Learning from Mistakes: 4 Lessons for When Dishes Get Returned

When you work in the restaurant business, learning from mistakes is crucial. This is especially true when dishes get sent back to the kitchen. Whether you have a dish that makes a return trip because the flavor was off, the temperature was wrong, or the texture was too firm, sometimes you have to swallow your pride and find the positives in the situation. Here are some tips to guide you:

  1. Leave Your Ego at the Door

    When a dish is sent back to the kitchen because a customer isn't satisfied, you can't take it personally. After all, a paying customer most likely isn't concerned with your sensitivities. Instead, make an effort to see what the customer sees. Take your patrons' feedback with pride—whether it's realistic or not—and think of it as a learning lesson. You should also share it with your kitchen staff if you think they can learn from it, too.

  2. Speak Up

    When you see something that isn't right on a plate, say something to keep the problem from making its way to the dining room. For instance, if a cook fails to wipe the rim of a hastily plated entree and you don't say anything, that's a nonverbal stamp of approval. Instead, bring attention to the mistake, and allow the cook to fix it and avoid a repeat offense. This is true for all corners of the restaurant that could negatively affect your customers' experiences. Whether it's a poorly stocked paper towel dispenser or a rotten garnish, this less-than-optimal performance needs to be addressed when it's noticed.

  3. Taste Your Food

    Tasting what you create is the final test before sending it out to the paying customer. This quality control test can help you catch mistakes before the customer catches them for you. There isn't a culinary school graduate out there who hasn't had an instructor remind them to taste their food. However, it's easy to forget, and in that fleeting second, there is too much pepper on the roasted chicken. Tasting food is about examining the flavor, shifting the appearance, checking the temperature, and only giving that final approval when a dish will wow the customer.

  4. Go Back to School

    Is your risotto being sent back to the kitchen a lot because it looks like a mushy pile of overcooked mashed potatoes? This might be a wake-up call that it's time to go back to school. You can learn a lot from the professionals and instructors that teach at culinary schools, and getting better at cooking is always part of the job. Taking a couple classes can teach you a lot and will be time well spent.

    Pleasing every customer is a tough gig, but when your evening takes a left turn because of poor execution, throw your arms around the opportunity to get better. Constructive criticism is still criticism, but learning from mistakes is key. Think of the feedback as a nod to helping you get better, rather than a bruise to your ego.