When Is It Okay to Send Back a Meal?

January 22 2009, 10:23 AM

My sister has a knack for ordering the wrong thing. Over a birthday brunch at Le Central, when the rest of us ordered thick slices of eggy quiche and leafy greens, she asked for casserole espagnole. The dish, a piping hot blend of chorizo and potatoes topped with poached eggs, sounded tasty, but throughout the meal, she picked at the potatoes, pushing them out of the pools of chorizo grease. During another brunch, this time at Lakewood's Bisque, she ordered a generous-size eggs Benedict--two golden-toasted English muffins and perfectly poached eggs topped with a buttery, but lukewarm, hollandaise sauce. On both occasions, my sister debated sending her meal back. I encouraged her to. Perhaps the chef was having an off day? Maybe there was another item on the menu that was better?

Returning a dish gives the restaurant an opportunity to redeem itself from a disappointing experience. If a diner acknowledges her hollandaise is cold, the restaurant can bring her a new eggs Benedict or at least offer a discount on the final bill. But if that diner keeps her dissatisfaction quiet, she is likely to leave unimpressed and not return to the restaurant. Given our current era of tight budgets, few diners have the extra change to blow on a meal they don't like, and restaurants can't afford to lose customers. Yet, the actual act of sending a meal back is painful. At both brunches, my sister opted to keep her complaints at the table rather than demand a new breakfast. I've seen friends do the same when their prosciutto and clam pasta arrives without the clams or when their apple pie is cold in the middle. Denver diners don't like to be overly demanding. All dining logic, though, says they should be--now more than ever. So, when is it okay to send back a meal?

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