The Expert-Approved Etiquette Tip You Should Follow When Sending Food Back At A Restaurant

With at least 11 signs you should send a dish back at a restaurant, this is something you might have to do every now and then when eating out. But we understand that it can be an awkward and unpleasant ordeal. So we spoke to Sean Olnowich, the culinary director of Ketchy Shuby, to pick his brain for expert-approved etiquette tips you should follow when sending food back at a restaurant. Olnowich acknowledged there are times when sending food back is necessary. He even told us about when he had to send a piece of skate (the underrated fish you should be eating more of) back because it had a heavy ammonia aroma. "The best way to go about it is [to] kindly get the attention of your server and briefly explain what is wrong. The key is to be understanding and kind and not have a bad attitude about it. Mistakes happen."

As diners, we should have some compassion for restaurant owners and servers and be communicative. Let's not send a dish back for a bad reason. Simply not liking the food or the dish you ordered is not an acceptable reason to send it back. Olnowich stated, "Just because the guest didn't like something or it's not to their personal preference does not mean the restaurant should eat the cost of that dish and throw it in the garbage." Not only is that a bit disrespectful, it adds to food waste, which we should actively minimize rather than contribute to.

Circumstances when you should never send a dish back to a restaurant

We dove deeper and asked if there were any circumstances where we should never send a dish back. Olnowich explained, "Don't send back a dish, saying it is cold, after the order was sent out a while ago. This happens way too often in restaurants, and it should not be at the fault of the kitchen if the guest is engaged in conversation, or whatever, and waits 20 minutes to start eating their food." Let's say you've been distracted or doom-scrolling on your phone, and your dish has gotten cold. That's your fault, not the restaurant's. 

Sometimes, a diner may misread the menu and feel surprised or disappointed when something different arrives at their table. "A recent common one for me is people thinking they ordered a beef tartare while dining at Ketchy Shuby, whereas the dish on the menu is a beet tartare. Some send it back...," Olnowich elaborated. And then they miss out on how great a vegetable tartare can be, Olnowich pointed out. Then, there are times when dish names and ingredient lists are too fancy or complicated to comprehend. At times like these, it's good to check Google for images and reviews of the dish you're confused about. 

There are valid reasons to send food back to the restaurant. There are also odd and bad reasons. Whatever your reason, start with understanding and compassion, and always communicate in a friendly manner with your server.