Friday, 5 February 2016

I'm not eating that!

A slightly undercooked
chicken goujon
Martin Taylor recently reminded me of my very unsatisfactory bacon sandwich at the otherwise rather wonderful Cock Inn at Broom in Bedfordshire. In retrospect, I should have sent it back rather than struggling my way through it, but it illustrates a wider problem – when is it reasonable to reject food? The question of returning beer has been extensively discussed on this and other blogs, but not returning food.

I have to admit I am a somewhat eccentric and picky eater, and so I have to make a judgment as to whether something is actually horrible or just not to my taste. I often have no alternative but to order dishes in pubs in the full knowledge that I will not eat some of their components. This is why I tend to avoid eating main meals, as opposed to snacks, in pubs.

But, over the years, I’ve had plenty of utterly terrible food in pubs. The chicken burger that was a vile chunk of grey rubbery meat immediately springs to mind, likewise the supposed chicken tikka baguette where the contents were essentially just a curry-flavoured slurry. And the ploughman’s that firstly lacked cheese, and then after being sent back still lacked bread. Most of these things I’ve just left on the table and moved on.

I well remember some years back when I went out for a drive with my late father around the Shropshire Hills on the day after Boxing Day, and called in for lunch at the Green Dragon in Little Stretton. It was a sunny day, and I think there were a lot more customers than the pub expected, resulting in us having to wait a long time for our meals. My dad had plaice and chips, but was given a fish where the tail had obviously been hanging out of the pan and was completely raw. Some locals even had the cheek to say out loud “Some people only come out to complain!”

The ridiculously undercooked bacon in the Cock wasn’t an isolated example – the previous year I’d had similar in the Crown in Hawes in North Yorkshire, another good pub spoilt by crap food. Again I said after the event that the bacon was undercooked. The one example I recall when I did actually send something back was when staying in the Wellington Hotel in Boscastle, Cornwall, where I ordered a pizza from the bar menu that came out scarcely cooked at all. While the English are often accused of overcooking their food, most of my bad experiences have come from dishes that were seriously undercooked.

Tandleman has made the point in the past that you go out for a quiet drink and a meal, not for an argument. If you are given poor food or drink, the very act of complaining sours the occasion, even if you receive complete recompense. So it’s hardly surprising that people so often struggle through food that is at best borderline acceptable.

Maybe we need to take a more assertive approach. But I’d still say that returning food – as opposed to complaining about it afterwards – still requires another level of gumption above returning a poor pint.


  1. If it will cause food poisoning always return.

    If it's just not good then it depends on price.

  2. I always have the feeling they're going to gob in my food if I send it back so I seldom complain. Though come to think of it I don't eat out much anyway.

  3. Shout loudly, Oy, treacle, this is f*cking sh*te. Money back!

    That tends to initiate a swift resolution to the issue.

  4. I think you're right, harder to complain about food than a pint. Most common complaint is about waiting times, which is hard to resolve and why Spoons now so popular. Always splendid viewing when the Cookie approach adopted (rare).

    Most people wait till they get home to complain on Trip Advisor it seems.

  5. I blogged about waiting times for food here, which also includes the raw fish anecdote.

    I can remember several occasions where I've got the impression that a food order has been completely forgotten. If you're not pushed for time, the best thing to do is just to hang on until the time has become utterly ridiculous and then hopefully get a free meal!

    Another reason for not sending food back is that, unlike with a pint, you fear that any replacement won't be any more palatable.

  6. I remember when my French chef got injured and I had to be chef in my own pub for a few weeks. Not once dish sent back in the whole time. I was very proud of that.

    Briefly considered becoming one of those chef-owner types but then realised the customer base were just being kind and politely not feeding back that whatever they'd ordered, they tended just to get a medium rare ribeye.

    Also it was bloody hard work. Poor old Monsieur Le Chef didn't last long after that, though. Talk about taking back the power.

  7. @Stonch - you're taking a break from Twitter at the moment so will have missed the ludicrous debate yesterday about men using the ladies' bogs in the Piccadilly Tap. Which of course is not your problem any more.

  8. Ed, there is more than a grain of truth in what you say about staff gobbing in the food, if it is sent back. The wife of a colleague of mine once worked in restaurant kitchens and had some absolutely horrendous tales to tell about what happened to those customers foolish enough to return their food.

    Most chefs have vastly over-inflated egos – think Gordon Ramsey or, worse still, Marco Pierre White. They take any criticism of their cooking, however well intended, as a personal affront. My colleague’s wife came out with horror stories of bogies being mixed into the food, as well as spit, but the worst one involved a returned steak. This was unceremoniously wiped around the inside of the toilet pan before being returned to the unfortunate and clueless customer.

    In my book, idiots acting in this disgusting, and potentially heath-threatening manner should never be allowed near a kitchen again, but some of these egotistical people are so full of their own self-importance that they can’t even see they have done anything wrong.

    Moral of tale, NEVER send anything back. Just leave the food and complain afterwards. Ask for a reduction off the bill, and then vow NEVER to eat in that place again. Give a bad review on Trip Advisor, if that’s your sort of thing, and spread the word amongst your friends and family, but don’t go back.


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