A Practical Guide To Sending Back Food, Proposed

Progressive Boink has a truly excellent podcast. Jon Bois has a truly excellent brainthing. Combine the two and the result is AUDIO PARTY FOREVER. An audio party that raises important issues, however, such as when, if ever, food should be sent back at a restaurant.

It’s appropriate to point out, as a lifelong guy who just doesn’t want any trouble, that I have never asked something to be taken back to the kitchen. But, in listening to Pete and Jon discuss this with Bill, it struck me that this is a patently absurd approach to the situation. If you went to a shoe store and asked for a pair of size 10 loafers, you wouldn’t just say “no, this is fine, I don’t want to make a fuss” if they brought you size 13 basketball shoes.

Armed with that revelation, I humbly submit the following guide.


Scenario 1. What you got is inedible or improperly prepared.

The Blockbuster version of this would be renting Sudden Death and then getting home to find out that the tape cuts out eighteen minutes in. In that event, I’m hoping you wouldn’t just sit there and watch a blank television set for the next 93 minutes. Instead, you’d take this up with the store – you purchased a good, and you didn’t receive anything. Not saying anything is basically the same as walking into a restaurant, putting twenty bucks on the table, and then walking out.

It’s important, however, to note that this is not to be confused with…

Scenario 2. You got something that you just don’t like.

End of the line, friend. Part of adulthood is accepting the consequences of your decisions, and, in this case, that means you don’t get a do-over. I am reminded of a date I went on in college, in which it was my job to pick a movie. One instruction was given to me – no horror. So, when I picked Saw, it was based on some dumbass idea that it was a crime thriller in the vein of Se7en, and not the Dread Pirate Roberts mutilating himself in an abandoned gym shower. I failed to do my due diligence, and I suffered the consequences, and by that I mean holy shit is it awkward for a date to end by turning off a movie you shouldn’t have picked in the first place.

Where was I? Right, food. You order the Maple Onion Ring Turkey Stacker, you eat the Maple Onion Ring Turkey Stacker. The restaurant shouldn’t have to suffer because you couldn’t be bothered to read the menu carefully.

In between Scenarios 1 and 2 is the trickiest situation.

Scenario 3. You got the wrong order.

The Blockbuster version of this is as follows: you wanted to rent Suburban Commando, and the case says Suburban Commando, but you pop the tape in the VCR and…not Suburban Commando. What do you do now? It’s not Scenario 1 because the tape is functional. And it’s not Scenario 2 because this isn’t the result of your own poor decision making.

Some quick calculus has to undertaken here. Is the incorrect item you’ve been given something superior – say, for instance, Terminator 2, which the cashier assured you was not in stock in the store? Where are you coming out price-wise? If you ordered the lobster roll but got the grilled cheese, which one is showing up on the bill?

There isn’t a wrong answer here, necessarily – asking for what you ordered is fine, and so is eating what you’ve been given instead. But there’s one factor here that the Blockbuster model doesn’t account for* – speed. A hesitant eater may find the waitstaff breezing back to the table to retrieve this delicious ravioli intended for someone else. Strike while the iron is hot.

And there you have it. You see? Restaurant misadventures don’t have to be that stressful, once you start thinking of them like a near-dead industry!

*It’s worth noting that the other major difference here is that a kitchen can fuck with your food, whereas Blockbuster employees won’t usually spit in your copy of Surf Ninjas. I believe this is simply a matter of courtesy on your part as a diner, however. Should you need to send a plate back, just be polite about it. If the chef’s an asshole, he probably fucked with your original food, too.

2 responses to “A Practical Guide To Sending Back Food, Proposed

  1. This seems to be to be a fairly sensible breakdown of the issue. but the line between Scenario 1 and Scenario 2 is not always clear. Consider the item discussed in the podcast (thanks for listening!), the one I sent back: Buffalo Wild Wings’ Big Jack Daddy Burger – http://onsandwiches.com/2012/11/01/big-jack-daddy-burger-bw3-review/

    I ordered the Big Jack Daddy Burger, and that’s what I got. But it was well below the level of quality that I was expecting. Hardly inedible, but genuinely terrible. It was so bland as to be flavorless, and does that not qualify as inadequately prepared? Essentially, what I’m asking is if there is a line between Scenarios 1 and 2 that isn’t heavily dependent on personal judgement?

    I’ll eat bad food, disappointing food, and if the menu says sandwich and I get a wrap I don’t send it back, I just get steamed and complain about it on my blog. But some things are just too much, and it seems to me that there isn’t a way to say “no, this will not do.” without looking to some like you’re violating the second scenario.

  2. I struggled with that as well, Pete, and I think you’re right that it ends up being subjective – the better example might be a VHS copy of Sudden Death where the sound gets super wonky for a few seconds six or seven times throughout the movie. Does that render the movie unwatchable? The answer varies from person to person.

    Essentially, to me the line is one of motivation: in scenario 2, you’ve been given what you asked for and now you have buyer’s remorse. If the Big Jack Daddy Burger you described had been sent back because it was “too much shit that didn’t go together at all,” I think that’d be an apt application of number 2. But your experience was more akin to “something went wrong in the crafting of this dish,” so I think it fits closer within the parameters of Scenario 1.

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