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Returning Food - My Moral Dilemma

FattyDumplin Apr 8, 2013 01:15 PM

Was at a nice Italian place last night and ordered the Bistecca medium rare. It came well-done. I debated long and hard, before finally asking the steak to be re-fired.

I used to have no problem sending food back, particularly when it's an item that was clearly asked to be prepared in a certain manner, but came totally different than asked. But over the years, I've become increasingly aware of food waste and just how fortunate I am that I can usually eat what I choose.

And in this case (and others), it's become a huge internal struggle for me between getting what I want but also not wasting a perfectly good piece of meat that many many people could never dream of throwing away.

Does anyone else go through this? Just curious because certainly the Chowhound population is a) inclined to be picky about the way food is prepared but also b) very aware of social topics regarding food, such as waste

  1. pikawicca Apr 8, 2013 01:21 PM

    In this instance, I would have no hesitation in sending the steak back, as it was not what you ordered.

    50 Replies
    1. re: pikawicca
      FattyDumplin Apr 8, 2013 02:25 PM

      so the waste part of the equation never comes into play for you? I agree, in a world where food is plentiful and no one starves, I would have had no issues sending it back as a steak medium rare is both a) a reasonable / standard request and b) not an objective measurement. But somehow it just bothers me that a piece of meat that many others will never be fortunate enough to taste is just thrown away.

      1. re: FattyDumplin
        pikawicca Apr 8, 2013 03:37 PM

        As I posted, "in this instance" the "waste part of the equation" does not.

        1. re: pikawicca
          FattyDumplin Apr 8, 2013 04:26 PM


        2. re: FattyDumplin
          sagewisdom Apr 8, 2013 03:40 PM

          Perhaps this stuff isn't thrown away in merciful places. I'm lucky enough to travel these days. It wasn't always the case for either my husband or I and we worked in kitchens. These days if we're at an American restaurant with huge portions, and we're leaving town, we ask for a doggy bag. Then we ask our server to gift it to the neediest person in the kitchen like the dishwasher. This takes the liability out of the restaurants hands. We get some pretty surprised reactions but they always do it.

          1. re: sagewisdom
            pinehurst Apr 8, 2013 03:48 PM

            Sincere answer: I would not, for health reasons (and no offense to you, at all...I'd say this for anyone) want to eat a stranger's leftovers. Never. Ever. Untouched food is one thing. A doggy bag is another.

            1. re: pinehurst
              Dirtywextraolives Apr 9, 2013 01:34 PM

              Perfect example of a first world answer. If you were homeless and starving, you wouldn't think twice.

              1. re: Dirtywextraolives
                hotoynoodle Apr 9, 2013 01:44 PM

                i venture to guess most on this board do indeed live in the 1st world. having internet is one of those privileges. :)

                1. re: hotoynoodle
                  Dirtywextraolives Apr 9, 2013 06:14 PM

                  Indeed. But I don't need to venture to guess that at least my city has a large homeless & hungry population......

                2. re: Dirtywextraolives
                  xanadude Apr 9, 2013 09:56 PM

                  It's safe to say the dishwasher is probably neither homeless nor starving, and even safe to venture that very few Americans are currently starving.

                  And yes, even the homeless here are cautioned not to consume half-eaten food.

                  1. re: Dirtywextraolives
                    pinehurst Apr 10, 2013 12:39 PM

                    I don't think it's a "first world" assumption that restaurant help might not wish to be "gifted" my half eaten food.

                    1. re: Dirtywextraolives
                      westsidegal Jul 18, 2013 11:02 PM

                      the kid of a friend of mine worked his way through college as a restaurant server. when diners requested a doggie bag and then forgot to take the bag with them upon leaving, he'd take the abandoned bags home with him for his next meal.

                      he was an ambitious kid who vowed he'd finish college with NO student debt and he succeeded at that.
                      also, apparently never got ill from eating all those left overs.

                  2. re: sagewisdom
                    MagicMarkR Apr 8, 2013 05:27 PM

                    Umm, I'm sure the dishwasher really appreciates that. (And of course with the doggie bag, you are still paying for the food which you've chosen not to eat, whereas the OP's dilemma is returning the food for a replacement.)

                    And just curious, pikawicca, but what makes "this instance" different from another instance? Clearly the OP's issue is with the morality of waste, not the morality of sending something back because you are paying and it is something you did not order, (where is the immorality in that unless it involves harassing behavior or unreasonably onerous demands towards the staff?).

                    I dunno, it's a slippery slope (e.g. you should not even be ordering meat at all, because --the argument goes-- it takes more calories of input in terms of feed than the output in terms of meat, so by feeding the cattle, you are taking food out of the mouths of people who do not have enough). I figure that if you do not make a habit of returning food every time it does not meet your exact specifications, and generally avoid habitually wasting or gratuitously tossing out food, you are on defensible moral ground.

                    1. re: sagewisdom
                      iluvcookies Apr 9, 2013 06:16 AM

                      That sounds demeaning... restaurants provide meals for their staff.
                      Why not simply give it to a homeless person on the way back to your hotel or car?

                      1. re: iluvcookies
                        hotoynoodle Apr 9, 2013 10:08 AM

                        not all restaurants offer staff meals and not all offer free staff meals either.

                        how is it less demeaning to give half-eaten food to a homeless person?

                        1. re: hotoynoodle
                          pollymerase Apr 9, 2013 01:18 PM

                          I think it is the assumption that staff members, like the dishwasher, are needy.

