How to Handle Restaurant Screw-Ups Like a Grown-Up

Before you start yelling or Yelping, there's a better way to deal.



Everyone is entitled to make a mistake here and there. We’re all imperfect human beings just doing our best and when we flub something, we hope the consequences aren’t dire. Being served in a restaurant is fraught with the possibility of mistakes, but they can happen. They might be small enough to make very little difference or big enough to really affect your life, so how best to handle them as a customer? It all depends on the situation and how the restaurant reacts.

Related: How to Complain at a Restaurant, According to Restaurant Owners

Reserving judgment

With any mistake in service, the hope is for acceptance of responsibility for their actions. Maybe there was an error when confirming a reservation and there’s no table for you when you get there. In a perfect world, the restaurant will apologize and take your word that you did indeed have a reservation. They will do their best to seat you soon as possible while offering you a complimentary drink at the bar while they adjust the seating plan. If they’re insistent that there was no reservation, then it’s time to pull out your receipts. Find the email that confirmed it or look in your app notifications for proof. Pull up your phone log to show when you called them. In this case, most restaurants will be able to resolve the issue and life will go on.

Related: If You Need to Speak to the Manager, Here's How to Ask Without Being a Jerk

Out of order

Sometimes, the server might bring the wrong food and you have to tell them it’s not what you ordered. It’s a make-or-break moment for that server who has to either admit their mistake or try to convince you that you did ask for a mushroom, jalapeño, pineapple pizza when you know there is no possibility of you wanting any of those toppings on a pie. If the server maintains you ordered this monstrosity of a pizza despite all of your friends hearing you order a Margherita, you might be up against a server who simply does not care. They’re far and few between, but they do exist. This is when you ask for a manager who should hear your plea for a simple pizza and rush the order on your behalf. Your next step is getting through the rest of the meal with a server who has no concern about you. Tip accordingly and then consider if it’s a place you’d want to return to.

Related: The Customer Is Not Always Right

A major taboo-boo

But what about when the mistake is so huge that it has lasting consequences? I waited tables at a Pizzeria Uno one summer and my customers ordered something called Pizza Potato Skins which were basically mashed potatoes on a pizza crust with bacon and cheddar cheese melted on top. The menu described it clearly, but it wasn’t until they had finished eating that they asked for me to describe it. When they heard bacon, they became very upset. Eating pork was against their religion and they had just downed a pile of bacon bits, albeit probably imitation. I apologized profusely and once they looked at the menu and read the description they accepted that it was more their fault than mine. The manager was informed and their entire meal was comped, which was really all we could do. They left satisfied, but upset.

Related: Before You Write That Negative Restaurant Review, Know This

Eating crow

The worst mistakes that can ever happen are a customer who doesn’t drink is mistakenly served alcohol, or someone is accidentally given something they are allergic to. Both of these can have major impacts on people and if it happens, the first thing anyone wants to see is for the restaurant to accept full responsibility. There should be empathy, understanding, and an immediate reaction followed by a sincere apology. If this isn’t happening, especially with a food allergy, it’s time to take it to the next level, be it a manager, owner, corporate, or beyond. Dropping the ball when it comes to food allergies can result in lawsuits — or worse — and restaurants know that.

You have a right to be angry and it’s more than okay to express it. Accidentally serving a sober person tequila probably isn’t it illegal, but it definitely deserves an apology and compassion. If you don’t get either of those, a well-written online review is acceptable and it’s a good idea to never go back.

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