Q. What is the correct way to return a restaurant meal that has been prepared badly? Could you give an example of what to say to the server and how to say it so it does not offend?
A. One should complain in a restaurant when the service is bad, when a waiter is rude or careless or when the food comes in badly prepared or not as ordered. These are legitimate reasons for speaking up, and it is to the restaurant’s advantage that you do speak up. Its livelihood depends on customers’ approval, and if its faults are not called to the management’s attention they cannot be corrected.
Never complain bitterly in front of your guests. A public humiliation is not necessary, no matter how heinous the crime. Save your criticisms of terrible service for after the departure of your guests, or call or write the next day. If it is necessary to complain in person, at that moment, then please do so privately and quietly, without attracting the attention of other diners. Complain first to the waiter (or the person who commits the error). If this person makes no effort to correct the situation, the headwaiter or whoever is in charge of the dining room should be notified. Food that is cold should be taken back to be heated; meat that is not cooked as you requested should be replaced. Rudeness and laziness should be reported, but laziness or inattention should not be confused with pure inability to serve too many people. You may ask your waiter to call the headwaiter or the manager to your table, or as host, you may excuse yourself and find the headwaiter or manager. If he comes to your table, keep your voice level low and speak directly to him, not involving the others at your table or berating him for whatever is wrong.
Often a waiter or waitress, because the tables are poorly allotted, or because another waiter is absent, works as hard and as fast as possible but still cannot keep up with the requests of the patrons. Diners should recognize this and make allowances. They may complain to the manager, so that more help can be sent to their area, but they should be careful not to put the blame on the waiter, who is no happier than they are about the situation.
If for example, your meal arrives cold, you would call the waiter and say, “Pardon me, but my dinner is cold. Could you please ask the kitchen to take care of this? ” Or, if your meat is over cooked, “Pardon me, but I ordered my steak rare and this one is well done. Could you please have the chef take care of this?”
If, after making a legitimate complaint, you receive no satisfaction from anyone, you may reduce your tip or leave note at all, and avoid that restaurant in the future.
If the experience was so terrible as to be embarrassing, you will no doubt apologize to any guests. But although you may feel upset about whatever was wrong with the meal or the service, it was surely beyond your control and you should not continue to apologize at length. Your guests will realize the fault was with the restaurant, not with you.