Panda Express Makes You Pay For Food That Never Comes

How long is an unacceptable length of time to wait for your fast food? When Panda Express ran out of a few of the items that Dave ordered, employees first asked him to wait for the missing items, then asked him to pay for the missing items, then (after a half hour had passed) offered to substitute another entree for the missing items that he had already paid for. Dave wanted either a refund, or the food that he actually ordered and paid for.

We arrived at the [redacted] Panda on [redacted] street at 5:50 pm. I ordered three to-go dinners. They were out of Chow Mein and one of the chicken dishes, but they dished up what they had of the other dinners… AND THEN SET THEM ON THE COUNTER!!!! At 6:12 (note, I had now been waiting 15 minutes- and my food was sitting out entire time!) I was asked to pay for the food I had not yet received… and I did. Then I waited and waited some more… and 3-4 other customers got their order, but I was still waiting… Finally, at 6:25, and after waiting a FULL HALF HOUR, I asked for my dinner or my money back. They offered to substitute another entree… but I really did not want that. I wanted what I ordered a HALF HOUR EARLIER! So I asked for a refund… the cashier said they do not refund. HUH? I guess you don’t cook food either. I was a little impatient (but NOT rude), but I did say you can’t give me my food in a timely manner… and you have left the other food out on the counter for a full half hour…. I think I deserve a refund. They would not. This is TOTALLY wrong!!!!!

So I will contest this charge with Amex…. and I am sure they will run a charge back. I generally like Panda, and usually do not have a bad experience. And I am willing to cut some slack- 5 minutes, maybe even ten…. but a HALF HOUR???? This was way beyond what I find acceptable.


Edit Your Comment

  1. MikeB says:

    Need a 3rd choice. i would have just taken something else.

    • catskyfire says:

      But what if you don’t want something else? If I’m in the mood for lo mein, Tso’s Chicken isn’t going to do. What if I don’t like the other options that day?

    • veritybrown says:

      I would have taken something else AND a refund for the items they didn’t have. If they’d made me wait for half an hour at a fast food restaurant for food they turned out not to have, the only way they could make it right with me is to provide my second-choice meal for free.

  2. Beeker26 says:

    Good luck with that chargeback if you took any of the food. Is it just me or does the OP come across as a bit dickish?

    • shepd says:

      Bait and switch is illegal, and this is pretty much the definition of bait and switch, albeit on a very small scale. Illegal transactions are definitely worth contesting.

      • pop top says:

        I don’t think this is bait and switch at all. This is just poor customer service. It’s not like they lured the OP in there with an incredible sale on food and then tried to sell him on different, more expensive food. They didn’t have what he wanted and handled the situation poorly.

      • yusefyk says:

        No, it isn’t bait-and-switch. Thanks for trying though.

    • Charles256 says:

      +1 to him sounding like a jerk.

    • msbask says:

      I think it’s just you.

    • Duke_Newcombe-Making children and adults as fat as pigs says:

      Dickish people STILL don’t deserve to be ripped off or given shitty customer service, which is what happened here. Or should he kiss up to them while they jerk him around on his order?

    • mrscoach says:

      I don’t think he took any of the food, because it had sat there for a half hour.

    • MB17 says:

      It’s just you. Based on this story, Panda failed on every level.

      –They do not feature two items listed on their menu.
      –They promise the OP these items, but make him wait an unreasonable amount of time for them.
      –They accept payment for items they have not given the OP.
      –They never deliver the promised items to the OP.
      –They substitute these items after accepting payments.
      –They waste a half-hour of the OP’s time.
      –They refuse to refund payment to the OP, who has waited a half-hour for luke-warm food that he didn’t want in the first place.

      I don’t think the OP is out of line here. They treated him like dirt. I’m surprised he doesn’t sound angrier.

    • Mythandros says:

      Yes, the OP does sound a bit dickish. This is true, however, considering the experience he got here, I don’t blame him one bit. I would be so mad I’d have smoke coming out of my ears.

      They should have OFFERED him a *FULL* refund AND a free meal as compensation.

      And yes, this IS bait and switch because they never offered the customer a refund, they blatantly refused a refund. It would not be bait and switch if they had said “We have this alternative for you, or you can have your money back.” Taking the OP’s money and then outright refusing to fix their own screw-up is CLASSIC Bait and switch.

      Chargeback the card. They don’t like it? They can stuff it, just like they indirectly told their customer to.

  3. Emerald4me says:

    Wonder what these special dishes were that Panda was obviously not cooking?

    • SJ says:

      Orange chicken. It’s always the orange chicken. They wait until they serve the last piece before they start making more.

  4. Poisson Process says:

    This is weird. I’m actually eating panda right now. And I definitely just found a piece of plastic in my orange chicken.

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      Are you sure that piece of plastic didn’t come with the panda you’re eating?

    • SecretShopper: pours out a lil' liquor for the homies Wasp & Otter says:

      I def read this as “i’m eating panda and orange chicken and then found some plastic” are you eating panda at the shanghai zoo perhaps?

    • ParingKnife ("That's a kniwfe.") says:

      It’s probably the tracking device they put on the panda. I just eat around it.

    • TheBigWhiteWolf says:

      Fortune cookie says: “That wasn’t chicken”

  5. MaxH42 thinks RecordStoreToughGuy got a raw deal says:

    Something’s missing in the article. I haven’t been to a food court/concession yet where you don’t pay after placing your order, but if it was common in my area to pay at pickup instead, as the OP seems to be indicating, I would have gotten very suspicious when they asked me to pay for a lukewarm, half-filled order.

    • Burzmali says:

      Panda Express doesn’t make you pay until your order is finished and reaches the end of the line (usually). The person running the register has to see the order so they know how much to charge, in case you ordered one of the shrimp dishes and they have to add the extra $1.

  6. Ilovegnomes says:

    So were all of the dishes sitting on the counter for that full half hour or did the OP eat those other dishes? Because if they were sitting out and not under heat lamps and the restaurant wanted to still serve it to the customer, the customer should complain to the health department.

    • daemonaquila says:

      That’s the whole point – they left the food dished up and sitting on the counter the whole time. That’s just ridiculous. Yum, stale, congealed, bacteria-laden dinner!

    • RadarOReally has got the Post-Vacation Blues says:

      It would have to be out about 2 hours before the health department would care. What if he’d been given the food the minute it was cooked, but it took him a half hour to get home? 2 hours is the rule of thumb for whether left-out food is safe.

  7. Starrion says:

    If they can’t deliver what the customer ordered then they should give him his money back.

    I would also be royally ticked if I walked out after 35 minutes with now-cold food with a couple of hot substitutions to what I ordered.

  8. xnihilx says:

    I love Panda Express. It’s a fast healthier (depending on what you choose) lunch option. Usually their policy is that everything is fresh and ready (I had a friend who worked at one) Now, on to the experiences I’ve had at a newer store that opened about a year ago.

    It’s been my experience that some Panda Express stores are often short handed by design. The standalone store by my work has gathered quite a few complaints from me for being short handed during lunch rush – ie ONE person to work the drive through that is ALSO putting food in the containers for the drive through AND handling money (EW), ONE person to work the serving line that is ALSO putting food in the containers for the drive through AND handling money (also ew), two cooks (which is typical.) The cooks are usually always working and they can only do what they do so fast and when they are told to do it. Read-MANAGEMENT problem.

    After the fourth time I went and waited in line for food for 25+ minutes and complained to corporate and the local manager about it I saw several times where there was some guy standing around poking at everyone, I suspect that corporate got quite a few complaints about this store and busted their chops about it.

    • Burzmali says:

      That’s why I love the Panda Express near my house: the manager (I think, he seems to tell everyone what to do) is ALWAYS there. Every time I’ve gone into the place he has been there keeping things running well and doing a good amount of the work himself. He’s super nice and attentive, too. I’ve only been there one time where they were backing up on orders, and it was clear that they were short handed. He was working really hard to pick up slack and giving complimentary items to people who had to wait too long. I was thoroughly impressed.

      I’ve never had a bad experience and Panda Express, but the fact that this restaurant is the one I most commonly frequent is probably a big contributor to that record.

    • Ben says:

      White-only rice and greasy main dishes are not healthy…

      • xnihilx says:

        I said “healthier” I did not say healthy. (You know like instead of a Big Mac or a bucket of KFC) Also, I said “depending on what you choose”

  9. SonarTech52 says:

    How about a heads up? “hey , I think that is my food there.”

  10. ajlei says:

    I would not have waited for more than 15 minutes. Actually, if they didn’t have what I wanted, I would have just walked out without paying at all.

  11. UnicornMaster says:

    That’s just a poorly run restaurant. You should know within the first 5 minutes whether or not they will be able to produce your food.

  12. D0rk says:

    Stems from a problem I see at a lot of PE’s. Understaffed and horribly managed. They don’t have the staff to keep up sometimes, and management is usually not available for whatever reason.

