Life

The Ultimate Guide To Knowing When And How To Return A Meal Or Drink

“There’s nothing worse than hearing after a visit that someone suffered in silence through a drink or meal they didn’t like.”

These are the wise words of Iain Griffiths and they’re emblematic of how great bartenders, chefs, hosts, and servers feel about every meal or drink they serve. Griffiths, like me, came up in the high-end world of service. While I refined my skills in Neapolitan pizzerias in Washington, DC, organic wine bars in Prague, and cocktail bars in Berlin, Griffiths was flipping the whole London cocktail scene on its head.

Griffiths and Mr. Lyan won World’s 50 Best Bars more than once for their Dandelyan installation in London (which low-key had one of the best bar-food menus I’ve ever tasted). Griffiths then went on to start the Trash Collective with his partner Kelsey Ramage — helping bars and bartenders shift how they approach sustainability and waste. After touring the concept, Griffiths and Ramage opened Supernova Ballroom in Toronto, combining the exceptional world of Dandelyan with the ethos of the Trash Collective. Oh, and amidst all of that, Griffiths somehow had time to do a Dandelyan pop-up in Manhattan called Lyaness.

Which is all to say, this man knows service far better than most. So when the UPROXX “Friday Slack” conversation turned to when to send food or drinks back, I reached out to Griffiths to offer insight into the other side of the equation. I wanted to get everything on the table because the idea of sending something back is clearly pretty fraught for a lot of people. More so than I ever realized. Hopefully, with Griffiths on board, we can dive in and figure it all out together.

PART I: SOMETIMES THE MENU ISN’T ENOUGH

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“Drinks, clothes, music, it’s all very personal,” Griffiths says, “and the notion that you can read two lines on a piece of paper and know immediately whether that drink or meal is for you is ridiculous.”

Relying on a menu isn’t always the way to go. Perhaps it’s better to think of a menu as more a map that represents terrain but is not actual terrain. Yes, that piece of paper or image on your phone will give you information for navigating a place. But there’ll always be nooks-and-crannies that affect the experience far beyond what any abstract representation can predict.

Translation: You need to talk to servers and bartenders to get a real sense of what those words on the menu really mean. Assuming is not enough and puts the onus on you. (This doesn’t mean you can monopolize their time, have clear questions and be direct.)

Here’s an example from The Crack Shack:

Firebird
Spicy fried thigh, cool ranch, crispy onions, pickles, potato roll

From the top, “spicy fried thigh” leaves a lot of green for interpretation of how “spicy” that chicken is going to be. Will it be Nashville hot chicken hot? Likely not, but the menu item is called “Firebird” so you, as the guest, must expect a modicum of heat. That feels fair, right?

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