8 Actually Legit Reasons to Send Back Food at a Restaurant, Ranked

Angry customer
Jason Hoffman/Thrillist
Jason Hoffman/Thrillist

The customer is always right, the saying goes, but that doesn't mean they always have the best intentions. People in the restaurant industry, for example, have to deal with customers who send back their food, and that, sometimes, these demands make no sense, be it a customer doing it just to be a dick, because Mercury was in retrograde, or because brain weevils had said the meal was poisoned. But there are a few legitimate reasons to send back your food, times when you can feel justified in saying, "Uh, nah, try again." Here are eight big reasons, ranked in reverse order of how egregious.

8. Your food is loaded with salt

If the restaurant appears to have desalinated the Indian Ocean in order to prepare your dinner, you should send the food back. Salt is a wonderful seasoning -- perhaps the pound-for-pound best of all seasonings considering its versatility -- but some places seem to think food isn't seasoned well enough if it doesn't taste like an anchovy had a sob fest into your soup. On the flip side, if food is under-salted, there's a shaker on the table, so human up and get to it, sparky.

7. Your food came out at the wrong temperature

This is probably the single most common reason for food to be sent back, and it typically happens when a kitchen gets so overwhelmed that food sits in the window for an extended period of time, leading to a warm salad or a cold burger. That's not an excuse; merely an explanation. One caveat here, though: While you’re well within your rights to send it back at this point, don’t expect too much -- if the restaurant couldn’t get it right the first time because the kitchen looks like an exercise in chaos theory, they’re probably not going to do much better the second time around.

6. Your food isn't cooked the way it was described on the menu

This one can take a variety of forms. Maybe you ordered the baked chicken and the thing has visible grill lines. Maybe you ordered a salad and the menu didn’t tell you it came with tomatoes. Maybe you ordered the sous vide salmon and the restaurant served it covered in deadly Africanized bees -- whatever. The common thread is simply that you’ve been duped by an untrustworthy menu. You’re probably not going to get a better version if you send it back, but "yeah, I'm gonna go elsewhere" is certainly a valid thing to do in this situation.

5. Your food is burned

If your dinner is a charred briquette husk of what may once have been charitably described as “food,” not many sane people would question whether it’s OK to send it back. There are exceptions here -- some (horribly twisted, strange people) actually enjoy char flavor on things like burgers and peppers, so at that point it’s your job to do due diligence on whether the restaurant deliberately carbonizes their food product. But if your food is legit burned (and the kitchen's quality control is low enough that it still somehow got to you), send the damn thing right back.

4. Your protein's cooked in a way you didn't ask for

Well-done steaks would be the worst food item in the entire world that people regularly and happily ask for, were it not for the existence of the disastrously broken humans who order tuna steaks cooked through. But while I badly want to hug these people and ask who hurt them, they deserve to have their food how they ordered it. Whether you ordered a steak rare and you got a hockey puck or you ordered a hockey puck and you got a perfectly-cooked, glorious medium-rare, if your food isn’t what you ordered, you can feel free to ask for a do-over.

3. You receive the wrong menu item

You ordered an omelet, and the restaurant gave you a cheeseburger. Do they know how to omelet? Is this real life? What are purple? Despite the absurdity, this is a fairly common scenario -- and if a restaurant tries to tell you a food item is a thing it clearly is not, it’s a good sign they cannot collectively count to potato. Either send the food back or just flee from the restaurant in terror.

2. Your food has something you're allergic to in it

Just like foreign objects, if your dinner has something that will kill you in it (or just make you wish it had), few will argue you’re well within your rights to fire that sucker right back to the kitchen. There are some servers/chefs who will tell you it’s not OK to send food back if it has something you’re allergic to in it and you didn’t ask for it to be removed. These servers/chefs are wrong. Whether the offending item wasn’t listed on the menu (since apparently no restaurant thinks it’s necessary to mention the presence of bell peppers in their food -- some of us will get the demon poops, dammit) or it was and you just missed it, if it’s going to make you sick, send the damn thing back.

1. Your food has a foreign object in it

Look, you’re never going to find a server or chef who thinks you shouldn't send food back if it's got a Band-Aid in it. If your chocolate cake bursts open and a swarm of extremely irate hobo spiders stream out, A) stop eating at restaurants owned by David Cronenberg, and B) send the food back.

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C.A. Pinkham is a guy who makes inappropriate jokes about Toblerones on the internet. Follow him on Twitter @EyePatchGuy.