Sending Food Back

My girlfriend Isabel and I are eating at P.F. Chang’s and we’ve run into a problem. The waiter got the order wrong.

“This isn’t sweet and sour pork,” Isabel says, pushing her entrée around the plate. “It’s sweet and sour chicken.”

“You sure?” I say. Slightly offended that I’ve questioned her gustatory senses, Isabel spears a forkful of the stuff and offers it to me. “What do you think?”

After masticating the food thoughtfully I say, “Yep. It’s the original white meat.”

“I’m so disappointed,” she pouts. “It’s not what I wanted.”

When you’re spending your hard-earned money at a restaurant, getting the wrong food or a screwed up order is a bummer. Yet, when a restaurant churns out thousands of meals a week, the odds are good that either the waiter or the kitchen will mess up at some point. But no matter whose fault it is, you the customer have the right to send the food back. But many of you don’t. Why? You’re afraid of being punished.

Fear of sputum is one reason. Worrying about embarrassment, making a fuss or wait staff opprobrium is another. For the most part, these fears are groundless. Restaurants won’t stay in business long if its discovered that the servers are adding bodily fluids to the daily specials or making the customers feel like shit. (Though I’ve been guilty of the later.) Its not about sending the food back or not. It’s about HOW you send it back. Here’s a list of things you should not do. (And yes, all these things have actually happened to me.)

1. Don’t say things like, “How hard is it to take an order? Are you stupid? No wonder you’re just a waiter.”

2. Don’t call the server an asshole, insult their maternal lineage or say, “I’ll get you fired.”

3. Don’t demand that all the other guests’ food be sent back to the kitchen until their friend’s error has been fixed. Almost no kitchen will do it. The chefs aren’t going to whip up a new batch of entrées for everybody. They’ll stick the food in the oven to keep warm which dries it out. Now nobody’s happy.

4. Don’t storm out. That could be construed as theft of service.

5. Screaming at the top of your lungs is impolite. And it may give you a stroke.

6. Do not go into the kitchen and start yelling at the men with knives. If you need me to explain why, then I can’t help you.

7. Don’t demand that everybody at the table should eat for free. Ain’t gonna happen.

8. Don’t burst into tears and say things like, “You’ve ruined my entire weekend.” You’re just announcing to the dining room that you’re off your meds.

9. Don’t eat half your food before you register your complaint.

10. Don’t throw the food at the waiter. That’s assault.

Here’s what you should do and what you should expect.

1. Call the waiter over the moment you realize something’s wrong.

2. Politely but firmly explain why you’re dissatisfied. (Wrong food, undercooked, over cooked, tastes weird.)

3. Say you want your food replaced.

4. You can ask for the same item or a different one. If you wanted something that takes a long time to cook like a well-done steak or risotto, I’d suggest getting something that takes less time to cook so you’re not waiting forever. If you do want the aforementioned items, realize that it will take time.

5. While you’re waiting for your food the restaurant should send out an appetizer gratis to tide you over. It sucks being the only person at a table not eating.

6. Don’t personalize the issue. It was a mistake.

7. The waiter should keep you informed about how long it will take to fix the situation. If the waiter hides from you, which happens with inexperienced, coked out or socially maladjusted wait staff, get the manager.

8. A free drink should be forthcoming. When I was a waiter I learned that altering a diner’s consciousness usually tamped down any bad feelings.

9. The waiter should apologize – no matter if the error was his or the kitchen’s fault.

10. The entrée that got screwed up should be free. If not, at least your dessert should be on the house. Lots of restaurants will say giving out free stuff is against their policy. Why? Usually because there’s a corporate dictum, manager or owner that’s penny-wise but pound-foolish. If a restaurant refuses to make good, vote with your feet.

Sometimes, however, the screw up is the customer’s fault. I can’t tell you how many times a person on a diet let their id unconsciously order Fettuccini Alfredo when they thought they were ordering a salad. Despite the fact I always repeated the order to a customer, most diners would scream to high heaven that I fucked up. Bottom line? Pay attention when you’re ordering. Don’t be talking on your cell phone, texting, French kissing, jabbering about business or giving hand jobs under the table . Focus. And if you messed up, admit it. Very often the restaurant will try and make things right.

Of course I followed my own advice when explaining our situation in P.F. Chang’s. Sadly, however, the restaurant didn’t holdup their end of the bargain Here’s how.

1. No free drink. I was told it was against their policy. Annoying. That just told me the rules are more important to P.F. Chang’s than the customer.

2. The waiter admitted his mistake, but the kitchen took its sweet time to fix it.

3. No free app. Isabel and I finished my Mongolian Beef until her order came out.

4. We were charged for the sweet and sour pork.

5. We paid for our desserts.

To be fair, the manager came over to apologize. She offered us a free entrée to take home. That was nice, but what good does that do us? We ate already. In the end we she gave us two free desserts – but we had to wait ten minutes to get them. Not cool. I understand P.F. Chang’s has rules, but they need to revise them.

