When a Meal isn’t Served to your Satisfaction
Everyone’s going back to school. Here at Corporate Class we’re in the midst of preparing for a new “semester,” and while reviewing the course outline for our Executive Dining Program, something stood out. Something touchy — and I’m not referring to tipping.
The touchy topic is sending back food at a restaurant. Where and why returning a meal — call it an unsatisfactory product — became such a burning issue is unclear. What is clear is that everyone has a very high discomfort level with when and how to do it.
If unsatisfactory food is served —
You have a choice of ignoring the problem or requesting a replacement. Call it an etiquette-intersection — consider the situation before making your decision:
- When you’re alone at a restaurant, go right ahead. You have a green light to let the server know what needs to be remedied.
- When you’re with your spouse, life partner or close friend — yellow light — proceed with caution. Sending something back usually means you won’t eat together. While the steak is re-fired or a fresh piece of fish is put on the grill, your companion will be tucking in. (Sometimes I prefer not to disrupt the flow and simply enjoy the meal together.)
- When you’re with close colleagues from work, this also calls for caution. Will the entire table get back to work on time if your re-order causes a delay?
- When it’s a business meal with your boss or clients — full stop — red light. Unless the food is truly inedible, like seafood that’s gone off, say nothing. You’re conducting business, not a gourmet food-tasting.
Yes, returning food is a tricky situation that calls for discretion, not loud complaints. Let’s examine the guidelines for addressing the problem during business meals:
When you’re the host
- The probability is that no one will say a word, but it’s up to you to ensure your guests are comfortable. A potential cause of complaint is undercooked fish or meat — a situation that definitely calls for correction.
- Most guests are reluctant to raise a flag but when someone does, ask the server to remove your plate, as well, and return both meals at the same time. This is relatively straightforward if only two of you are dining. For larger gatherings, say that the two of you will catch up and encourage everyone else to continue.
- Drop the subject, if your guest decides against returning the food. Do your complaining later — away from the table and out of earshot.
When you’re a guest
- Let your host know immediately if there’s a potential health risk. Otherwise, remember the old adage — “Silence is golden.” Returning food causes commotion and creates delays. Pace yourself. Nibble around the problem.
- When the situation warrants letting the restaurant know about the issue, look for an appropriate moment, away from the table, to quietly tell your host.
- The whole point of the meal is to maintain or develop a business relationship — not to ensure you don’t go hungry!
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