Sending food back is acceptable when something is overcooked, undercooked or inedible
“The Rules” is a Moneyish series where we define the rules around sticky money topics like giving an allowance, who pays on a date, combining finances with your partner, and more.
Don’t bite your tongue when you don’t like your food.
Returning food in a restaurant can be nerve-wracking — but it seems millennials have a particularly hard time making the awkward exchange. According to new data from YouGov Omnibus surveying more than 1.8 million people, older folks are more likely to send food back than 18- to 34-year olds.
Of Americans who dine out, just over half say they’re comfortable sending food back if there’s a problem with it, while 41% say they’re uncomfortable making the request. While circumstances like undercooked items, being brought the wrong meal or finding a hair in the dish play a huge role in one’s decision to return a meal, 52% of millennials admit that sending a plate back is an awkward experience.
But Stephanie Matthias, a 34-year-old postpartum chef, tells Moneyish that she’s rarely reluctant to reject a dish. “Because I work with food I feel more comfortable sending it back because I have high standards of what I would serve someone. If I get something subpar, then I have no problem sending it back,” says Matthias.
So when is it okay to send something back to the kitchen? Max Marder, owner of the French bistro-style L.A. eatery Marvin, tells Moneyish, “When something is inedible, overcooked or undercooked, like if a steak or burger are overcooked, especially if they’re pricey.” A server at his restaurant, who requested to remain anonymous, said, “I find that if there really is an issue, younger people are generally more polite about explaining it.”
So how do you transact when you’re not satisfied with your order?
Dr. Danielle Keenan-Miller, director of the UCLA Psychology Clinic, tells Moneyish that asking for what you want, whether it’s a replacement or refund, is valid and can also be a good opportunity to practice broader assertiveness skills.
Stick to the facts. When your food arrives and isn’t prepared the way you ordered it, tell the server exactly what the issue is. “I ordered a baked potato, not mashed potatoes,” or “I asked for sauce on the side and this has it on top.”
Run it by a friend. If you’re having a hard time determining whether or not your complaint is legitimate, it can be helpful to run it by a friend. See if they think your meat looks over or undercooked, whether or not they’re able to identify what you think might be a strand of hair or let them try a bite to see if your food could actually be warmer.
Ask for the manager. If you find a hair, an insect or a piece of plastic in your food, or if your plate doesn’t look it’s been properly cleaned, politely bring it to the attention of the manager, who can then investigate how and why that may have happened. They should also offer to either comp your meal or prepare you a different dish and expedite it to your table.
Stop eating. While there’s no rule about exactly how much food you can send back, the more you eat, the less convincing your argument might be. Servers are less likely to take your request seriously or be apologetic if you’ve eaten half of your meal before requesting to send the dish back.
Determining whether or not you should adjust how much you tip depends on factors like server error versus kitchen error, the attentiveness and enthusiasm of the waitstaff to remedy the situation, and how frequently you dine at the restaurant. If you’re certain that you ordered poached eggs and they arrive over easy, your server may not have been paying close enough attention to your order. If you ordered a steak well-done and it arrives medium-rare, the kitchen is probably at fault, and your server shouldn’t be punished for a process they didn’t oversee.
Those who aren’t reluctant to send food back have probably spoken up before. “Like with any other activity that seems scary at first, the more you’ve done it, the more comfortable you’ll be when faced with a similar situation in the future,” says Dr. Keenan-Miller. In order to get comfortable with being assertive, Danielle Levanas, registered drama therapist on faculty at the Therapy Institute of Los Angeles, suggests acting out the many possibilities of how the interaction could go. “If we’re dealing with fear of rejection, fear of not being liked, then let’s explore what the worst possible situation might look like in a playful, non-threatening, low-risk setting,” says Levanas.
© 2018 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved