2 Unacceptable Reasons To Send A Drink Back, According To An Expert

There are valid reasons to send a drink back at a bar. For instance, if your margarita arrives with a fly floating in it, or if you ordered a margarita but received a Manhattan, you're entirely justified in returning the drink and asking for either a replacement or a refund. Missing ingredients — such as omitting vodka from a vodka tonic — are also grounds for returning a drink, as are off-flavors in beer or wine. If you order a glass of red wine and it tastes like vinegar, you should definitely send it back.

Conversely, according to our expert, Justin Lavenue, Co-Owner and Master Mixologist at The Roosevelt Room in Austin, Texas, there are really only two unacceptable reasons to return a drink. The first is clear-cut: If you've taken more than a few sips to determine that something is wrong with your cocktail, it's too late to send it back. The guideline is that if you've consumed more than a third of the drink, it's apparent that the issue isn't with the drink itself, but rather that you don't want to pay for it.

The second reason is less obvious, but the logic behind it is equally compelling. If you order something you're unfamiliar with and end up not liking it, that doesn't necessarily mean there's anything wrong with the drink.

Accept that not all risks pay off

If you want to try something new, something you wouldn't typically order, that's commendable. You're aiming to broaden your horizons and become a more discerning and knowledgeable bar patron. However, as Justin Lavenue points out, if "you ask your server or bartender about it and they elaborately explain the drink, its ingredients/flavors, and/or what makes it unique, then you decide to take a risk in ordering it. At that point, you've made a commitment to go out of your comfort zone and should stick with the drink and try to appreciate it even if it isn't something you like."

Every time you try something new, you're taking a gamble. You might find a new favorite cocktail, or you could end up with something you never want to taste again. Keep in mind that the bar owner is not responsible for financing your cocktail exploration. If there's an error with your drink, by all means, send it back. However, simply disliking a drink is not a valid reason for a refund.

"Some risks pay off," Lavenue notes, "and you end up discovering new things that expand your palette and culinary horizons, while other risks sadly do not. In the end, you still benefit from the experience by learning more about a certain bottle, ingredient, flavor, preparation method, etc. and whether or not you like it."

Other factors to consider before sending back drinks

So yes, there are two scenarios in which sending back drinks is not appropriate. However, there are a few additional factors to consider. First, bartenders aim to please; they want you to be happy with your order. After all, this is a service industry, and tipping is encouraged. If you genuinely don't enjoy a drink — whether it's your first time trying it or it's your usual choice — your bartender will likely attempt to improve it for you.

Timing is crucial, though. If there's an issue with your drink, it should become apparent immediately. Don't wait until the ice has melted and the cocktail is diluted before sending it back. Bartenders are well-versed in what cocktails should taste like and the correct ratio of ingredients. Sending back a drink promptly helps bartenders better understand what you don't like, potentially allowing them to adjust the drink by altering the proportions of certain ingredients to suit your taste.

It's important to note that adding more alcohol is not an option. If the bartender forgot to include the key ingredient — alcohol — that is a legitimate reason for sending the cocktail back. However, if your sole complaint is that you want more alcohol than the cocktail recipe calls for, that's not considered a valid reason for a return.