Of course I paid for everything and tipped the waiter twenty percent, probably because I’ve been in that waiter’s shoes myself. And, in the end, Isabel and I had a nice time. That’s because we didn’t freak out over the situation and made the best of it. Will I go to P.F. Chang’s again? Probably. They’ve always given me good service and I’m willing to bet this experience was an aberration. Besides, I’ll always give restaurant two or three chances before I excommunicate them.

Bottom line. Don’t be afraid to send your food back. You work hard for your money. And in a recession where many of us are going out to eat less, it is the restaurants that bend over backwards to make their customers happy who will survive.

67 thoughts on “Sending Food Back”

  1. Nana says:

    You forgot one other suggestion: Don’t marry a person who often sends something back. Makes dining out a less-than-pleasant experience.

    [In his defense, when ordering a steak, he would often ask the waiter to stand by while he made the first cut, to ensure it was cooked as he’d requested.]

    1. Bridge Shanahan says:

      I have a friend who I get together with for breakfast about every two weeks. Every get together, she insists on taking about 20-25 minutes to look at the menu to decide what she wants and repeatedly turns the waitstaff away 3 or 4 times that she isn’t ready to order yet Then, every time, she insists on returning the plate of food complaining about something. Very quickly I decided to go ahead and eat my meal since the first time I had the kitchen put my plate under the heat lamp until her food was fixed and I was peeved that I had to eat a dried out breakfast because of my friend sending her food back. Now I go ahead and eat my meal while she is waiting to get hers fixed. By the time she gets her plate back I’m almost done with my meal, but then she will take over an hour beyond when I finished to eat her food and beverage. Problem is – a meal together out is supposed to be just that, and meal TOGETHER. I find it rude that she puts me through that tedious, wearisome inconsiderate behavior every time we get together. A meal out with a friend should be a pleasant upbeat experience, with each party doing their part to be considerate of each other. It should not be an exhausting exercise in patience. I finally confronted her about it and and she doesn’t pull that crap anymore. I always feel bad for the waitstaff dealing with her.

  2. T Scott says:

    I’d add just one small thing to your list of things that customers should do. When you’re explaining your problem — smile. It’s a mistake. It’s not life and death. Trust that your server wants you to have a good evening. You’re on the same side. Help your server make it right.

  3. Emi says:

    What about finding something in your food that shouldn’t ever be there? Like a piece of glass?

    This happened to me, and the restaurant ended up giving me 3 coupons for a free entree and taking the food off my order (they offered to give me another one even though I had eaten the first, glass free, half of my calzone already, but I had lost my appetite by that point). They were very concerned and very apologetic, so I know that I will eat there again, but maybe not for a little while.

  4. JFS in IL says:

    At a Vietnamese restaurant in Chicago, years ago, our waitress brought out several dishes and placed them in front of two guys at another table. They poked at the food, eventually got her attention, and told her it was NOT their order! She then picked it up the dishes and brought them to us. I was too grossed out by having seen (the other table was in my direct line of vision) strangers poking at my now tepid dinner to eat it. We were too timid to complain…and never went back.

  5. bob says:

    good article… love to read it. just ask for the permission to share it with my friends… in my blog.. tq

  6. Angela Morriscey says:

    I think it’s a little over the top to expect an establishment to comp the entree, appetizer, dessert and drink. If that were how every business operated, I think the general public would catch on and start sending everything back.
    As a server, whenever I, or the kitchen mess up I assess the screw up and go from there. If it’s a quick fix I offer dessert and coffee, and if it’s a long wait I comp the entree. I agree with you that everyone has a right to get what they order, and I agree that they deserve some compensation but you are expecting too much.

  7. Owen says:

    I’ve been under the impression that such screwups come out of employees’ pocket, not the restaurant’s, so I’m usually reluctant to send something back if it’s a minor error. Any idea if that happens/how often?

  8. Kim says:

    About 25 years ago in LA, a bunch of friends and I went to a Mex place. It took ’em 40 minutes to take our order then another hour before we got it. Cold. When we complained, the waitress sneered and said, “What do you want me to do about it?” then walked away. So we walked out. They didn’t chase us down (there were about 8 of us) and we actually stood outside for 10 minutes trying to figure out where to go eat. We ended up at Denny’s.

  9. Jim @hospitalityfan says:

    I am just smiling at the list because it is dead-on and sometimes the list represents thoughts that are said by employees as well.

    Exactly: “Don’t be afraid to send your food back. You work hard for your money.” I want to know there is an issue if I have not discovered it so I can fix it as well and make them happy!

  10. Camilla says:

    I have trouble handling it when I order a “super” burrito at a counter service place, and get one that’s missing the extra ingredients that make it super. It just feels awfully petty to say, “hey, this isn’t so super, and a side order of guacamole would make it up to me.”

