High Maintenance Help: How Do You Feel About Sending Food Back in a Restaurant?

Is it really that hard to serve a properly bloody steak? Like you don't even need to cook it that long.
Publish date:
May 21, 2012
etiquette, eating out, lesley le boeuf, high maintenance

Lesley Le Boeuf is my stage name for when I dress up in drag as a French cow in a cartoon version of France.

The only time I ferociously crave red meat is when I have my period. That’s probably a super TMI opening, but bear with me.

I’m not a big meat eater in general, but nothing makes me want a steak more than heavily bleeding for a day or two. So last night, when my husband and I went out for dinner at a middle-of-the-road chain restaurant, I ordered a steak, medium rare, because I am subconsciously trying to use cow blood to replace my own.

As soon as my food arrived, however, I could tell immediately that something wasn’t right. The meat on my plate was looking awfully flat and skimpy, lacking the pillowy character of a properly rare steak. I cut the thing straight down the middle and discovered it was not just past medium rare, but was freaking well done.

And then I had to face my high-maintenance nemesis: being the person who sends food back.

I don’t know why I have such a block against this. Part of it is not wanting to be a pain. Part of it is memories of my step-great-grandmother sending EVERYTHING EVER back and demanding a second plate (she was also one of those old ladies who filled her purse with the leftover rolls and butter at the end of the meal, bless her heart).

Part of it is my fear, possibly unfounded, that sending food back will piss off the person who made it and that they will... do something to the new version. (Do restaurant cooks really do this? I expect not, but I’ve seen it in so many movies the irrational fear persists.)

And part of it is my association of sending food back with being sort of princessy and high maintenance. This makes no sense whatsoever, and I am plenty princessy and high maintenance in other areas (friends are laughing right now) and I own that, but sending food back is just not something I do.

My husband wasn’t having it though, and he called our server back to look at my food.

I poked at the split-open steak with my knife. “This.... is not medium rare.”

Our server agreed and took it away, promising a new steak. I apologized approximately ten billion times (why? I’m not the one who overcooked my steak!) and finally said thank you. The replacement steak I shortly received was still not medium rare, but I judged it close enough, if only because I don’t think I could deal with sending food back TWICE in one meal.

There’s a lot of conflicting etiquette around sending food back; many argue that it can be acceptably done under very limited and specific circumstances, while others argue that you should feel entitled to send food back for any reason at all, even if you just don’t like it, as you are the customer and the customer is always right. Still others argue that one should never send food back, on the basis that doing so is unlikely to improve the dish, and that a lousy meal just means you should never go to that restaurant again.

In my case, if this had been pretty much anything but a steak, I would have kept my disappointment to myself and just quietly eaten whatever I was served. I felt somewhat okay (although still inexplicably guilty) about pointing out the error because it was a matter of my food not being what I ordered. Under most etiquette guidelines, I did it right! But the truth remains that even my replacement steak was not much better than the original, and I still didn’t get what I really wanted.

So I’m looking for your input here: How do you feel about sending food back in a restaurant? Do you have certain rules? Will you do it for any reason? Am I overly concerned with being well behaved in restaurants? (I was an only child, so I still feel like I need to be good around the grown ups.) I want to know what everyone else thinks about this sort of thing.