We Asked A Bunch Of Servers When It's Rude To Send Back Food

January 16th 2016

Laura Donovan

Restaurant servers have a lot of their plate. The federal tipped minimum wage is $2.13 an hour, the majority of waitresses experience sexual harassment on the job, servers often feel their worth is determined by a stranger's generosity, and they deal with a lot of rude people on the job.


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Servers face a lot of stress on the job, and they can also face challenges when people unnecessarily send their food back into the kitchen. It varies a lot by situation, so we asked a few servers to tell us when they would consider it rude for a customer to send back food. Here is what they said.

When is it rude to send back food?

It has a lot to do with your attitude.

"Obviously if you've eaten the majority of it, but it's really all about your attitude when you send it back. In all honesty, it's always hard to deal with as a server. Mostly because how your food is prepared is completely out of our control. But I've been a server for almost ten years now and I've personally sent back food one time and it was because a really expensive steak and it was cooked like crap. Plus I was at dinner with all other restaurant people and they told me it was OK." - Tate, California

You finish half your plate before complaining.

"Because I knew I did the best I could at eliminating issues and confusion about the food, it was easy to spot if people who sent their food back were being legitimate or just wanted money off their bill. At the last establishment I worked at, it was required that servers check on their tables about 5 minutes after dropping every course, to make sure the taste was to their liking. Beyond that point, it would seem strange when people complained about the taste or suddenly remembered a food allergy, especially if it was after half the food had already been consumed. This would also happen a lot with alcoholic beverages, but I noticed people are more comfortable with consuming the entire drink and still expect a full comp. Whenever this sort of thing happened, I would send my manager over to explain our policies and let them know we don’t comp in these circumstances." - Lauren Rosen, Michigan

"I would say I only perceived it as being rude when the guest was taking advantage of the situation. A big sign for me was always a person that would finish half or more of their plate. There were even multiple times where someone would finish their entire plate, and request a new meal covered by the house. This was surprisingly more common as I worked in more upscale fine dining restaurants.

"The even more surprising thing is guests would tell you they hated it after you would check on them. One moment they say it's great, and another they say it's so terrible that they need another meal. For me at the time it felt so rude because they were clearly taking advantage of the restaurant for more good food. Eating out there in general was an experience I considered a luxury, even though I worked there, since I was a struggling college student."- Rachel Dusa, California

"I used to work as a server and I think it's rude to send the food back after the person has eaten more than half or is nearly done. If there's something wrong, the person should say something right away. They should also remember to not yell at the server or blame them, we don't make the food, we only deliver it." - Karla Martinez, California

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You want something reheated after ignoring the food when it was warm.

"I use to have people send it back to be reheated, which would annoy me to no end, because they would sit there talking, texting, or doing whatever while they waited for it to get cold and then act like it was my fault the food was cold in the first place." - Leann Krieger, California

How do kitchen workers react to food getting sent back?

"I never had any trouble with bringing food back. They would give me a surprised answer or a look if most of it was gone. But if it had gotten to that point, they knew it was cleared by a manager and they knew they had to do what they had to. Any time I had trouble with food being sent back, I would let a manager know. Because then they would be caught up with what was happening, and could bring in the chef if necessary. Believe it or not, some people would eat two entire plates (one complimentary) and then still try to say they weren't happy." - Rachel

"As far as the the kitchen staff, I have definitely received backlash when sending food back, especially during lunch or dinner rush. Tensions would get pretty high, but this never really bothered me because I knew I was doing my job, making the customer happy, and probably receiving a larger tip or good review because of it." - Lauren

"As I server I didn't really get in trouble unless it was my mistake for putting in the wrong order or something of that sort. My managers and chefs were awesome so we learned to communicate efficiently to either avoid those situations or to apologize whenever we knew we were at fault. This is just my experience though I've heard of some places that charge the servers for their mistakes, or get them in trouble." - Karla

When is it not rude to send food back?

"There were legitimate times where it was necessary, like someone had an allergy and didn't specify it before, or they truly hated it after one bite, or I could even tell it came out of the kitchen not up to standard. Those times, I was more than happy to accommodate them and even have an appetizer delivered on the house." - Rachel

"If you ask for a medium steak and you get well done, that is definitely a preference that needs to be followed and letting your server know should never be an issue. As long as the customer realizes the servers aren’t the ones actually cooking the food, the mood is respectful, and the complaint is valid, I have never had any gripes with having to send back food or giving comps." - Lauren

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