  11. natteringnabob says:

    I have no idea why you would return to a chain restaurant after that display. I suppose they were nice to you, so there’s that.

    I got a salad with glass in it from a supposedly high-end Thai restaurant. They charged us for the dish and did nothing else but replace the salad sans glass. I’ve never been back.

  12. lisa in SF says:

    I’m going all food snob on you here, but can’t imagine why why why you’d eat at PF Changs (aka corporate/fake asian food for white people) when you have stupendous, reasonably priced real Chinese food right around the corner. Maybe id eat at a PF Changs in iowa or ohio or someplace but, wow…not in NY or NJ. My ancestors would kill me.
    Just sayin’

  13. Chris says:

    I was at Applebee’s one time, ordered one thing, but got another. The trouble was, both what I ordered and what I got were things I had thought about, and mentioned to my wife, as wanting to order. When I got my food, I asked her if that was what I ordered. She couldn’t remember either. I didn’t send it back, but I’ll never know if it was me or the waiter who got it off.

  14. Yogi says:

    This is EXACTLY why I won’t send something back unless it is spoiled. I don’t want to wait an extra 10-15 minutes to eat with my guests, I don’t want to be looked at as “YOU must have ordered wrong”, etc.

    While I don’t think you should punish the wait-staff for the kitchen’s mistakes, I do expect that the order is checked against the ticket: no-one ordered fettucine alfredo? Don’t bring it to the table and auction it. Sauce on side? Check to make sure. Etc. That’s the stuff that’ll get your tip lowered.

    Sorry, Waiter, but I tell the waiter and then won’t let them remake the dish. I didn’t come to eat after everyone else, all by myself.

    10 years ago, the owner of PF Chang’s proudly announced in an interview with the NY Times, that his goal was to put every mom and pop Chinese restaurant out of business. I haven’t eaten there since.

  15. Neil says:

    The main problem with sending food back is that there’s the expectation that they’ll replace it. And I’m hungry! I don’t want to say “It’s fine” because it’s not since it’s not what I ordered. On the other hand I’d rather eat now than have to wait.

  16. Didier says:

    You expect a restaurant to comp you a free drink, free app, free dessert and a free entree because you got chicken instead of pork. That is way over the top. One freebie and an apology is enough for a mistake. If the item is returned because “I don’t like it” then nothing should be comped. You ordered duck neck and sea urchin, you got duck neck and sea urchin.

    Interesting that you assume the server corrected the problem quickly but the kitchen took their time. Unless there is a party of 20 being plated when the corrected order goes into the kitchen or if the server frequently screws up, the kitchen isn’t holding your order. How many tables did the server visit before turning in the order? How long was the line at the POS? Wrong entree is usually the fault of the server putting in the wrong order or picking up the wrong plate. Adjustments to an order (sauce on side, sub veg, etc) are the fault of the server for not making then ticket clear or the fault of the kitchen (kitchen people make a dish the same way 100 times, change the 101st dish does potentially cause problems).

  17. Mayla says:

    Had an example of this a few weeks back. Went to a local Olga’s (Michigan-based restaurant). Husband and I got a new waitress (to the restaurant; not a young girl) and ordered. I had requested my food plain, no sauce, no veggies. Came back with veggies. Waitress got huffy, and said ‘Well, that’s what you get for plain’. I’m like, um, I’ve never had to explain what _plain_ meant to anyone else before. She took it back, got a fresh sandwich. Never came back to refill drinks, or see if everything else was okay. Had to wait over 15 minutes after our plates were clean to get the check. She got no tip.

    I ended up contacting the powers that be via their website and explained what happened. I didn’t believe that the restaurant was at fault, just the waitress.

    They sent a very nice apology, and a discount for the next time we came in.

    Sorry if the no tip bothers you Steve, but I just didn’t think she did anything to keep it.
    If I’m wrong, I’ll love to have you say why. Honestly. Thanks.

  18. Jenny says:

    I think a large part of corporate policy interpretation depends on the manager. the PF Changs by my work messed up a to-go order. It was around $25. I called the manager and pointed out about 3 problems (and added the fact that I couldn’t go back because I was on my lunch break) and she comp’ed the whole order. That was much more than I was expecting as a resolution, but the fact that she apologized and did that for me makes me want to go back again. It’s too bad when ‘policy’ or the manager’s refusal to appease the customer (in reasonable terms) makes the customer not want to return.

  19. 'Licia says:

    I am just now getting the hang of sending things back…though the error has to be egregious or something I just can’t eat for me to do so. Even so, I can’t remember ever getting anything for free — not that I asked. I guess I need to pay attention, you’d think they’d at least comp a food error.

  20. Maggie says:

    I was once served raw chicken on a salad at an Applebees. I’m not a picky eater so normally I don’t send things back, but this was potentially hazardous to my health.