                          1. re: pollymerase
                            hotoynoodle Apr 9, 2013 01:42 PM

                            and some might be needy, but concerned about the hygiene involved eating off a stranger's plate. yuk. the guest could have sneezed all over it, or worse.

                            1. re: hotoynoodle
                              pollymerase Apr 9, 2013 06:11 PM

                              Indeed. I had actually started to mention that as well, but hesitated when thinking about my younger brother. He washed dishes in high school and college at a nice, local steakhouse. He typically would not hesitate to eat crab legs or lobster that was returned and appeared untouched, but I don't think he ever was riffling through half-eaten food in the doggy bags that were forgotten/left behind at the end of the night. Obviously, somewhat of a contradiction.

                            2. re: pollymerase
                              iluvcookies Apr 9, 2013 02:37 PM

                              Exactly this, polymerase. Why assume the dishwasher is needy or wants your food? Offering it to someone who is more clearly in need is a better, though still not perfect, solution.

                              1. re: iluvcookies
                                hotoynoodle Apr 10, 2013 06:37 AM

                                went on a date once long ago and he insisted on wrapping up the left-overs, even though we had plans for after. he then tried more than once to give the left-overs to a few homeless people we passed. this was in the midst of truly dire recession in the '80s and homelessness in boston was very bad.

                                the bag was clearly marked with the name of a respectable restaurant.

                                not one person wanted the food. i tried explaining that it was demeaning and unsanitary and he just angry, finally tossing the stuff in the trash.

                                last date.

                                1. re: hotoynoodle
                                  EWSflash Aug 1, 2013 11:52 PM

                                  Interesting. I've had people on the streets actually ask for my leftovers.

                              2. re: pollymerase
                                westsidegal Jul 18, 2013 11:07 PM

                                if you've ever tried living on minimum wage in los angeles, you would know that the dishwashers really ARE needy.

                                maybe minimum wage can cut it in rural areas, but truly you are poverty stricken in my city if that is all that you have to depend on.

                                1. re: westsidegal
                                  Firegoat Jul 19, 2013 04:19 PM

                                  In the rural area where I live minimum wage will NOT cut it. Anyone I know making it, or slightly higher, is working at least 2 full time jobs.

                                  1. re: Firegoat
                                    westsidegal Aug 1, 2013 01:43 PM

                                    firegoat: then the situation is universal.
                                    i am always flabbergasted when i hear folks talk as though minimum wage is anywhere near a living wage and that workers should be THRILLED to be working yet still be living in poverty.

                              3. re: hotoynoodle
                                westsidegal Jul 18, 2013 11:20 PM

                                i'd say it's especially NOT demeaning to give food to a homeless person who is engaged in digging through the trash can in front of a fast food restaurant hoping to find some left over food . . . . .

                                1. re: westsidegal
                                  hotoynoodle Jul 19, 2013 08:06 PM

                                  there are many levels of "starving" to be certain, and i do not dispute that. however, and i have been told this by more than one homeless advocate, giving them your 1/2-eaten food IS considered demeaning by many. some people hold onto their pride longer than others, i suppose.

                                  nobody in boston can survive on minimum wage either. 98% of the lower-wage restaurant workers i know have at least 2 jobs, some have 3, and they all live with lots and lots of room-mates. that doesn't mean across the board they happily and gratefully seagull leftovers.

                                  1. re: hotoynoodle
                                    westsidegal Aug 1, 2013 01:45 PM

                                    if even a couple of them will use the food (even if they feed it to their pets), imho, it's better to give the food away.

                            3. re: sagewisdom
                              Niblet Apr 9, 2013 02:03 PM

                              Please consider that you may now be wasting not only the food, but also packaging for a doggy bag, as your offering is likely thrown away.

                              1. re: Niblet
                                hotoynoodle Apr 9, 2013 02:11 PM

                                while working in a boston restaurant a few months back, a guest from the south did not finish his meal. he asked me to bag up his remaining steak and any of the unfinished sides on the table.

                                "aren't you staying in a hotel? i knew he was - he'd told me so earlier. a hotel directly across the street. not even 50 yards away.

                                he said he was going to find a "deserving homeless person" and give the bag to him/her. leaving aside what he would deem"deserving", i explained that particular neighb had NO homeless. none. that in 3 years of working there, all hours of day and night, i had never seen one. i repeated this over his insistence a couple times, then finally gave in.

                                it was at least 6 plastic boxes plus a giant paper shopping bag full of food that i know went shortly right into the trash. stoopid.

                                1. re: hotoynoodle
                                  Dax Jul 18, 2013 11:46 AM

                                  That is a LOT of leftovers.

                                  Also, what does being from the South have to do with anything?

                                  I am from the South and generally would never offer a homeless person my leftovers (I prefer them later!) but once when travelling in Austin, TX I was approached for money by someone on a lesser travelled road under a bridge. I said no to a gift of money but that I had lots of leftover mutton from Sam's BBQ and the person accepted.

                                  1. re: Dax
                                    westsidegal Jul 18, 2013 11:10 PM

                                    i regularly see homeless people digging through the public trash bins looking for discarded food.
                                    not at all unusual.

                                    1. re: westsidegal
                                      James Cristinian Jul 19, 2013 04:31 PM

                                      I saw a lady give a homeless man at a traffic light a grocery store cooked chicken and he scurried under the overpass he was standing by, happy as a clam, probably the best meal he had in a while.

                                      1. re: westsidegal
                                        hotoynoodle Jul 19, 2013 08:08 PM

                                        don't hipsters call that freeganism?

