Send It Back

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You cut into your steak, and something’s not right. Blood oozes from the meat, and it’s supposed to be cooked medium-well. Or perhaps you take that first bite of your vegetable curry, and it’s so hot you frantically douse your mouth with water. You knew the menu said “spicy,” but you didn’t realize it was this spicy. What do you do?

Many of us grumble to our tablemates, then eat it anyway, or push it crankily around our plate. When the waiter checks in, we may not even say anything—we feel she’s too busy, we’re embarrassed, we don’t want to bother (or insult) the chef. Who knows what could happen if we sent it back? People are worried about “that old restaurant urban legend,” says chef Wendi Mentink of Bidwell Street Bistro, “that if a customer sends a dish back, the kitchen is going to do something despicable to his food.”

But what you may not know is that the chef wants you to send it back. “If a customer isn’t happy, we want to know about it,” says Ian MacBride, executive chef of Lucca Restaurant & Bar. “I don’t care how busy we are,” he adds. “If we don’t hear that there’s a problem, we will think everything is going just fine in the dining room.”

Mentink echoes this. “Any quality chef would relish the opportunity to make [a dish] right for a customer. Our main goal is that our customers leave the restaurant happy.” It’s particularly irksome, says Mentink, when a customer complains after the meal is over (and has eaten the item he didn’t like)—or worse, the customer grouses on a comment card and it’s picked up by the waiter after the table has left. “They should get what they want when they’re here,” she explains. “People are paying to come and eat.”

MacBride agrees. “Our highest priority is to find out what our customers want, and make it for them. We like feedback, and we won’t take it personally.”

So do them—and yourself—a favor, and send it back.