    When sent it back the manager came over to ask me why I thought it was raw and then spent 10 minutes trying to convince me that it wasn’t raw, it was just cold, as though I was too stupid to know the difference. It wasn’t until other people at the table started stepping in and agreeing that it was raw that the manager gave in.

    He did not offer to comp any portion of my meal or offer me any free dessert/drink. They didn’t even discount my meal. I called the number on my receipt, filed a complaint, and was promised a coupon that never arrived. As a result I haven’t been back to Applebees. Hey, if Applebees doesn’t care about their customers I’m not going to give them my business, and I’m going to take every opportunity to explain why.

  21. el zopilote says:

    My Dad used to eat at a Hollywood restaurant
    when he would take clients to dinner. On
    one occasion, the client defined the word
    asshole and complained about a steak he
    ordered and sent it back a couple of times.
    When he tried to send it back a third time,
    my Dad said not to bother, cook him another
    one and he would eat the client’s steak.
    Since my Dad frequented that restaurant
    often, the wait staff knew him by name.
    The waiter said that he would have two
    more steaks cooked up and hoped the client
    would be satisfied. On another occasion,
    with a different client, the waiter pulled
    Dad aside and said he wouldn’t let him eat the asshole’s steak when he was there before
    because the chef peed on it. This happened
    around 40 years ago.

    The item in “Waiter Rant” where the kitchen
    staff played hockey with an asshole’s steak
    reminded me of my Dad’s experience.

    The restaurant my Dad frequented was mentioned
    in Steve’s new book, “Keep the Change.”

  22. Liu says:

    I went to a vietnamese Restaurant in houston and the waiter didn’t speak english well. I ended up ordering something I didn’t like a(since it was cooked in a different way then what I was used to) And I told the waiter about it. THe manager came and I told him about it and I told him if I could get a refund. he accepted and gave me a full refund. The manager was very nice and forgiving. I had also not yelled. I only raised my voice a little to enficize the fact being spoken. Staying calm will get you what you want.

  23. TuTu Canal says:

    Always enjoy your posts Waiter — as a current one myself, it helps immensely to hear my frustrations and experiences vocalized!

    Anyways, I too will give a place two to three tries before I write them off completely and I find that most restaurants just have those rare hiccups. However, one place always either messed up the order (well instead of mid rare — sob), forgot an entree and dessert or gave such dismal service that when the manager stopped by on what was our last (4th) visit, my husband refused the gift card — he was done!

    Hard to believe that PF Changs didn’t comp the wrong entree… My place always comps an entree if it’s wrong and usually offers desert in addition if it’s a major error. We want people to come back!


  24. MidTown Res says:

    PF Changs is barely a restaurant. I’ve gotten food poisoning there twice.

  25. Ali H. says:

    I once had to send a meal back because of a mistake and the rest of my dinner party tried to convince me not to do it just because of those fears you mentioned. But the waiter understood, I got my new meal in a timely fashion (spit free), and was offered a free drink. I ended up showing the rest of my dinner party that it is ok to send a meal back for a mistake, especially if you were polite about it.

  26. Bob H says:

    I was in the fancy restaurant of a foreign national airport recently. I enjoyed the starter and main, as we had enjoyed a hot week I treated myself to an ice-cream desert. I found a hair in it and the waiter replaced it with one which was a scoop less but with little apology. At the end of the meal when I got the bill I was charged for the desert.

    I asked the server to consider if I should pay for the desert? They pointed out that I ate it. I insisted the server to *really* consider if I should pay for it, I was polite and kept a smile. After an absolute age they found someone to authorise the deduction and we were away.

    I am disappointed they took so long to do everything in the restaurant because it was so busy. They weren’t set up to deal with problems and didn’t have the flexibility to manage the issue. I have no issue with complaining because it is money that I want value from. But I never want to be rude or aggressive!

    As an aside I tend to tip depending on the service, depending on the country I am in, anywhere between nothing and 20%. In many countries I visit your service is included and/or they have minimum wage, so service is a measure of quality.

  27. Kristen says:

    Recently, my family went out for breakfast. I ordered a mushroom and cheddar omelet, I received and mushroom and swiss. What I ordered was an menu item, what I got was a special order. I spoke to the waitress about the mistake, she argued with me, but took my plate back to be “fixed”. It came back quickly enough, but when I tried it I realized what they had done. It was the same omelet, with cheddar sprikled on top and microwaved. It took me another 15 minutes to flag down our waitress, by that time everyone else had finished eating. She offered to have a fresh one made, I pointed out that everyone was done. She did removed my omelet from the cheque, but nothing else, not even an appology.

    I did tip, though not as much as usual, and we will not be back. This was a place that we frequented, this was just a little too much for one meal.

  28. MikeQ says:

    Great analysis; comprehensive, well organized, thoughtful, and very very funny. Looks like you wrote the book on this one . . . again.