                                    2. re: hotoynoodle
                                      Bill Hunt Jul 28, 2013 07:56 PM

                                      I am from the Deep South, and am not a fan of "doggie bags." As I travel most of the year, I have few ways to dine on those leftovers, so decline them.

                                      If the restaurant has some program to hand those leftovers out, that is their business.

                                      I strongly prefer portions that are intelligently sized, to begin with, so that we do NOT have many leftovers.

                                      I donate heavily to many charities, and have been responsible for bringing neurosurgeons to Tanzania, so it is not that I have zero responsibility - it is that I cannot be involved in every cause, known to mankind. What the restaurant does with any leftovers is their business. I eat what I desire, and leave the rest - for kitchen staff, the homeless man on the corner, the "starving children in China." Whatever.

                                      I would hope that if the restaurant sees a lot of uneaten food, they will change the portions.


                                      1. re: Bill Hunt
                                        hotoynoodle Jul 30, 2013 11:43 AM

                                        i have worked for 2 high-end steakhouses. the amount of uneaten food that got scraped into the trash was shocking and disgusting.

                                        1. re: hotoynoodle
                                          Bill Hunt Jul 30, 2013 05:47 PM

                                          If that is a continuing theme, then maybe the restaurants need to revisit their portion sizes.

                                          In the US, I find too many to be too large, though at the same time, I see folk on various restaurant review sites, citing them as being too small.

                                          When I dine out, I am never interested in "super-sizing" anything.


                                          1. re: Bill Hunt
                                            hotoynoodle Aug 1, 2013 01:02 PM

                                            it's part of the steakhouse WOW equation of too much food. gross to me and european diners would always freak out, but it keeps throngs of businessmen coming through the doors.

                                            1. re: hotoynoodle
                                              Bill Hunt Aug 1, 2013 06:25 PM

                                              I agree.

                                              We encountered a very good (by other standards), high-end steakhouse, BUT all portions were giant. This was at a resort, so I doubt that most patrons had kitchens.

                                              We ended up dining there two nights (on our own, then as guests of the event). I had come to know the GM, and talked to him about the portions. His predecessor had done away with the Petite Filet (about 8 oz), and started with a 12 oz. offering. He promised to bring back the smaller one, as his observations were the same as mine.

                                              The sides were more than enough to feed four hungry adults, and I urged him to put a little statement to that effect. He agreed, but did allow that many of their patrons DID want leftovers. I do not know why, as cold Mac & Cheese is just not that good in a hotel room.

                                              We were also the first patrons, who wanted their fabulous Cheese Course AFTER our meal. Our server was astounded, and tried to get us to that as an app. The Fromagier was delighted, and loaded us up. I could not even share my wife's dessert that night. Next night, he greeted us at the door, and asked if we would have him come to the table, after our dinners. I told him that was affirmative, and the took great care of our table - though I feel that many had never had a Cheese Course AFTER dinner.

                                              Now, and even with my admonitions, built from the night before, our host insisted on getting two sides of everything for the table of 12. Heck, we probably had 15 lbs. of leftover sides!

                                              Maybe times ARE changing?

                                              I think that I must be missing something, as there is a great segment of US diners, who feel that if they cannot walk out with enough food to feed their entire neighborhood for a week, they were short-changed. I am just not one of those. "Here, let me super-size that for you... !" [Frown]


                                              1. re: Bill Hunt
                                                EWSflash Aug 2, 2013 12:04 AM

                                                Neither am I, Bill, but if there's too much food, I'm going to take it with me if it's something I like and will eat later. I don't travel much, but haven't had a hotel room without a refrigerator in years and years.
                                                I also have no problem bringing meat scraps home for the dog. Too much food is wasted, per the OP's original subject. I do have concerns about that. I think it's a sin to waste good food.

                                                1. re: EWSflash
                                                  Bill Hunt Aug 2, 2013 07:27 PM

                                                  While we usually have something along the lines of a "Junior Suite," the 'fridges are usually filled with various items for the "mini-bar."


                                                  1. re: Bill Hunt
                                                    EWSflash Aug 2, 2013 07:57 PM

                                                    I have removed them temporarily and replaced them before we go, although I'm told that some of the ubernazi hotels have some RFID thing that charges your hotel room as soon as you take it out of the fridge. May be an urban myth or mythical deterrent from hotels, but a call to the front desk at a decent hotel should straighten things out.

                                                    You make no bones about the fact that you don't do leftovers. I respect your obviously experienced opinion, but we don't dine at the same level that you do. Fact is, I like leftovers. I don't scrape the whole table off into the styro container, but I do like having last night's leftover pasta for breakfast the next day.

                                                2. re: Bill Hunt
                                                  Lambowner Aug 2, 2013 11:33 AM

                                                  I am surprised by the cheese as dessert controversy as it is quite common to see it on dessert menus anymore. When we see it as an app, we usually just order it for dessert if we choose to have dessert, and I've not yet encountered any shocked visages over it. As an app, I fail to see its lure.

                                                  1. re: Lambowner
                                                    Bill Hunt Aug 2, 2013 07:34 PM

                                                    In the US, it seems common to order a Cheese Course as an app., but in many other parts of the world, it is a prelude to a dessert course - just not in the US.

                                                    I also fail to see any lure to having a full Cheese Course AS an app., and the Fromagier felt the same way - though it appeared that many servers did not feel that way.

                                                    At most restaurants, where we dine, around the globe, the Cheese Course will come after the Main Course, but before the Dessert Course.

