Saturday, 31 July 2010

How DO you send food back to the kitchen?

I have received two extremely thought-provoking and interesting emails recently from Rita-readers. One email, on the subject of returning food to the kitchen, I have published below, and am interested in hearing people’s thoughts on the subject. I know the identities of the two establishments mentioned in my reader’s email, but will refrain from mentioning them……….

Just wondering if you could blog a "how to" guide on sending food back in the nicest possible way? We don't get to eat out much these days because purse strings have tightened, what with kids, rates, mortgage rises etc. so when we dine out, we really do have high hopes. (Especially now that I've replicated a few of those "foodie" recipes from MasterChef!)

Anyhoo ...
My two most recent experiences. One was our favourite restaurant, that we keep returning to time after time after [let's try somewhere new, oops, that was disappointing, let's go back to the tried-and-true] time. We consider the restaurant to be a notch ahead of everywhere else we've dined - service impeccable, food delectable, and ambiance unsurpassable.

Unfortunately, on our most recent trip - I was so disappointed with my meal and toyed with sending it back. But given the "upperclass" feel of the place, I didn't know how. So I sullenly ate through the meal ($40 for the main) and was rather non-committal when the waiter removed our plates. I stewed over it (it would seem, just as the meat had been stewed) and eventually gathered enough thoughts to call the restaurant back the following day to say I hadn't enjoyed the meal. It was met with, "Well, nobody else complained about it last night".

Needless to say, even if I did go back to that restaurant - I certainly wouldn't dare question a meal for fear of being shot down.

The second experience was at a local pub (not my local - somebody else's). I was a little rash and facedbooked a photo of my meal - response was overwhelming. "You're not paying for that, are you?", which lead to further derision when I mentioned the $20 price tag for a deepfried chicken schnitzel and chips (no gravy).

Anyway, it was my birthday and although I wasn't going to cry - I certainly was upset enough to ask the waitress to take it away. I thought that she would return with a note saying that we wouldn't have to pay for the plate, but nothing was forthcoming. (I didn't ask for a replacement; my appetite had gone.)

In the end, I had to front up to the bar to ask for a refund (having paid for the meal when we ordered). Which was bad enough, but made worse when she said loudly, "That's for the manager to decide" in front of a lot of other people. I wasn't complaining loudly or rudely (although, yes, I had complained cyberly). I didn't make a fuss of returning my meal to the kitchen.

So ...Just how are we meant to return a plate? Obviously, we don't do it the following day (on that occasion, I was merely seeking reassurance that it was just a solitary dud meal, an anomoly that wouldn't be repeated). On the second occasion, I did want a refund because I took one mouthful of it and it was just horrid. But do we have to mouth the words, "Refund" or should it be offered? I felt like a cheapskate on my birthday.
Posted on by Rita


Anonymous said...

Well here is the procedure that I find occurs in 95% of establishments.

My meal has hair in it (for example) so I send back to kitchen. Chef then swears loudly, abuses FOH staff and makes rude gestures at the general direction of the dining room.

10 minutes later new meal appears, but it is really just the original meal, re-heated in microwave with hair removed.

Numerous complaints to staff behind the bar who don't care get me nowhere, I end up going home deflated and telling everyone to avoid the business like the plague.

Anonymous said...

There are two important distictions when contemplating returning your meal.

1. Is there something actually wrong with the meal, burnt/off/ cold/insipid etc or
2. Is it not just to your taste/liking etc. In other words you chose poorly.

I think in the first instance you send it back immediately without hesitation. The busiess should get your replacement meal asap & in some cases comp that dish or in the very least offer a discount of sorts.

In the second instance many people confuse something being 'wrong' wih a dish simply because they decide they dont like it. In this instance I dont think the venue is obliged to offer a replacement for free. However in the spirit of potential return custom, each venue must decide what is important to them.

In my own case I have had one diner send back two different main courses claiming they 'didn't like it' and expected a third course on the house.

Anonymous said...

For me, it is similar to when you pour 15ml of wine into a glass for the customer to try before they get there glass filled, if they do not like the flavour of the wine they chose, they pretend there is something wrong with it and then complain.

I rarely have anything wrong with my food, and after eating 1000's of restaurant meals in my life, I can recall sending two back to the kitchen.

To be honest I feel sorry for the wait staff who cop abuse from chefs with anger management problems... An angry chef is the last person in the world you want to confront about a problem with the meal he cooked!

I was at a St Helens restaurant a few weeks back, and asked about a seafood platter... The response came

"I could ask.... But the Chef is an angry man and he has refused to do seafood platters lately"

Right.... Thats really the response I needed to hear when I am spending $100+ on a meal....

Rita, how would you send food back to the kitchen?

simon cordwell said...