  29. Kellie says:

    You’re absolutely right that eventually a place will mess up – it’s run by humans, and there’s human error to consider. It sucks when you’re hungry and can’t eat what you were hoping to. I would caution building up an expectation of what an establishment SHOULD do, however. I worked for one of the best in the industry, and we would never send out an appetizer in the meantime, because the likelihood of that filling up the guest and rendering them full before they ate what they originally ordered was there. Our first line of defense would be to offer to bring everyone’s food back, redo the entire order, ensuring the whole table could eat simultaneously. I realize that’s not what the average place might offer as an option. As well, a free drink or dessert might not be appropriate, either – empowering the server to choose how to best remedy the situation was best. Plying someone with alcohol or sugar, especially if you’re unknowingly tempting someone who’s trying to be healthy, isn’t always the best solution. Different people are satisfied with different methods. Asking for what you want as an unhappy customer, nicely, often works. Open, honest communication and respect – that will take us all farther. And, as you know, the server takes a lot of heat for what lies within control of management and the kitchen. But, yes – you are indeed educating the public – don’t settle for less than what you want & are willing to pay for. We all work hard for that money.

  30. Thomas Drew says:

    I ordered a martini at my local favorite. The drink came with ice floating in it, tasing watery. The waiter took it back without hesitation, but then the barman just strained it and put it in a new glass. I then told the server the first drink was cold and watery; this one is warm and watery, not an improvement. Please don’t bring another. He didn’t, and the rest of the, dinner went fine as usual. In the end, I tipped my usual: $20 or 20%, whichever is greater. The server had earned it because he handled the situation perfectly in every way. The next time I went, there was a different barman.

  31. sam says:

    Instead of going back to P.F. Chang’s my suggestion would be to find a highly rated non-chain Chinese restaurant. The few times I’ve been to P.F. Chang’s in California I was really disappointed. Bland overpriced food in a restaurant that seems to put more effort into being glamorous and cool.

  32. nola rice says:

    We went to a very high end restaurant for Thanksgiving dinner one year, we were travelling and picked the place from reviews. It was a horror story, wrong food, not cooked properly and just a huge disappointment. Service was not great either, the place was packed with demanding regulars. It was entertaining as every mover and shaker was there and heavily drinking. We did not complain, it would have changed nothing. Our waiter did notice we did not eat much and asked and then offered to bring something else. We declined, it was the holiday that was the problem-there was nothing intentional. He reduced the bill on his own initiative (we still tipped 20% and what the bill should have been) sent us out the door with a huge package of free desserts, and the chef wrote us a letter of apology. Sometimes things do turn out okay.

  33. C S says:

    People think they are entitled to free things in a restaurant? A hair in your food? Doesn’t mean it should be free. Rofl really? What is with the stigma that makes people think things should be free. I wish I didn’t have to pay for that HDTV I just got cause the corners of the box it was in were a little dented. I wish gasoline was free because blah blah blah. Fuck that. I love my new job at a restaurant, but I just recently left a place that had the absolute worst clientele EVER. The owners had stressed about how we needed to charge extra for certain things, and since it was my last night, I didn’t really care anymore. This old fucking bitch who ordered a 2.89 cent salad complained about the amount of tomatoes it had in it. She asked for more, so I said I would have to charge her, that it is priced so the restaurant can make money so it continue to be open. She huffed and puffed and I walked away. Her side order of asparagus, also 2.89 wasn’t to her liking, and demanded I get her more. I said I would have to charge her, and she said that was ridiculous and asked to see a manager. I said sure thing and got one. Unfortunately for me, the manager lost their backbone and just handed me another plate of asparagus and said to take it out. Sigh.

    More More More. More Salad Dressing, More Bread Please, More water while I enjoy your expensive utilities and make my own lemonade with those extra free lemons I want, and this packet of splenda or sweet n low that is on the table that I will use to sweeten my free ghetto lemonade, because I’m too cheap to pay 1.99 for a real one.

    Whoa I’m ranting, but seriously, why do people expect for things to be free like that?? I absolutely do not understand it.

  34. Mike says:

    So what do you do if they bring you the wrong item but you are ok with it enough not to send back and waste everyones time? Do you mention it to the waiter or not?

  35. Matt says:

    I more often than having something brought out incorrectly end up ordering something that, while is prepared properly, is not really all that appealing to me. Maybe it is too cheesy, or the sauce isn’t what I was expecting. In that case, I either try to trade dishes with whomever I am eating with, or just suck it up, or maybe order something else. But I would never ask the restaurant to shoulder my mistake.

    When I was waiting tables I would sometimes have guests order something, and despite my explanation of the item, complain that it was exactly like what I explained and expect us to correct it. *shakes head*

  36. Elizabeth says:

    Restaurant response to mistakes is always varied.