                                                    Personally, I want MY Cheese Course to be after the Main Course, and before any Dessert Course. I do not want it as an Appetizer Course, but maybe that is just me?


                                                  2. re: Bill Hunt
                                                    josephnl Mar 13, 2014 12:56 PM

                                                    At restaurants where we know that the portions are too large, we often split things...especially if they will do it in the kitchen. I would much prefer that smaller portions be made available, but unfortunately that's not happening. Is it any wonder that obesity is epidemic in the US?

                                                    1. re: Bill Hunt
                                                      Ashforth Mar 16, 2014 02:33 PM

                                                      Sadly, as I read this I'm watching a Travel Channel show celebrating restaurants that feature grotesquely enormous portions and one morbidly obese American after another raving about them.

                                            2. re: hotoynoodle
                                              susancinsf Aug 2, 2013 12:37 PM

                                              I don't understand the staying in a hotel connection here. Many hotel rooms have fridges these days. I often take leftovers to have for breakfast if it is really good, Indeed, if something is really, really, really good and I can't finish it, I've been known to take it and keep it in the ice bucket to have either as a midnight snack or for breakfast!

                                              1. re: susancinsf
                                                Bill Hunt Aug 2, 2013 07:35 PM

                                                Many resorts might well have 'fridges, with room for some leftover, however, how many are really good, with no heating? Some might well be, but how many?


                                                1. re: Bill Hunt
                                                  EWSflash Aug 2, 2013 08:01 PM

                                                  Just gt back to town. The hotel we stayed in had a microwave and little fridge. We didn't use the microwave, but I felt better for having had it there.
                                                  Also, I don't always need my leftovers heated up. My guilty feral pleasure.

                                          2. re: sagewisdom
                                            jacquelyncoffey Jul 22, 2013 07:14 AM

                                            That's a very kind gesture, but I would bet it just ends up in the trash

                                          3. re: FattyDumplin
                                            Puffin3 Aug 2, 2013 06:30 AM

                                            You may be surprised to learn that a LOT of expensive food items like steaks, lobsters are not really thrown away by kitchen staff in a 'Ma and Pa' restaurant. For example if a Porter house steak comes back with one knife cut in it indicating the guest cut into the steak and didn't like what they saw then that steak is going to have any cut piece removed and it's going into the walk-in for some one to eat at home. A lobster that hasn't been touched? Same thing. Uneaten bread rolls can find their way to two or three or more tables during service. That steak that's undercooked and sent back can be 'resized' and re-fired and sent to another table. It can end up cubed in a nice tasty 'BB' the next day or so. LOTS and LOTS of 'things' happen in back-of-house'.
                                            Obviously very little of this goes on in 'chain' restaurants but in Ma and Pa's barely making it anyway you bet.

                                            1. re: Puffin3
                                              hotoynoodle Mar 17, 2014 10:24 AM

                                              these practices are all flagrant health code violations, regardless of who owns the shop. whether big city or small town an inspector could rightfully shut the place down on the spot.

                                              i spent 20+ years toiling in restaurants, have friends who have done it even longer, and NEVER seen nor heard anything like that happening. eating the cost of an overcooked steak is pennies compared to being forcibly closed and your code failures printed in the local paper.

                                        2. juliejulez Apr 8, 2013 02:18 PM

                                          I'm the same way. I feel like it's a huge waste to send food back if it's still edible, even if it wasn't done to my desires. I know I probably shouldn't feel that way since I am paying for the food and likely the restaurant folks want me to be happy as a customer, but I dunno, I just have a hard time with it.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: juliejulez
                                            Bill Hunt Jul 28, 2013 07:59 PM

                                            If you have zero desire for satisfaction, regarding what you ordered, then so be it.

                                            I work hard for my dining $'s, and demand satisfaction. If the restaurant gets it wrong, that is their problem, and disposal of their mistakes, is again... their problem.

                                            Sorry to want what I ordered, but that is how it is.


                                          2. pinehurst Apr 8, 2013 02:30 PM

                                            I do know what you're saying, but remember that you're paying for a service, and you should get exactly what you pay for.

                                            To extrapolate to the absurd, if you went to the dealership to buy (say) a black Ford F 150 and they gave you a perfectly good white one, would you keep it? Lots of folks can't afford their own vehicles.

                                            Don't feel guilty for asking for what you paid for.

                                            1. b
                                              baseballfan Apr 8, 2013 02:34 PM

                                              I have no problem sending back something that was not prepared as I requested it. If I order a steak rare and it comes well done, it is going to get wasted whether I send it back or not because I will not eat it.

                                              I have an issue with people I see at buffets who come back with one overflowing plate after another but don't eat even a fraction of what they took. I find that to be incredibly wasteful.

                                              I am also very careful not to waste food at home. My main concern there is really about not wasting money but it goes hand in hand with the total concept.

                                              1. v
                                                Virginian Apr 8, 2013 02:37 PM

                                                Food that has been plated and served cannot be served to someone else, but I would imagine that the kitchen staff can and does consume your cut, but not eaten steak. Also I'll wager that a steak such as yours may be incorporated in some different preparation of a beef dish. Or, maybe not.

                                                2 Replies
                                                1. re: Virginian
                                                  GH1618 Apr 8, 2013 02:43 PM

                                                  I doubt it would get reused in any way in the kitchen. In the restaurant I worked in many years ago, it would have gone into a doggie bag for some employee.

                                                  1. re: GH1618
                                                    Virginian Apr 8, 2013 03:03 PM

                                                    Well, I figured I was pretty far out on the limb regarding the second part of my post.

