I've had difficulties at only Chinese restaurants in Canada, Hong Kong, US, UK whenever I must return dishes. Their staff vigorously defend the dish, counter and deny my observations, get angry and say something offensive.

I'm not Chinese, and surmise that I'm missing cultural in my communication. What am I doing wrongly, and what've I overlooked? Suppose that the food in a Chinese dish:

  1. is obviously rotten. I touch nothing. I've been served choy sum that was yellow, spongy; had blotches, discolorations, or flecks on them.

  2. or isn't obviously rotten, but you can taste that something's wrong after one bite. I've been served gai lan that's too stiff and unpiercable (unfresh?), and undercooked seafood.

Then a 10-minute dispute follows. The manager will argue that nothing's wrong, and that I'm just unfamiliar with Chinese cooking methods. When all else fails, the manager blames me for not communicating my preferences to wait staff:

Oh my God. You didn't tell us before. And now you want this and that.

How can I know you're so picky, if you said nothing before?

For the rest of the meal, staff glower at my table.

  • 7
    It looks like your question is "What am I doing wrongly, and what've I overlooked?" However, all you've told us is "I've had difficulties...whenever I must return dishes." We can't tell you what you've done wrong when you haven't told us what you've done! Can you elaborate on what actually happened?
    – scohe001
    Nov 5 '18 at 15:30

(Note: OP originally limited this to restaurants in the UK, US, and Canada, and my answer should be culturally acceptable in those countries. I can't say what you should do elsewhere, such as Taiwan or mainland China, because I don't know what is culturally acceptable there)

I'm not going to address anything related to any specific type, ethnicity, or nationality, as I feel this does not matter. Most businesses (in the US, UK, and Canada), including restaurants, will adhere to the maxim "The customer is always right," even if the customer is clearly wrong.

It sounds like you've been unlucky, as I've sent food back at many different kinds of restaurants and never had a problem. The unwritten contract of food service is that they must provide food you enjoy eating. If they are not able to this, then they have not held up their end of the contract. If the restaurant owner complains, stand your ground.

I'm sorry, but this is inedible. I am not going to eat this, and I'm not going to pay for it.

Period. End of discussion. If they try to argue, simply say something like:

OK, we're done here. I'm leaving now. Please bring me the check so I can pay for the rest of the meal.

Ignore anything the owner or the waiter says, as it's not relevant. If they say something offensive, all the more reason for you to leave and never come back. If need be, leave enough money to cover the food you did eat, and walk out.

However, if they threaten to call the police on you, then I suggest you take out your phone and video the conversation, fully documenting why you think the food is inedible (or at least inadequate). I can't tell you whether the law is on your side; however in most cases you can only be criminally charged if you deliberately skip out on the check. If you have a good reason for rejecting the food that was served you, then it's likely to be a completely civil matter, and not worth pursuing in small claims court.

Lastly, remember to leave a negative review on Yelp, Google, or some other review site, so others will know to avoid that restaurant in the future.

  • 5
    In Chinese restaurants, returning food back to the kitchen is seen as a direct offence against the chef and by extension the whole restaurant. Chinese people are very stingy about public face, and they will get very worked up if anything compromises it, like a customer regarding food as inedible (regardless of whether it is true or not). There has to be a better way to go about this in a non confrontational way! (I'm saying this as a Chinese in a majority Chinese nation.)
    – YiFan
    Nov 5 '18 at 4:22
  • @YiFan It's an insult to the chef in any culture. Check out Gordon Ramsay's rant against a customer who returned his "well done" steak because of the quality of the meat.. But note that Ramsay qualifies this by saying "It's the customer's prerogative", and I suspect Ramsay has far too much pride to actually berate the customer in the restaurant. Instead he'd probably curse loudly to the kitchen staff about "stupid customers", suck it up, and redo the meal.
    – Andrew
    Nov 5 '18 at 15:02
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    @ChrisH Originally the question was limited to places like the US, England, Canada. This location information was removed for some reason. My advice does not apply in China and other countries with different cultural standards, because I don't know enough about them to tell anyone what to do.
    – Andrew
    Nov 5 '18 at 15:05
  • @Andrew that's a fair point, I'd only seen the current version with location not specified except in tags (China and Hong-Kong), but at the time of your answer it was indeed about Canada, US, and UK... I've removed my comment as the answer's totally reasonable given the question as you responded to it.
    – Chris H
    Nov 5 '18 at 15:12
  • 2
    @ChrisH I went to China one time and all I can say is that it's a real challenge to get used to the kind of aggressive behavior that they consider "normal" in interpersonal relations. It's not "right" or "wrong", just different, and it takes a while to understand the rules. As with anywhere unfamiliar to me, I'd go out of my way to avoid offense, and in this case just pay for the meal and leave -- and the next time I ate out I'd try to go with a Chinese native, who would have no qualms about arguing with the chef.
    – Andrew
    Nov 5 '18 at 15:18

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