Today I will be talking about How To Send Food Back At A Restaurant.

Sunday was my day off. So, I decided to go out and have lunch with my brother. As we searched for a quality place to eat at sensible prices, alas, I remembered a small, sustainable eatery where I once picked up an excellent fried green tomato sandwich. It was an establishment that cooked with ingredients sourced from local farms. I liked the idea of the regional fair, so I decided to check out the place again.  

It’s been a while since I’ve been to that eatery, and as we walked in, I noticed that the small, cozy lunch place hadn’t changed at all. We were famished, so we ordered the food at the counter immediately. We both got sandwiches, but I also added a warm squash-apple soup. My brother added a coffee, and I requested a chai latte.  

Sadly, the restaurant must have changed owners because it did not measure up to the way it used to be. My chai latte had so much sugar in it that I couldn’t drink it. Also, my brother didn’t like his coffee because he said it was sour. The sandwiches were only mediocre though the ingredients on the menu looked promising. Only the squash apple soup was tasty. 

To make the story short, being unsatisfied about our drinks, I decided to send the beverages back. As soon as I said that, my brother twitched uneasily in his chair and suggested we leave. 

But I asked him to wait. I took his coffee and my chai latte – and this is what I did. 

I walked up to the counter; I smiled at the employee who was putting away pastries. I apologized and politely explained why I brought back the drinks. While still smiling, in a respectful tone of voice, I sincerely told him that my chai latte was too sweet, and unfortunately, I couldn’t drink it, and my brother’s coffee was too bitter, and he also couldn’t drink it. Then, I asked if I could please order some tea. 

The employee apologized, took the drinks back, and soon after, he returned to our table with freshly brewed earl grey leaf teas. He also put a receipt on our table saying that because we were unhappy with our previous drinks – he issued a refund. The new refreshments were “on the house.” 

Notice, while returning our beverages, I didn’t ask for my money back? 

We all know that issuing a refund to an unsatisfied customer is always good business practice. But that was not my point. 

So why did I not just leave the restaurant and forget about the disappointing drinks? I mean, it’s not like we were losing a significant sum of money. Perhaps we could have closed our eyes and pretended that we drank them and forgot about the entire situation. Why bother, right? 

Wrong. 

The reason I spoke up was out of a principle and to hopefully make sure that the owner fixes the coffee brew and the over-sweetened chai lattes for the next customer. Look, if we dumbly pay for bad meals and bad drinks, and bad service for that matter, being afraid of human confrontation, to whom are we doing a disservice? 

To ourselves and others and restaurant owners. How can anything be improved if nobody knows that it was wrong in the first place?  

Besides, my dear, by returning a dish or a drink that you’re not happy with – you’re not a bitch, you’re protecting your worth as a consumer. I’m sure the employee or manager, whoever he was, respected me for voicing my opinion. If the new owners are smart – they will quickly fix the issues I brought to their attention.

In the end, for being frank and assertive – in a pleasant way, I received complimentary beverages plus an unexpected refund.  

That’s why I always reiterate this favorite mantra of mine: “say it what you mean but say it nicely.” Don’t be afraid of peaceful disputes, and use that mantra. When you say it that way, it’s not rude to send food back at a restaurant. 

In retrospect, we will probably not return to the local lunch place anytime soon. As excited as we were to receive the free drinks, the leaf teas were also bitter and didn’t taste good. The new staff needs to learn how to brew real tea and make proper coffee. Let’s hope they succeed. Because for some people, decent coffee or tea on a Sunday is like a life and death situation. And we all know – the devil is in the detail. 

You know what? You can return a dish or a beverage you’re not happy with too. But, if you’re nervous or timid regarding complaining at a restaurant – as I realize many people are, remember my brother’s nervous twitch? When you do want to face someone without sounding harsh or argumentative, do a verbal sandwich. 

Here is how to do a verbal sandwich when you send food back at a restaurant: 

    1. Top layer – the bun: Say something pleasant first. For example, your establishment is unique, different, spacious, enjoyable, or I liked the appetizer you served. 
    2. Middle Layer – the meat: Say what’s on your mind, decisively. For example, I’m sorry, but I don’t like the main dish, it is too salty, burned, sour; there is a fly in my soup, and it’s staring at me, etc. I wish to return the meal.  
    3. Bottom Layer – the bun: Repeat something pleasant. For example, your staff is friendly; I love the background music; the bread was delicious, my great-grandmother raved about this place, etc. 

Tip: Don’t put any cheese in the sandwich; keep it simple. 

OK – Happy eating and dish returning!  

The verbal sandwich could be applied in any situation – not just when you send food back at a restaurant; as such, do let me know if you use it. I would love to hear your stories or any challenges you faced.

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Photo credit:

Photo by Kari Shea (coffee); Photo by Bundo Kim (cafe); Photo by Katlyn Giberson (color cafe); Photo by Clifford (pink outside cafe); Photo by Elise Petrovich (chai latte, coffee brew; Photo by Krisztina Papp (red teapot); Photo by Dominic Dreier (a walk through street); Photo by Javier Molina (sandwich); Photo by Nathan Dumlao (hand pouring coffee) 

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