                                                2. g
                                                  GH1618 Apr 8, 2013 02:40 PM

                                                  I very rarely send food back. In this case, when it is way over-cooked, I would send it back. I wouldn't if it were medium.

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: GH1618
                                                    Firegoat Jul 19, 2013 04:21 PM

                                                    I'm with G on this issue. I'm not overly particular. If I'm paying a ridiculous amount I might be a little more picky, but in general I just want to enjoy my meal and not make waves.

                                                  2. DuchessNukem Apr 8, 2013 03:09 PM

                                                    I totally get the issue. I'm very waste-conscious at home; and I'll doggy-bag anything at a restaurant if I can repurpose it.

                                                    Yet dining out is about eating AND entertainment. You could have made that steak to your taste at home for $8. You could see the local amateur play cheaply vs. the Broadway version; you could wait for 6 months to see that fab new movie on Netflix. If you've ever been on a cruise you know it's monstrously wasteful (but fun!).

                                                    So I relax the rules because I'm paying for the whole experience. I'm not perfect; I don't have a negative carbon footprint; I like two-ply toilet paper, sometimes even quilted. Life's too short for corncobs and Sears catalog.

                                                    1. njmarshall55 Apr 8, 2013 03:09 PM

                                                      Another consideration is what the staff MAY do to it before returning it to you....ala Tony Bourdain's expose of kitchen mis-management.

                                                      1. PotatoHouse Apr 8, 2013 03:31 PM

                                                        Sorry, but my eating an overcooked piece of shoe leather will not magically allow some starving kid in Kenya to go to bed with a full belly. If it would, I would gladly eat it every night, but the world is what it is and I like my steak blood rare.

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: PotatoHouse
                                                          Bill Hunt Jul 28, 2013 08:03 PM

                                                          My feelings, exactly.

                                                          I am paying for my meal, and that might well be my entire dining budget for the week, or maybe not.

                                                          I want what I ordered, and what I will pay for.

                                                          If the restaurant gets it correct, then there should be zero waste.


                                                        2. m
                                                          maxie Apr 8, 2013 03:50 PM

                                                          First, the food will not be wasted, but most likely be eaten by someone back of house.

                                                          Second, sending back the food increases the food cost to the restaurant, so management should be on the cook about getting it right the first time to improve their bottom line. Everyone makes a mistake, but those who do so repeatedly have got to go. This suggests, of course, that someone is paying attention. If they aren't, you might want to reconsider eating there.

                                                          1. mcf Apr 8, 2013 04:03 PM

                                                            I am unable to choke down well done meat, so it would be a waste if I kept it, too. That and raw/undercooked chicken go back. Otherwise, I just leave it on the plate and stay away from the place.

                                                            If you can stand to eat it and feel bad sending it back, then don't.

                                                            1. f
                                                              FattyDumplin Apr 8, 2013 04:25 PM

                                                              Ah, so the wildcard I neglected to consider is that someone ultimately does eat it. Which makes it that much easier for me to return and ask for what I wanted.

                                                              To the person who said that some kid in Kenya isn't better off because I eat my dry steak... I totally agree. It's like when you're a kid and your mom says don't waste X because someone [homeless / in Kenya / in China] is starving and would love to eat X. And i said, fine, then give it to them... That being said, I know there isn't some magical transitive property here, but it just makes me feel bad and unappreciative.

                                                              1 Reply
                                                              1. re: FattyDumplin
                                                                EWSflash Aug 2, 2013 12:09 AM

                                                                Nobody else has said this, so I will- I admire your thoughtfulness and social conscience, fattydumplin.

                                                              2. h
                                                                Hobbert Apr 8, 2013 05:12 PM

                                                                How about this- every time you send something back, make a donation to your local food bank. You can relieve your guilt, enjoy your meal, and directly benefit your community. Everybody wins!

                                                                1. hotoynoodle Apr 9, 2013 10:10 AM

                                                                  it's the restaurant's responsibility to prepare food properly. if that had been done, they wouldn't have to cook a second steak. the onus is on them, not you, the paying guest.

                                                                  1. sarahbeths Apr 9, 2013 10:24 AM

                                                                    Hi FD,

                                                                    I have the same issue. Though, I confess, I don't struggle with the decision as much as you do. I find that it helps to warn the restaurant that you're serious about your rareness. I guess this works better in establishments that aren't of the Michelin Star flavor, as that might seem like an insulting comment. Often at steakhouses when I order my steak rare the waiter will ask "That's a cool red center, is that ok?" And then I reply "Yes, very much so. And I hate to do it, but I only really like my steak that way so if it's overcooked I send it back, as much as it pains me". Even if I prematurely seem like a diva, I say it very nicely and I think they make a special note on my order, and it's usually cooked perfectly rare. I guess "medium rare" is a tad harder to order in this fashion...

                                                                    Let's face it- Steak is expensive. Those of us who aren't rich see it as a special treat to order a nice steak in a restaurant. It should be cooked the way we like. I just wouldn't spend 40+ on a well done steak (which I personally find gross) and I shouldn't have to. And as the others have pointed out, It's the restaurant who is wasting the food, not you.

                                                                    I like the suggestion of donating to the local food bank. And yes, hopefully people in the kitchen are devouring the steak that you sent back or at least taking it home to their dogs.

                                                                    Finally, I take comfort in the fact that this happens RARELY. I rarely order steak, and I rarely have to send it back. And there are so many times I don't particularly like my non-steak meals where I just suck it up and it eat it.

