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Sending food back in restaurants


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I wasn't sure if there was already a topic that covered this, and a search didn't bring up anything. If it does exist, please move this to the right place :P

Earlier this week, I sent food back at a restaurant. The manager came over and talked about it and took it off my check. It was hard for me to do this, as I don't like making a fuss, but I really couldn't eat the food. The last time that I can remember sending food back at a restaurant was more than a decade ago, at Park Cafe on Capitol Hill, where I got a mixed seafood dish that tasted off. Very off. I ate only a little and was afraid to eat any more. The server was very pleasant about it and took the dish off my check. I didn't want anything else.

The recent incident was at ESPNZone in Baltimore, where I didn't expect much but figured I could get something quick to eat and watch part of a game before I met back up with people I was with. I ordered the con queso chips, which seemed close to nachos from the description. They were so salty that I could only eat a small amount, even though I was famished. I expected them to be salty, with their velveeta-like cheese and just considering the nature of the dish, but these were off the charts salty. I isolated the worst of it to the chips themselves. Without anything else on them, they were way too salty.

Once I got the bartenders' attention, they were very nice about getting a manager. The manager sampled the chips and didn't find the same problem I did, but said he'd have the chef look into it, and he removed them from my check. He took it very seriously, but I couldn't help thinking he must figure I was a PITA. It really couldn't have been handled any better, but I felt terrible doing this. Since I needed to get going, I didn't have time to order more food, though the manager was happy to get me something else.

Do I have some bizarre guilt complex that it bothered me so much to do this? :(

What does it take for other people to send food (or drink) back? (I don't count in this getting something different than what you ordered.)

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I'm with you--I hate to make a fuss. I have sent food back recently that was inedible, to me. Once recently was at Bangkok 54. I used to eat there somewhat frequently and always ordered the pork belly, which I loved. Earlier this summer I returned after a long hiatus, ordered what I thought was the same pork belly dish, and it was so hot with chili peppers that I couldn't eat it--and it was NOT marked with their "hot" symbol.

On the other hand, with my gluten sensitivity, it can be a safety issue for me. If a dish I order without gluten-containing components (such as toast points) arrives at table containing the problem ingredient, I have to send it back, as happened recently at RTS. It was a simple mistake, as a server (not the waiter who took my order) brought out the Devilishly Good Eggs with the toast. My waiter was right on her heels as I was asking her to take it back, and whisked it away saying "No bread." It was replaced with the correct order immediately.

By and large, restaurant staff want to please their patrons, so that they will return and will recommend their establishments. If something isn't truly pleasing, most of them want to make it right, IME. I think it is important to be polite and reasonable, and not necessarily as much of a fuss as I might fear.

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What does it take for other people to send food (or drink) back? (I don't count in this getting something different than what you ordered.)

I will only send it back if I feel the dish/drink is not what the Chef intended the dish/drink to be. Of course, that is a judgment call often, but still a narrow one.

I won't send food back if I just didn't like it (assuming there is no issues with freshness). It's only fair to pay for your life's explorations, and I value the process of defining my own personal tastes. What I eat and what I choose to eat is a large part of who I am.

Discovering my limits of culinary preferences always exhilarates me. And I love discovering the limits of others. For example, when I talk food with a vegan, both sides usually bring about a very informed and lively perspective. Oftentimes, vegans have exceptions to the rule (one may eat honey, eg) and certainly most are very sensitive to the production of foodstuff.

However, I once worked with a certain vegan. I looked forward to talking to her, because how many people do you really identify with in the office? Imagine my horror when the opening small-talk revealed that veganism was just the first constraint on her diet. The second was that she wouldn't eat most vegetables! The subsequent months bore this out: every lunch, she would microwave a Amy's bean and rice burrito and be chomp away, perfectly happy. No alcohol, no caffeine. The kicker: she insisted that she loved food!

I finally told her one day that I didn't consider her a vegan -- it was just her handy label to hide the fact that she did not like food. Yes, I am awful and judgmental, and I will probably be deep-fried in Hell for calling out her core deficiency. She said she'd rather never hear from me again, and I agreed, with the condition that she would chew with less projection in our office. I'm reasonable.

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What does it take for other people to send food (or drink) back?

Pat, I too dislike having to send food or drinks back and would prefer not to do it. However, if the food hasn't been prepared as ordered (e.g., steak arrives bloody rare when I've ordered it medium-rare or well) or a cocktail tastes as if it has little or no alcohol, I will send it back. Not too long ago, I was having drinks and dinner at the Cheesecake Factory in Chevy Chase with a friend, and we both found our mixed drinks to be lacking in alcohol. So we sent the drinks back, and to our surprise the replacements were the same (actually, my friend's drink was even weaker!). The server, who was brand new on the job, said that the bartender used a standard pour and that we were welcome to order something else. Before we could decide, another (supposedly more experienced) server came over and told us that, "we probably wouldn't be happy with any of the mixed drinks we ordered." Great customer service. We decided to switch to wine and asked for the manager to come over just to make a point that we didn't like the way this was handled. The manager never appeared. I don't go to the CF often, but do have a few favorite dishes (Chicken madeira, Chinese chicken salad and really like the bacon-wrapped parmesan-stuffed dates on the small plates menu). Anyway, I don't hesitate to send back drinks in this type of situation, and most places usually make a better, stronger drink to please the customer--at least they try. As for meat, it varies by restaurant and location. Here in the U.S., I've had pretty good experiences at high-end restaurants.

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