    My boyfriend and I went to a PF Chang’s a couple years ago. It turns out they messed up his meal and had to remake it, so we ended up waiting longer for our meal to come out. Honestly, we didn’t even notice it was taking awhile (it was quite busy that night), and the waiter and manager apologized to us and offered us free dessert. Fine by me!

    Another time I was at the Olive Garden with a few family members, and when we got to the bottom of one of the salad bowls, there was an Equal packet on the bottom. We didn’t really care, but we showed the waitress so they knew about it. They ended up taking $25 off the bill! We felt it was unnecessary (my family grew up working in a restaurant), but were glad they did something.

    Recently my boyfriend and I went to a Texas Roadhouse and he found a plate chip in his chili, which found by biting on. They replaced his chili with a different side of his choice, and both the waitress and a manager apologized, but we didn’t get anything taken off and we weren’t offered free dessert.

    We also recently went to a local Italian restaurant, where the waitress (who looked like she was in the weeds) gave us bread, said she would be right back to take our drink orders, then didn’t come back for 10 minutes. But she was definitely in over her head, and once she realized she forgot about us, she apologized profusely and gave us a free appetizer.

    I think that something should be given for free or a discount given if the restaurant messes up. They need you to come back and give them another chance.

  37. Shar says:

    I always order my diet soda without ice, wherever I go, and probably every third or fourth time it arrives with the ice in it. I try to be polite when I tell the server that I don’t mean to disturb him/her unnecessarily but I did ask for the drink without ice. It is very rare that I get an attitude along with the replacement, and therefore it is very rare that we would consider skimping on the tip, since servers are usually human after all. 🙂 Keep up the good work Steve!

  38. CraigT says:

    another item for the list.
    If the item you ordered is not what you though it was ask to look at the menu again before you loudly and profanely proclaim ‘I can’t eat this it has capers in it!!!, the menu never said anything about capers”. Sure enough the fact that you didn’t notice the capers in the description doesn’t mean it wasn’t there.

    Question for the guru, is it acceptable for the server to bring the menu and point out the word capers in the description after the customer made an ass out of himself by loudly proclaiming otherwise?

  39. Angela says:

    I posted this a few years ago but anyway…My husband and I were visitiing my family around Christmas. We took our kids and my two teenage nieces out for the day and stopped at Applebee’s. It was an awful experience, largely because it took well over an hour for the food to come out. We had a toddler with us.. They kept telling us “any minute” and we kept thinking if we leave it’s going to take longer if we go somewhere else and start all over. My husband asked for the manager and told him he felt we should have something taken off the bill or a free meal card or something.
    So the manager gave the waitress a stack of $5 “gift cards” and she made over how generous he was. Turns out they were $5 off a purchase and you could only use one per meal.
    Serious ill will was generated and we have let everyone we know. I hope the $25 or so they could have just taken off the bill was worth it to them.

  40. SJP says:


    I will preface my comments by saying that I normally agree with you on almost all your points and I the premise of this blog is bang on. But I feel you are way off base on a few points.

    According to you PF Chang’s should have given you, a free appy while your wife was waiting for her pork entree (perhaps a bowl of rice cause the bill time on a sweet and sour pork can’t be more than 4 minutes), a free drink to loosen her up (major liability for impaired driving and should not be a policy for all establishments especially large corporate ones), and shouldn’t have to pay for her entree or at least get a free desert (here I would agree with you—if you hadn’t already asked for the farm).

    I don’t support eating at corporate chains like PF Changs that pump out garbage and call it food and am surprised that you went there and decided to comment on your experience. These large chains love comping all that stuff on your bill because it’s a way for them to bulldoze over the smaller restaurants. Due to PF’s massive sales it’s a lot cheaper for them to comp some food for you than it is for a proper restaurant ran locally by those who have a passion for food and service.

    A sincere apology from the server and the manager along with one thing comped should suffice. I think asking for more makes you sound like a yuppie jerk.

  41. Bob Dobbs says:

    There is no excuse for them to charge you for something your girlfriend didn’t order and didn’t want _and_ didn’t eat.

    The best “rules” P.F. Change could have is to give management more leeway. A few good chains have been ruined by bean-counting top management.

  42. guru says:

    To be clear, I did not pay for the sweet and sour chicken AND pork. We were charged for only one of my GF’s entrees.

    Getting something for free during the meal is the best way for a restaurant to apologize. Considering the markups involved, a free drink, app or dessert is not a big financial deal to a restaurant. If only one of those options had been presented to us, I’d have been happy. I don’t mind springing for the late entree in that case.

    But what really irked me was how slow the management took to apologize and how we had to wait ten minutes for our extra desserts. God, I’m sounding old and crusty now!

  43. Marsha says:

    No, you don’t sound old and crusty – just like a civilian who works hard for his money, that is, just like most of us. I must say the tone is very slightly different from previous years’ postings on similar topics, seen and judged from the other side.