                                                                    1. h
                                                                      Harters Apr 9, 2013 10:34 AM

                                                                      In some 40 years of eating out, I can only recall three occasions when we've sent food back. On other rare occasions when, a item has not been perfect, I have accepted it. Not because of any issues of waste but, simply, so as not to disrupt the meal (say, by watching my partner eat her food and then to have her watching me eat mine - this is not conducive to an enjoyable date).

                                                                      12 August 1972 - food was cold

                                                                      October 1980 - steak was seriously undercooked

                                                                      May 2011 - dish had been requested without egg, but came with it - simply needed replating.

                                                                      5 Replies
                                                                      1. re: Harters
                                                                        jrvedivici Jul 23, 2013 07:21 AM

                                                                        Not to disagree with you Harters but I think you overlooked Sept. 1979 during the Reagan Presidential Debate you sent the pasta fagioli back, because instead of pancetta as the menu stated, it had bacon instead.

                                                                        1. re: jrvedivici
                                                                          Harters Jul 23, 2013 08:04 AM

                                                                          Not wishing to be pedantic (as I am a foreigner) but the presidential debates were in 1980, not 79 - it is why I remember our first trip to America and the fact that the "land of the steak" couldnt cook one properly :-0

                                                                          We flew home on election day (whichever date that is)

                                                                          1. re: Harters
                                                                            Lambowner Jul 23, 2013 08:28 AM

                                                                            Steak is most often ordered medium rare here. How "undercooked" was it?

                                                                            1. re: Lambowner
                                                                              Harters Jul 23, 2013 08:35 AM

                                                                              Seriously undercooked for how I'd ordered it.

                                                                              Can't be more precise - we are talking nearly 33 years ago. Or, in my case, nearly half a lifetime ago.

                                                                              1. re: Harters
                                                                                jrvedivici Jul 23, 2013 09:22 AM

                                                                                If you are being sincere, rather than humorous, as I assumed your rather precise recollection of returning meals seemed to be to me, I certainly commend you on your memory.

                                                                                I cannot tell you what I had for lunch the day before yesterday, let alone a dish I returned 33 years ago. (although I was only 10 years old at that time).

                                                                      2. Will Owen Apr 9, 2013 01:57 PM

                                                                        Most of these replies remind me of a former love whose mom, long before I knew them, had worked for several years waiting tables at a steak house. Divorced, with two daughters still at home and minimal (and unreliable) child support, she had to scrape to get by, and her co-workers knew it. And so it was that Judy remembered her early adolescence as having been fueled by a constant diet of steak soup.

                                                                        1. bagelman01 Apr 9, 2013 03:22 PM

                                                                          I eat my steak very rare (mooing) if I ordered very rare and it came overcooked i'd accept and eat it up through medium Rare. If Medium or more well it goes back.
                                                                          Do I think the food will be wasted? NO. I cut into it and check doneness, I don't use a fork that is not clean and unused, and I don't taste the meat. I show the server the improperloy cooked meat and say I have not tasted it and used a clean fork and knife to cut.
                                                                          Some employee will have a nice steak meal. The meat will not be thrown out and/or wasted. The owner will lose some profit, but it is the owner's responsibility to see that the kitchen puts out meat as ordered.

                                                                          BTW>>The reason I'll keep the steak up to medium rare, is that I know meat can continue to cook when taken off the fire and I lay no blame for this occurence.

                                                                          I am not going to pay $30-100 or more for a piece of meat that is cooked to order incorrectly. That would also be a waste (of my money)

                                                                          3 Replies
                                                                          1. re: bagelman01
                                                                            cheesecake17 Apr 9, 2013 06:33 PM

                                                                            I'm with you on the steak. Husband will argue with me to "just eat it" when it's way over cooked.

                                                                            But what's a person to do when what you get is not whats described on the menu?
                                                                            Like, when I ordered the lamb shank and what I got was a small pile of shredded meat.
                                                                            Or when husband ordered the crispy rice with tuna and he got a bowl of rice?

                                                                            1. re: bagelman01
                                                                              hotoynoodle Apr 10, 2013 06:40 AM

                                                                              "Some employee will have a nice steak meal. The meat will not be thrown out and/or wasted"


                                                                              your intentions are good and i appreciate your fastidiousness, but you don't know what happens to that plate when it goes back. some places have very strict rules about eating during service, in the kitchen, etc. both of which are against health codes btw.

                                                                              have also worked for chefs who forbade taking home left-overs because they didn't want to be searching bags at the end of the night, checking that it wasn't raw food pilfered from the walk-in.

                                                                              have seen people fired for disobeying all of these things.

                                                                              1. re: hotoynoodle
                                                                                bagelman01 Apr 10, 2013 12:33 PM

                                                                                I don't know what happens to a particular plate, BUT I was in both the restaurant and business. Plates such as this were put aside and served at the staff table. It was never consumed in the kitchen during service (which violates health codes only in some jurisdictions) and we never allowed food to be taken home by the staff, so that no one could be accused of removing unauthorized food.

                                                                                People should be fired if they disobey house rules.

                                                                            2. ipsedixit Apr 10, 2013 12:43 PM

                                                                              The restaurant wasted food by mis-cooking the steak.

                                                                              Returning the steak is not wasting food.

                                                                              I consider eating food I don't like as a waste of my time, which to me is a greater waste than simply throwing out a piece of meat.