    I would not have paid for food until everything is sitting on a plate/tray in front of me. There have been times in the past where I had to wait a few minutes for a new batch of a dish, and I sat at the end of the line and let people behind me jump ahead to pay while I waited.

    OP could have been a bit more professional with his Consumerist letter though. While I believe he wasn’t rude while in the store, the entire letter came off as a big pouting rant.

  13. Grebdioz says:

    “but they dished up what they had of the other dinners… AND THEN SET THEM ON THE COUNTER!!!!”

    I don’t understand the need for capitals and exclamations at this point in the story.

    • Jacquilynne says:

      Presumably he’s commenting on the unsafe food handling practice of leaving hot food sitting around getting cold on a counter while the customer waits for the rest of their order. While I’d have probably used slightly fewer exclamation points, even if they were eventually going to fill the rest of his order, they shouldn’t have dished up the first part of his order and left it sitting around while they waited.

      I doubt it was actually unsafe in any meaningful way, but it did rather guarantee that even if he eventually got his entire order, half of it would be cold.

  14. myktag says:

    He should have the option to pick money back or refund. You would think they would do something for Dave since they let him order something they didn’t have. Maybe throw in a free egg roll or something, right.

  15. GenXCub says:

    Was there really a need to redact information? I mean, you can replace [redacted] with the F word for some comedy, but why not just keep the info in there?

    • Applekid ┬──┬ ノ( ã‚œ-゜ノ) says:

      There’s a simple explanation for this. You see, [redacted].

      • ParingKnife ("That's a kniwfe.") says:

        That’s ridiculous. How could you be so stupid as to think that [redacted]!

  16. winnabago says:

    This happened to me once at Burger King. They didn’t have any salads in stock and the manager came over and said they had no ability to refund a CC sale, even with cash. He offered any value meal on the menu, and I asked him to throw in an extra Whopper as well, which he did. Suited me fine. Now if I order a salad I ask them to check in the fridge first.

    In this case it is possible that they were trying to pull something, but stuff happens and the OP could be have been, maybe a tiny bit, more flexible.

    • erinpac says:

      Considering he had already waited 15 minutes when they asked him to pay, doesn’t sound like a simple oops to me. They should have known by then.

  17. GC says:


  18. rookie says:

    Dave’s not here, man…

  19. BeerFox says:

    Why is this such a hard concept for fast food restaurants? I mean, I can see how the situation arises, due to the assembly-line nature of the place. Usually, it’s:
    1. Take Order
    2. Take Money
    3. Pull Food from Under Heat Lamp
    4. Give Food to Customer

    So, yes, they’ll tend to take the customer’s money before knowing if there’s food available. But if steps 3 and 4 fail, you have to give the money back, guys. I know, money is fun and nice, but that’s just how it works. Most other industries seem to get it. Sure, you can offer an alternative, but you don’t get to mandate that they take it.

  20. Hoss says:

    Tell the manager or franchise owner. If they just say sorry, we’ll make changes — let them know it was not a pleasant experience and you feel there should be some offer to make up for it

  21. aloria says:

    I think this guy has a valid complaint, but it’s REALLY hard for me to feel bad for him since he chose the writing style of a ranting teenager rather than that of a mature, intelligent adult.

  22. Portlandia says:

    You call Panda Express food? That’s rather generous of you.

    • redskull says:

      I was thinking the same thing. Maybe if I was on a lunch break and short on time they might do, but otherwise I think I’d pick from the 200 mom & pop Chinese places in every town.

      • aloria says:

        Then you are lucky to live in a place with those kinds of options. Where my parents live, it’s sketchy Chinese food place A, sketchy Chinese food place B, or Panda Express. They’re all pretty bad quality, but at least Panda Express is consistent.

    • spindle789 says:

      You call [insert fast food joint here] food? That’s rather [insert judgmental remark].

      and your point is…

  23. ekthesi says:

    Dave, your food’s not here, man.

  24. El_Fez says:

    15 minutes? Hell, I would have been raising a stink in five!

  25. areaman says:

    I ordered three to-go dinners.

    This sounds kind of odd. I would only go to Panda Express if I was hungry and no other place was near me/open. But to leave the house to pick up food from there for two other people…

    I’m probably going to get a lot of crap for being too “harsh”.

    • MMD says:

      Nope. Just “crap” for a post that’s irrelevant to the matter at hand.

