When Customers Send Food Back

Posted by Patrick Maness +

It happens to every chef, no matter how good they are, where they studied or how long they’ve worked to develop their craft. Eventually, someone sends their food back.

A range of emotions can accompany this request. Sometimes the guest just needs to be educated on what they ordered. Other times the cooking staff made a mistake or the server entered the wrong menu item. Mistakes happen, and good customer service can help mitigate these incidents.

The number one thing to remember when devising a policy for handling food that is sent back, for whatever reason, is that it's an opportunity to build a relationship with the customer. Perhaps they didn’t understand that steak tartare is raw beef, and if they can’t stomach it, offer to take it off their bill and get them something else. If it’s the kitchen’s fault, though, like if their chicken is undercooked, fix the problem and offer them a voucher for another meal, on the house.

Here are a few examples of when it’s completely reasonable for someone to send back their food:

  • Their food is burned or charred.
  • The beef is improperly cooked.
  • The guest doesn't receive what he or she ordered.
  • The dish contains meat that needs to be thoroughly cooked through (such as pork) and part of it is raw.
  • The dish contains allergens that were not mentioned on the menu.
  • The vegetables are wilted or appear to be spoiled.
  • There’s a hair on the plate or a fly in the soup.

Though we all live in an age when the customer is always right, the truth is that they are often wrong. As such, there needs to be a limit on what you will and will not take back. For instance, if someone were to order their $70 fillet mignon medium-well but meant medium-rare, should the restaurant absorb the cost of this mistake?

This is a question that may have to be addressed on an individual basis, with responses varying from restaurant to restaurant. It represents the constant challenge restaurateurs face as they try to provide guests with the delicious, satisfying meal of their choice, even though the guest may not always know exactly what they are ordering.

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