  44. Pingback: Send it back
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  46. Colman says:

    Waiter, I was so upset reading how they got your order wrong that it ruined my entire weekend….

    Woohoo! Free stuff!

  47. joe says:

    Thank you for the suggestions

  48. Harrison says:

    In a lot of states it is illegal to give out free alcohol for any reason.

  49. David Crawford says:

    Just a silly little story about the only time I was given something that I didn’t order.

    I went to my usual Sunday cafe for breakfast. They were just slammed because it was NFL game-day and the stadium was about two miles down the same street as the cafe. I ended up sitting at the counter (which I never did, usually, I liked sitting at a little two-person table next to a window). A young waitress took my order — chicken-fried steak with country gravy.

    Well, while I wasn’t paying attention, the waitress dropped off my plate. When I looked at it, it was obviously NOT chicken-fried steak. It was an omelette. I kinda opened it up to see what kind it was. It was a Hangtown Fry. This cafe kind of featured the Hangtown Fry, I just never ordered one. Meant to but would always default to either the chicken-fried steak or the 6 oz. New York strip.

    Since they were so busy I thought I’d try the Fry. Well, it was good, damn good. I ate all of it. Later, after the horde had left the cafe for the game, I called the waitress over and told her about the mistake. My gosh, did she blush, and apoligize, and ask me if there was anything she could do to make it up to me. (What, like get the chicken-fried breakfast and eat that? I was already stuffed). I told her not worry about it, it all turned out OK.

    After that, I always ate at the counter if she waiting there. We’d always joke about the screw-up. Like, if I ordered a Hangtown Fry, she’d say “OK, one chicken-fried steak”.

    Thanks to her I finally tried the Fry, and found out how much I liked it. Thanks to me, the owners of the cafe never knew about her screwing up my order. Just because things go wrong doesn’t mean that thngs have to go bad.

  50. Waiterrant Fan says:

    Nice story David.

  51. Ben says:

    Once at olive garden, I ordered an entree I’d never had before and it was good. As I was eating, I started thinking, “hmmm I thought the menu said this has mushrooms in it, but I can’t quite remember.”

    It was good, so I ate it anyway. I didnt say anything to the waiter, because I was enjoying it, but when the manager came over to ask us how everything was, I asked him if that entree was supposed to come with mushrooms, or if I was thinking of another item that I had been looking at. He said he wasnt sure. He checked and came back very embarrassed and said I was right. He then offered me a free dessert, which was great. I didnt expect it, I was just curious if my memory of the menu was correct or not.

  52. dog says:

    P.F. Changs can kiss my ass. Rude waiters, poor management. I do like the food, so sad.

  53. Morgan says:

    I think it’s very acceptable to send something back if it’s not what you ordered or not prepared correctly. What some people don’t understand is to do it NICELY. This way you don’t get your food back with boogers in it.

  54. Courtney says:

    I really appreciate this entire post. Its very true, as a waitress, I want to make sure your dining experience is pleasant. And mistakes do happen, but as long as you are nice & polite, I have no problem fixing said problem. I do have a problem with your statement about the waiter hiding, though. Its not always because they are inexperienced or coked out. Sometimes its because you just cannot take the conflict anymore. I had one table of regulars that no matter what I did, it was wrong. I swear that if I could have stood right by their table and magically made everything they asked for appear, it would still have been wrong. So I finally just removed myself from the situation. I politely told my managers that someone else would have to wait on them; I couldn’t handle the pressure any more.
    On another note, if you have a food allergy… please tell your waiter about it when you order. I’m not a mind reader. Don’t order an entree and then send it back because you cannot eat bell peppers. Let me know ahead of time!

  55. Canadian Eh ! says:

    Did you at least got get double stamps on your Warrior card ? 😉

  56. JB says:

    The issue I have, is that if I am out for a meal with my wife, and the restaurant has messed up the order, then either –
    1 – One of us keeps on eating whilst the other sits their waiting; or
    2 – One of us sits there watching our food go cold, whilst the other sits waiting.
    And if it is my wife’s meal that is wrong, then number 1 isn’t going to happen, as I do have some manners.

    Now I would be less unhappy if the restaurant acknowleged that they had messed up by bumping the replacement to the top of the queue in the kitchen, but it never seems to happen. The replacement always takes forever, and if either of the two options above happen, then effectively the whole meal is ruined.

    So these days, unless they agree that they will replace the missing meal promptly, they get two (polite) options, –
    1 – recook both meals (not keep one warm); or
    2 – we leave, and pay for anything consumed up to that point.

  57. Mikey says:

    I was upset with this post and was surprised was written by a former veteran waiter. However, in your situation, I do have sympathy.

    I disagree with your notion that corporate restaurants do not give away free stuff when there’s a problem. On the contrary, corporate restaurants will give you the world if you complain. BoGs, comped entrees, free desserts, you name it. The managers will do this for you out of fear you will call corporate and complain.