                                                                              1. rednyellow Jul 17, 2013 09:03 PM

                                                                                My only hesitation when sending incorrect food back is the timing. If I'm eating with friends, I'd like to eat at the same time but otherwise, no hesitation sending a bad entre back to the kitchen. But, It has to be bad and not just not what I expected.

                                                                                1. d
                                                                                  DatatheAndroid Jul 17, 2013 09:46 PM

                                                                                  The restaurant should have cooked it properly the 1st time. If you are that worried about it, maybe you could donate some money to charity to try and even the balance a bit. Just a thought. :)

                                                                                  1. Lambowner Jul 22, 2013 06:31 AM

                                                                                    I never send food back because I don't want to eat alone. It is a total mood buster to send something back and wait for a replacement, while others stare longingly at their cooling dishes and then begins the "please, go ahead, don't wait on me" and the awkward lifting of forks and super slow eating until the new dish is brought to the one making the whole meal tense. I just don't go back to that restaurant. Some would say it's better to tell them so they can correct a problem, but I'm not there to provide instruction to a professional cook, I'm there to enjoy a meal that they say they are qualified to cook. Is that harsh? The one time I did send a dish back it was fish gone really bad and the cook had to know it tasted and smelled strongly of ammonia because he apparently didn't have the sense of smell. But I didn't order anything else and said my appetizer was filling enough.

                                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                                    1. re: Lambowner
                                                                                      grayelf Jul 25, 2013 03:21 PM

                                                                                      I'm with ya, lamb. I remember the last time I sent something back. It was in fact a steak, at one of the (still) more popular restaurants in SF. The reason I sent it back was that I was trying so valiantly to saw through it and eat it that the server noticed my efforts from across the room and came over to ask how it was going. I had to own up that the thing was verging on uncuttable, even with a steak knife, at which point the server insisted on replacing it. Thus began your "mood buster." The funny thing was, instead of taking something off the bill, they sent out another side which we couldn't eat because we had ordered enough food and were full by the time we finished the meal. Will not be rushing back.

                                                                                    2. Kajikit Jul 22, 2013 05:40 PM

                                                                                      If you asked for medium rare and you got well-done, it's definitely NOT what you ordered and it probably wouldn't even taste good... definitely worth sending back. Why spend money and use calories for something that will taste like shoe leather?

                                                                                      1. jrvedivici Jul 23, 2013 07:37 AM

                                                                                        In your exact example of sending a steak back for a wrong temperature, I can promise you that steak never wound up in the garbage. If not the servers, the cooks or dishwashers (they are at the bottom of the pecking order) enjoyed that steak.

                                                                                        Food like that never go to waste they are consumed by the employee(s) and never find the garbage. Unless you have chopped, chewed and left half chewed / spit out food on your plate someone is going to eat it.

                                                                                        This scenario is much different than several of the spin off's about people trying to give a doggie bag of food to random homeless people. That is a HUGE difference.......in a restaurant you've got to understand....the people/employees know the origin of the food, they have handled it, prepared it, served it and watched you eat it. They have made opinions of you, yes if your a slob they are going to be less likely to touch anything of yours. If you take a few bites and leave the rest or barely touch your side(s) there is a very good chance that will be consumed. If you just walk up to a complete stranger.....and hand them a bag of unknown food, from unknown origin and expect them to anxiously and enthusiastically open it to eat it, not going to happen. That's a huge leap of faith, even for a homeless person.

                                                                                        Most of the time if you send something back for it being cooked wrong, it's not a waste, someone is consuming it don't have any guilt over it.

                                                                                        3 Replies
                                                                                        1. re: jrvedivici
                                                                                          Lambowner Jul 23, 2013 08:24 AM

                                                                                          Once after a business lunch in London, upon leaving with a "to-go" foil pack shaped like a swan containing leftover steak with gorganzola sauce, a diner from our group was approached by a homeless man and asked for money. Instead, she handed him the swan, which he immediately opened and began eating, while discarding the mangled foil swan on the ground. My fellow diner ordered him to pick it up and throw it away in a nearby bin and not to litter again. And he did. Crazy day, that.

                                                                                          1. re: Lambowner
                                                                                            Harters Jul 23, 2013 08:37 AM

                                                                                            Your fellow diner sounds a right pompous prick.

                                                                                            1. re: Harters
                                                                                              Lambowner Jul 26, 2013 08:06 AM

                                                                                              Perhaps a tad in the cups also.

                                                                                        2. v
                                                                                          virtualguthrie Jul 25, 2013 05:58 PM

                                                                                          I have the same issue. If the wrong item comes I'll send it back (although if I don't mind it I've even accepted that) but if it's just not cooked like I asked I have a hard time sending it back because it feels wasteful.

                                                                                          1. Bill Hunt Jul 28, 2013 07:36 PM

                                                                                            When I order a dish, prepared within the parameters of that dish, I want that, and not something else.

                                                                                            I do not worry about "waste," but about MY pleasure. I let the restaurant contemplate waste, since THEY did it wrong.

                                                                                            I will never save the world, but do want my orders to be honored. If there is waste, it is the responsibility of the restaurant. I will let them live with that.


                                                                                            1. Atomic76 Jul 29, 2013 09:52 PM

                                                                                              Good point, but if it makes you feel any better the food probably isn't going to waste. The cooks and servers usually devour mistake orders in the back of the house. A lot of workers are coming straight from school into their shifts and don't have any time to get dinner anyhow, so they pick over mistake orders like this throughout the night.

