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How to send back food at a restaurant

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If you’re shy about telling a restaurant your meal is disappointing, you should know that good restaurants welcome feedback. They’d rather hear about your disappointment than have you never come back. And there are polite, constructive ways to send back food at a restaurant.

Woman with bowl of food

How to send back food at a restaurant

You are absolutely entitled to a meal that’s made from decent ingredients, meets the description in the menu, and tastes good to you. Good restaurants will even replace a meal that’s perfect, but just isn’t to your taste. They want specific feedback, and they are also willing to bend over backward to accommodate you.

  • The person who brings you your food did not cook it, so don’t treat them like it’s their fault. Servers are motivated to make you happy and will advocate for you in the kitchen. Give them the benefit of the doubt. If they don’t take care of it, ask to speak to a manager.
  • Explain very clearly what’s wrong with the food and what you want done about it. Try to identify what’s missing, what’s not fresh, what’s overcooked, etc. The more feedback you can give them, the more they can help. They may offer to cook another meal for you, or to cook a different meal at the same cost, or to give you a freebie like dessert. Some restaurants will offer to take off the cost of that particular meal, too.
  • Complain early. If you eat most of the meal to see if it ever gets better, your complaint won’t seem valid. There are actually people who do this scam routinely to get free food – they eat most of their meal, then insist it was inedible and must be taken off the bill. If you do this twice in the same restaurant, expect to be asked not to return.
  • A server or manager may politely try to explain to you that you’re mistaken, and they may be correct. You may have misread the menu or ordered incorrectly, or what tastes spoiled to you might just be an unfamiliar ingredient you don’t like. Be willing to admit or acknowledge your role in any misunderstanding. That said, they should still offer to fix something else for you at no charge.
  • Also give good feedback when it’s warranted. Far more people will speak up when something disappoints them than when it pleases them. It’s actually very helpful if you let people know when the food or service was particularly good. If you get the chance, tell it to a manager so they’ll know which staff members are excelling.

Examples

The dish is wrong

“I’ve had this before, and it tastes different this time.” If possible, be specific. Does it taste under- or overcooked? Does it lack flavor or taste like there’s too much of an ingredient? I once had a restaurant serve me a dish I’d had before, and it lacked flavor. I told the waiter that I thought the kitchen had left something out of the sauce. He took it back, and I was right. The chef even told him to tell me that was a “good catch.” They added the missing ingredient back in, and everything was great.

Undercooked/overcooked steak

One of the easiest mistakes for a restaurant to fix is undercooked steak. If it’s not done to your liking, they can just take it back and cook it a little more. If it’s overcooked, they can cook you another one.

“I just don’t like it.”

Yes, you are entitled to let a restaurant know if you just don’t like your meal. This usually happens when you order something new, and it doesn’t taste like you thought it would. Restaurants typically offer to fix you something else.

Why not just Yelp?

It’s easier to leave a negative review than to confront the actual staff at the restaurant. But a few bad Yelp reviews can crush a small restaurant. Consider giving restaurants the chance to correct their mistakes before going online to tell the world about them. Of course, if they don’t fix their mistakes, then it’s fine to let people know online.

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