Excellent topic and one I try to teach all the chefs I work with how to handle. Firstly if you are unhappy with your meal then you must send it back as soon as possible. Just call the wait person over and simply explain why you are not happy with the meal and ask for a replacement or a different meal. Even if you are uncomfortable with this you need to do this for two very basic reasons. The first is if the chef has made a mistake they need to know so they can avoid making the same mistake in the future. And the second and I think the most important is YOU as the guest pay the wages of the chefs and the floor staff. This is something I tell all my staff that the guests are the ones paying you not the restaurant, hotel or company in the end it is the guest.
I like to think that if a meal is sent back to the kitchen as a result of a mistake on the chefs part they would welcome the chance to rectify that mistake and send the guest away happy. Nice idea but the reality is sometimes quite different. As far as " the angry chef syndrome" goes that type of behavior has no place in today's kitchen. This is something that I strive to instill in all the staff that I work with both kitchen and floor staff. Having an angry chef makes for a unpleasant and unproductive working environment and can be dangerous. The way I handle the issue of returned meals is to find out why it came back in as much detail as I can. Then ask does the guest want a replacement meal or to make another choice. If this requires me to go out and speak to the guest then that is what I do. As the chef if I get a meal sent back then I make sure we fix the problem as quick as we can and I would not charge the guest for that meal. Getting out there and talking to the guests is something that chefs need to do more as you can learn a lot and it is good to get the instant feed back good and bad. It also adds to the guests experience to be able to have a quick chat with the chef. Any way that is how I deal with this issue and I urge everyone to speak up if you need to return a meal.

sir grumpy said...

Try sending an underdone steak back.
If you want it anything past medium the staff treat you as a philistine from the off.
I like mine well done, but I don't often order steak in restaurants.
But dammit as I go for the company, sometimes steak and chips is just what I want....then the trouble starts.
``Chef says mdeium-well is as far as he take it, sir....''

lemon curd said...

I love the places that actually put "No responsibility is taken for steak cooked over medium" etc - !!

Last time I looked, well done was an accepted way to cook steak...

I used to work in a bloody busy restaurant that used to plate up a huge amount of steak, and never had an issue with anyones well done steak... (Or back on topic - maybe they were too timid to send it back??!) If you're receiving that many complaints about your well done steaks, as Simon says above, find out what's wrong so you can fix it!

Anonymous said...

the issue is not actually cooking the meat well done but the issue that often arises when it goes to the table, many punter complain about it being tough or dry.
thats unreasonable

nutsdeb said...

I recently had lunch with a group of people at a set menu - we had a choice of two entree's, two mains and two desserts. The choice of the entree was fine (in fact I asked for and got the recipe of the chef for that!) but the main was disappointing. Firstly it smelt burnt, and many at the table commented on the burnt smell. Since it was red meat, something I rarely venture to these days, I was a bit put off by the smell and decided to question the chef who stated that the ale used caused a burnt smell. I explained that I probably could not face the beef with the smell and asked if I could change. He was very accomodating and asked if I wanted the other main dish or another serve of the entree, which I chose! The thing that gets me is that every one else with the same dish kept complaining and wouldn't eat their food yet no one dared mention it to the chef. I think if you have a serious concern with the size, smell or taste of a dish and you approach it carefully and with a sense of concern over the chef's feelings then it should be a win-win. The fact that I love the entree and told him so made him feel that his cooking wasn't all bad that day. The dessert of golden syrup dumplings was a hit too.
In the past I've only sent back when I know I would not be able to eat the meal as is. The most notable time was when I sent back an un-set tiple chocolate mousse - it was still warm in the centre for gosh sake and runny like baby custard - at a top ranking Tassie restuarant.
I've also seen people eat the whole meal and then complain on paying expecting a discount but hey - if you didn't like it why did you clean the plate, mate? You should complain on first taste and not go back to eat more.
So I am all for returning when there is a valid reason and you take into consideration the owner/chef's feelings.

Anon4 said...

I wrote the email to Rita, because I really don't know what the protocol is when sending food back. I have sent back 3 meals in my entire life: an undercooked fish, a medium rare steak that came out beyond well done, and the schnitzel mentioned in the email. One of the reasons I didn't send the venison back was because I didn't know if it was a matter of personal taste (if I'll be honest, the jus tasted like old underwear that's been soaking for days, and I'm not sure if that is considered a delicacy in some restaurants?) and the venison was overcooked. I finished the meal because I knew I wasn't going to make a fuss about it and didn't want to waste my money, and I wouldn't have sought a refund for that (all 3 meals I've sent back, I've asked that I not pay for - I didn't want a replacement or a free meal or a free drink; I just didn't want to pay for those meals and I thought that was reasonable under the circumstances). But what happens if the meal isn't over/undercooked - what if it's been over-/underseasoned? Salted beyond the Dead Sea? If the fish clearly isn't fresh, and has been frozen? Or if you get a porterhouse instead of a scotch fillet, still beautifully cooked, but not what you ordered?

simon cordwell said...