                                                                                              If you've got the time to wait for them to make you a new one, by all means go for it. Tell the server you would like to speak to a manager. They usually would rather have a manager involved as well, so they can issue comps on the check and smooth things over for them. It might not have even been the servers fault, especially if a food runner or expediter grabbed the wrong steak and sent it out while your server was waiting on another table.

                                                                                              1. KaimukiMan Jul 30, 2013 02:11 PM

                                                                                                If you order a dish and just generally aren't fond of it then it is on you, but when you order a dish and it comes back 'wrong', not how it should be prepared (raw, overcooked, over seasoned, wrong or missing ingredients, etc.), or not prepared as you ordered it, then the mistake is on them.

                                                                                                You are not the one who is wasting food, the preparer is the one who wasted that food. It is not up to you to make amends for that error. In fact by accepting it (and probably only eating a bit of it) you become complicit in allowing this waste continue.

                                                                                                In the long run, sending it back is the most responsible thing you can do in making them accountable. Imagine if everyone sent wrong food back how quickly that would change their bottom line, and their practices.

                                                                                                8 Replies
                                                                                                1. re: KaimukiMan
                                                                                                  grayelf Jul 30, 2013 03:24 PM

                                                                                                  The problem with steak is that you can't really tell if it's done properly unless you cut into it.

                                                                                                  1. re: grayelf
                                                                                                    KaimukiMan Jul 30, 2013 03:32 PM

                                                                                                    A trained chef can certainly tell the difference. The person who ordered the steak should cut into it to make sure it is cooked to order. But if i order a steak medium rare and it comes to the table completely charred and stiff as a shingle, there is a pretty good chance it won't be medium rare, If I order it well done and it is only lightly browned on the surface and somewhat floppy, its unlikely that it is well done.

                                                                                                    1. re: KaimukiMan
                                                                                                      grayelf Jul 30, 2013 03:47 PM

                                                                                                      I understood that we were speaking of the dilemma of the diner as to whether to return an incorrectly cooked steak. The cook, trained chef or not, has already made the error by that time, and the only real way a diner can be sure of the correct temp on a steak is to cut it open. Same goes for burgers, IMO. And Lord help you if the ambiance is a bit romantic with low lighting and you have to take a bite to be sure : -).

                                                                                                      1. re: grayelf
                                                                                                        KaimukiMan Jul 30, 2013 03:58 PM

                                                                                                        I though the thread was about incorrectly cooked food in general, a steak was the example, and the example I used. And yes, I agreed with you that the diner will at least have to cut into it to be sure. But the main point of my thread is that the person dining should not feel responsible for wasting food if the kitchen sends improperly prepared food out. The responsibility in that case belongs to the kitchen, not the person who ordered the food. Therefore the orderer shouldn't feel guilty about wasting food.

                                                                                                        1. re: KaimukiMan
                                                                                                          grayelf Jul 30, 2013 05:11 PM

                                                                                                          So we are in agreement!

                                                                                                          1. re: grayelf
                                                                                                            KaimukiMan Aug 1, 2013 11:56 PM

                                                                                                            seems like it

                                                                                                    2. re: grayelf
                                                                                                      susancinsf Aug 2, 2013 12:45 PM

                                                                                                      not for certain, I suppose, but I have gotten pretty darn good at telling by touch. I know exactly what it should feel like when touched lightly in the middle, to be how I like it (rare). Of course, this skill is more useful when I am the one grilling the steak for myself than in a restaurant.

                                                                                                      For this reason, when I do order steak I am generally very specific ("when I say rare, I mean rare") and then wouldn't feel bad about waste if I sent it back (which I haven't had to do very often that I can recall).

                                                                                                      OTOH, there have been a few instances, mostly when I was much younger, when I haven't sent back food that could have made me sick...for example, during one of my first 'fine dining' experiences while I was still in college I ordered a chicken dish (I am sure I was going for one of the less expensive items), and it was basically raw. To this day, I regret that I was too shy and unsure of myself to send it back. I made a meal of sides that night.

                                                                                                      1. re: grayelf
                                                                                                        Dirtywextraolives Mar 14, 2014 06:18 PM

                                                                                                        Um, they are trained to use a thermometer, aren't they??

                                                                                                    3. j
                                                                                                      John Francis Aug 2, 2013 06:41 AM

                                                                                                      It's not you who has "wasted" the food but the cook, as surely as if he had burned it, thrown it out, and you never saw it. Why should you pay the price for incompetence in the kitchen? Besides, if you don't send the food back, in a way you're covering up for the cook, who has no incentive to do it right in the future. If you do, you're doing your part to keep the restaurant up to its purported standards.

                                                                                                      As for "being picky about the way food is prepared," why go to a restaurant if not for the way it prepares the food? Which is not just about the pleasure the food's taste and texture can give but also its nutritional value. This can be compromised, or worse, by the way in which the ingredients are cooked and seasoned;

                                                                                                      1. EarlyBird Mar 14, 2014 08:54 AM

                                                                                                        I have zero hesitation sending food back under those circumstances. The wait staff will eat it, or the homeless will find it in the garbage.

                                                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                                                        1. re: EarlyBird
                                                                                                          Dirtywextraolives Mar 14, 2014 06:17 PM

                                                                                                          Same here. My husband is famous for saying, we're American and it's our birthright to waste food! He's serious! I've got too much else to worry myself than those mistakes of a restaurant. Cook it how it's requested or you suffer the loss. It's quite simple.

                                                                                                          And there are always the freegans, so it doesn't bother me anymore. Wen I was little and my mom used to say there are starving children in Africa, I used to think up ways on how to send them my crummy food that I didn't want to eat....

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