Here’s the Right Way to Send Your Food Back at a Restaurant

Yes, there is a right and wrong way to do this.

One of the best parts about going out to eat at a restaurant is knowing that your food is going to be cooked to perfection, unlike the dry chicken dish you’ve been attempting to master at home for the past few months. But sometimes the food you ordered wasn’t cooked the way you asked for it to be, or it came with cheese when you asked for them to leave it off, or maybe there’s a hair in it. It can be hard to muster up the courage to tell your server that you want to send your food back, but you’re paying to eat the meal you ordered, and even though it might be awkward, if you send your food back the right way, you’ll still be able to have an enjoyable dining experience.

When should you send your food back?

If your order is wrong, you shouldn’t feel bad about sending it back, especially if it includes an ingredient that you’re allergic to. Just be sure to let your server know why you’re sending it back. Before trying out a new restaurant though, make sure you are aware of the red flags that you’re about to eat at a bad restaurant.

“You shouldn’t send your food back simply because it isn’t “good” as it is a subjective statement, the dish may not fit your palate, but is adored by others,” says Bonnie Tsai, founder and director of Beyond Etiquette. “However, if you ordered eggs that were over-easy, but came out to be over-hard, notify your server and ask if you could have a fresh one made.”

What should you say to your server?

The most important thing to remember is that your server didn’t mess up your food, so be polite. Tsai says to always be honest, specific, and mindful when sending your food back.

“You can start with, ‘Excuse me, I’m sorry, but I found a piece of hair in my meal and I’m worried there might be more,’ and pause, says Tsai. “The server would usually offer to fix the situation; however, if they don’t; you can continue by saying, ‘Would I be able to get a fresh one made?’”

She says to avoid saying that your food is cooked wrong, instead simply state that it wasn’t what you ordered. “For example, if you ordered your steak to be medium-rare, but it came out to be well-done, you can say, ‘I ordered my steak medium-rare, but it’s well done; would I be able to get a fresh one made?’”

If you decided to try something new and just don’t like it, be honest with your server. Let them know if it was too salty or spicy, or too acidic or sweet. It can help the restaurant prevent mistakes with the dish in the future, says Tsai. Now that you know the correct way to send your food back at a restaurant, learn about the secrets your restaurant server isn’t telling you. These times that employees exposed restaurants’ dirty secrets are both gross and hilarious.

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Morgan Cutolo
Morgan is an Associate Editor at Reader’s Digest. She graduated from the University of New Hampshire in 2016 where she received her Bachelor of Arts in Journalism. She writes for, helps lead the editorial relationship with our partners, manages our year-round interns, and keeps the hundreds of pieces of content our team produces every month organized. In her free time, she likes exploring the seacoast of Maine where she lives and works remotely full time and snuggling up on the couch with her corgi, Eggo, to watch HGTV or The Office.