough to speak up.

                                                                    1. i worked in fine dining for MANY years and for quite a few very talented, but thoroughly bonkers, chef/owners.

                                                                      the best time to complain is ON THE SPOT. that will give the staff the opportunity to make things right and provide some sincere good will. a million monkey wrenches might be flying through boh/foh of which the average diner would be unaware. you sitting sullenly pushing food around on your plate and looking miserable may have nothing at all to do with your meal and may make the server hesitant to approach if it feels like the table is having some sort of sticky personal issue.

                                                                      i have worked with european managers who very much dislike the american custom of doing a check-back mid-meal. the assumption is that yes, everything was prepared properly, so why interrupt the patrons' meal?

                                                                      if you are displeased with the food, THE ONUS IS ON YOU to communicate.

                                                                      there will always be folks who are miserable and cannot enjoy themselves. they complain about everything no matter what. "is anything ok?" would always have been on the tip of my tongue. but if you feel reasonable and a dish is ill-prepared, you need to speak up.

                                                                      as mentioned elsewhere within this thread, if you are in a social situation where sending back the dish would just be too awkward that is one thing. it's still possible to excuse yourself from the table and speak discreetly to the manager. at the very least, he/ she will take the dish off the bill.

                                                                      if my meat is over-cooked, i will send it back. i sometimes feel like a MR burger is my holy grail.

                                                                      when i order an absolut and soda and get tonic (50% of the time, lol) i send it back immediately.

                                                                      i have sent back plenty of old/corked glasses of wine. most recently the server returned to tell me, "well the bartender said it's supposed to taste like that." having worked most of my career as a sommelier i pretty much wanted to punch both him and the snotty bartender in the throat, lol. even if i had been wrong, arguing with a guest is totally terrible form and something that will come back to bite you in the ass. however, as a guest, sending back a wine that you ordered on your own because you don't like it even though it is sound, is totally wrong and is all on you. a good place will take it back graciously, but, boy, you are being an ass.