    I’ve been a waiter for five years and what I don’t have sympathy for is those who abuse the system. Let’s call them Canadians.

    -Canadians will order food, it will arrive cooked to perfection and they will send it back just because “i dont like this…” This aint a buffet where you can order stuff just to try it.

    -Canadians will finish their meal and complain to the manager because they know the manager will kiss their ass and comp their check.

    -Canadians will do whatever else that’s dishonest to get something for free.

    So, yes, if the restaurant really screws up and potentially ruins your dining experience, you should be entitled to something. But let’s not encourage bad behavior here – if the mistake is quickly corrected the mistake or the restaurant did not screw up at all, you don’t deserve anything for free. Period.

  58. Key says:
    Check my link for a list of other things to not do in interactions with your server haha. Tough about the wait on your desserts =\

  59. Amanda Sowards says:

    Maybe it’s an L.A. thing, but I’ve had an order come in wrong from time to time, and have politely requested a fix, and have never, EVER had a problem. In fact, I can think of at least two occasions where I’ve ordered something, it arrived exactly as ordered, but for some reason I ended up not liking it as much as thought I would. The server sees my barely-touched plate, asks me if there was a problem, and when I explained that I just didn’t end up liking it, they’ve offered to bring me something else, and taken what I didn’t like off the ticket. Which I think is swell, and above-and-beyond, since it was my fickle taste buds, and not their error.

    And this is why I love eating in most restaurants. Because people will do what it takes to make me happy, and all I have to do is say “please” and “thank you” and not be a total bitch about it.


  60. JB says:

    As a PF Chang’s employee let me say I’m sorry we screwed up your order. In my location we are always going to comp the dish that is wrong. Dessert, too, if you’re not a jerk trying to get free stuff. The drink is going to be iffy, in some locations even illegal. I don’t usually offer a free drink unless the rush ticket is taking too long. Finally, the free app is a no go for me. The reason being that I’ve had no luck with it. If the kitchen has messed up one food item, and is taking a long time on the replacement, I’m not putting my tip in their hands a third time.

    On a culinary note, trying wok-seared lamb, oolong seabass, or wok-charred beef (lots of mushrooms) next time you’re in PF Chang’s. They’re off the beaten path, but that’s where Chang’s best dishes are located.

  61. Inez says:

    As a Canadian, I am offended by Mikey (#56). Like Americans, there are all kinds of Canadians, good, bad and ugly. I am sure many people would be offended if I stated all Americans were big mouthed, ignorant jerks, just like Mickey.

  62. Di says:

    Inez, the “Canadians” Mikey references are not people from Canada. Rather, the term refers to other minorities who are more frequently stereotyped for being poor tippers and freeloaders, and even less justly. Truthfully, Mikey, if you treat people like so-called “Canadians,” even if you’re trying not to, it still shows. If you’re assuming they won’t tip well, odds are good that it is reflected in your demeanor and your service. I say that as a restaurant manager, as a former server, and as a “Canadian,” emphasis on the quotation marks

  63. serverktb says:

    I work in a resteraunt and my bosses suck they could care less if theres sumthing in the food(like a piece of a metal scrubie),nor do they give a damn about there guests. We had a gm meeting with the ceo,owner,president and all the general managers. On my break i got tacos and found2 pieces of hair in them! I told the manager in charge and he said o. But ydont worry not only did i pay for it,they didnt replace it

  64. Joe says:

    today the way things are I won’t send anything back. If it’s edible I will eat it and just not go back. There’s too many things that can go on behind closed doors..

    Think about what you see in a fast food joint when they prepare the food out in the open.

  65. Nikki says:

    I HATE the ‘no free drinks’ rule. My restaurant has the same policy but sheesh… a happy hour margarita is 3 dollars and draft beers are 2. They are so concerned about the waitstaff stealing their liquor though that they won’t even let us give our guests a free margarita that isn’t costing them very much to begin with.

  66. jo says:

    Someone in another comment asked about servers having to pay for food that is messed up. I’ve never come across that situation until the restaurant I work in now. If the kitchen messes up, we don’t have to pay for it. But, if the mess up is because we rang the item in wrong, we DO have to pay for it. I think it’s BS. Unless a server is messing up on a regular basis, we should be allowed the occasional slip-up. We are human, after all.

    Also, I disagree w/ the commenter who said that most mess ups are probably the fault of the server. Not in my experience. I very rarely ring stuff in wrong. Most of the time it seems that the kitchen doesn’t read the ticket thoroughly or they just over or undercooked the steak, etc.

  67. edwin says:

    You are being ridiculous!! This restaurant should 1) comp your meal (depending on how long your new one takes) and 2) apologize. A free drink, free dessert and appetizer? You’re out of your damned mind.

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