Hi Anon4. In this case you need to still send the meal back. If it is the wrong steak for example it could just be a matter of a typo by the floor staff. There are a lot of places these days that use micros system and similar to take and send orders to the kitchen. I have worked with many of these and in the end it still comes down to a person entering the information into the system and mistakes happen. I have also worked in many places that hand write the dockets and mistakes still happen let alone the state of the hand writing If a meal is under or over cooked then it is WRONG and not what you as the guest ordered so it needs to go back. Overseasoned meals that are too salty again need to go back. Underseasoned meals while not showing the product in its best light can be rectified at the table. With seasoning of food there is a fine line as how much is good or bad what is good for one may not be good for another. But a half decent chef will always lightly season the food with basic salt and pepper. With fish that is no good or old then it needs to go back. With the price of fresh fish these days some places have to use frozen product. As long as it is of good quality and they do not try to sell it as fresh fish I see no harm in this.If you always want the best of fresh fish then I would find a restaurant that can always deliver this and go there when ever you feel like fish. Hope this helps.

Anonymous said...

I think that pure common sense will tell a customer when a dish has not been cooked correctly or even seasoned properly. Also lets face it if your paying top dollar then you should expect top quality, the reverse is true here also.
The moot point is when a meal comes back because it wasn't what you fancied afterall, then if its been cooked correctly, you could understand a chefs irritation.

To be honest most of us have been around long enough to have that seen and heard it all look on our faces. So mostly the meal will be replaced, regardless of what we may personally think, point scoring with customers in a fit of pique is just unprofessional, our job is to make you happy.
So if you don't like it for whatever reason send it back, but please do try to explain in as much detail to the FOH serving you what the problem is, and what you would like done to rectify this. Your waitperson is the conduit between the kitchens understanding and ultimate delivery of your need.

As for steak, your paying for it, its your choice, my job, is to try and deliver that choice using my experience. Any chef can cook a well done steak and keep it juicy, regardless of the cut, some are easier than others of course, and some cuts will remain more tender.Anyone serving out a dried out chunk of rubber is just contemptuous of the customer, ignorant, lazy, or simply shit at their job. Its steak for christs sake, one of the backbones of the restaurant industry, if you can't cook it, its time to change jobs.


Anonymous said...

"The Chef said the food is "fucken fine" - his words not mine."

- The above was once said to me by a waitress


Anonymous said...

Hi Rita

Any word on Peppermint Bay? Now that the genius CEO of the century Luke B has gone (thank god) and the two minute wonder chef Paul F?

Justin Miles said...

Thought i would add to your responses on the subject of returning food! As a chef & restaurateur i thought i may help with the topic at hand. Sending back an incorrect, overly/under cooked, wrong or just plain bad item of food is always a difficult situation for all clientele. The fear of reprisal from an angry chef or manager will always sit at the back of any timid diners mind!!
My tip is this....any restaurant worth it's salt will have floor staff doing a 3 minute 'callback' once any dish has been delivered, this has reason on various fronts; standard of personalised service, customer satisfaction & an opportunity to deal with any issues promptly & in a dignified manner. If your restaurant is not giving 'callbacks' then they are most likely falling into a lesser service category or are far too arrogant to believe that their kitchen could produce foods that are not acceptable or plainly bad!!
FWIW the most appropriate way to return food is at the time, a restaurant of calibre will offer a replacement, different or complete refund. The following day is a difficult time as the problem has passed, the shift staff may be different & the ability to fix, repair with the issue may be beyond procedural parameters. My advice in short is to politely return the dish, listen to what the establishment can provide & either accept or move to the next course. All restaurants regardless of their status want 100% satisfaction from clientele & will attempt to repair issues & problems expediently.
Justin Miles
Executive Chef & General Manager
Windy Point Restaurant & Cafe

sir grumpy said...

Thanks Lemon Curd.

By the way, I've eaten a rare steak at Ball & Chain...on behalf of the wife.
We were being treated to a meal as a thankyou from visitors.
better half's steak was oozing blood and she managed to convey to me she didn't want to ``spoil'' the night by sending it back.
She swapped me for my chicken breast thingies (very good of her).
As her shining knight I said nothing, our pals barely noticed as they had been at the salad bar, and I took brave bites washed down with red wine.
Didn't barf or nuffin. Now, I would indeed send it back (offsider likes well-done too).
And yes, I think the B&C, which I have always enjoyed, had a sign along the lines of ``chef takes no responsibility for steaks past.....''

Anonymous said...

The B&C do have a policy of coming round and asking how the meal is a couple of minutes after serving and they fix things pretty quickly, especially when it is undercooked.

All they do is chuck it back on the charcoal and stick what looks like an hot iron on top of it and its fixed in a minute or two, albeit slightly thinner!

And I think on the menu or somewhere on the table there is a description of what each level of cooking means.


Anonymous said...

Saturday night, 7.30pm, and we're turned away from Peppermint Bay for dinner. What's that about?

sir grumpy said...

Yes P, but on that occasion, my missus didn't want any fuss. I can't remember the ordering process but between us and the waiter there was a misunderstanding.
We've always been looked after nicely there.
On another occasion I got them to butterfly a steak which was less done than I liked.
No trouble and that way I ate alongside my table companions because it took less time to remedy.