Restaurant industry insiders weigh in on a controversial question: When are customers justified in sending a meal back?

Whether restaurant-goers know it or not, there is a “public dining social contract,” as The Guardian’s Australian edition puts it. At its core is a question: When are customers justified in sending a meal back? And perhaps more importantly: How do you return a meal in such a way that no one feels compelled to spit in any of your subsequent meals? Writer Nadine von Cohen asked industry insiders to weigh in, including a chef-restaurant owner, a waiter and cafe manager, a bar manager, and two food writers. The general consensus? People should feel OK about politely sending food back that contains “off items” such as overly salted dishes or undercooked meat, eggs, or seafood. The same goes for dishes missing key ingredients or with “bonus hair, objects, or critters.” (Everyone was also in agreement about how you shouldn’t inhale a meal, and then complain about it and ask for a refund.) Personally, I’m very aligned with the opinion of food writer Nicholas Jordan, who said he is “hugely averse” to sending food back, beyond rare instances in which the food is “off” or includes “foreign objects,” like say, “a human tooth, a piece of Lego, a snow globe or something.”

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