    • theduckay says:

      How is it odd? Perhaps they really like Panda Express. My dad always goes out to pick up 3 to-go orders from Boston Market for him, my mom, and I…plus a ton of other fast food places. I’m not sure why that’s considered strange? haha

  26. RosevilleWgn says:

    Do they even have Pandas in Mexico? I sure as hell know I’ve never seen an Asian person cooking there. Bad food, anyway. He could have whipped up his own stirfry in less then 30 minutes, and it would have cost 1/3.

    • RadarOReally has got the Post-Vacation Blues says:

      So are you saying he should have made his own Panda Express at home?

  27. tweeder82o says:

    find a better mom and pop place for take out?!?!

  28. Macgyver says:

    Seinfeld! Table of four

  29. sopmodm14 says:

    if they’re out, they’re out

    they could’ve handled it better

    i can understand they don’t do refunds b/c made-to-order food is perishable

    i would’ve left food behind….if you didn’t receive it, they can’t charge you for it.

    • MrRichPeoples says:

      Did you even read the post? The customer never received what he ordered, yet he was still charged for it.

  30. Mom says:

    In Dave’s shoes, I wouldn’t have gone to Panda Express in the first place. The only times I’ve been to Panda Express were when I was trapped in an airport. I prefer actual Chinese food, not warmed over grease.

  31. Danielle74 says:

    I think the OP made the mistake in the first place by paying for his order before it was ready.

  32. ZenMasterKel says:

    With any fast food experience (and retail for that matter), you have to be willing to walk. The person most willing to walk away has the most power. I consider my time to be worth something, and I’m not willing to wait very long to order fast food, and I’m definitely not waiting too long if I’m getting something to go. You can usually tell how long the wait will be once you enter the restaurant (and even sometimes before you step inside).

    And I don’t get all bent out of shape – I just walk and go somewhere else. It really isn’t that hard. I’m not “entitled” to anything. Especially when I have a good idea going into the situation that the wait is going to suck.

    Now, if it’s the weekend, and I can play on my phone or read a book or have a drink while wait, then I probably don’t care much.

    • somedaysomehow says:

      So even if you’d *already paid for your food* like the OP, you’d just leave? Or did you miss that part?

      • ZenMasterKel says:

        You know what, I’m really tired of all the jackwagons on this website that have nothing to add besides, “did you read that’ or “Panda Express sucks so why go there in the first place.”

        “DID YOU READ MY RESPONSE!” I didn’t even address that issue. I was just saying my time is worth something, and I’m not waiting 30 minutes before I ask for my food or money back. It’s obvious from my response, that I’m not even going to wait long to get my food, but I definitely wouldn’t pay for it until they handed it to me. This is Panda Express and the OP was getting ti to go. Wasn’t like they were going to bring it to his table.

        After five minutes, I would have told him to just give my money back for everything, and they would have. I’ve had bad experiences at Panda Express, and the manager(s) were always willing to make things right.

  33. packy says:

    I wouldn’t have paid until they had my entire order.

    • roguemarvel says:

      I don’t know sometimes there are situations when its just faster to pay before

      There might be no one at the counter when you arrive, but when you finally get your food there is a line of 3 people.

      Of course you should still get preference, but you might still have to wait a few extra minutes for one person and you never know how long that one person is going to take.

      At my work we ask the pick ups to pay before getting the food to make it go faster for everyone and if the people making the pick up take much too long and the guest is doesn’t want to wait, a manager would be more then happy to refund them.

  34. suez says:

    No mention of asking for the Manager? That would have been my next move.

  35. FrugalFreak says:

    a prorated refund for items he didn’t get would work.

  36. Kensuke Nakamura says:

    I once got cigarette ashes in my broccoli at an airport Panda express. It was the most disgusting food service experience I’ve ever had.

  37. bluline says:

    Asking for a refund at a fast food place is never a simple process. Their systems aren’t set up for refunds and the dumber-than-a-box-of-rocks order takers either don’t know how to do it or are not authorized to do it. Which means a manager has to do it, and they usually get all bent out of shape over it because it means more work for them when they have to account for it in the day’s receipts. It’s a pain in their ass. But that’s no excuse. The customer in this case clearly deserved a refund and was within his rights to demand one.

  38. cheezfri says:

    Oh come on, Consumerist. This is the best story you could be posting here? Submissions running dry?

  39. mmcnary says:

    I have a simple way to explain the value in refunding my money. I explain that if I initiate a chargeback, and win, as the OP would, then the company is liable for not only the cost of the transaction, but a fee of $50-75 from the bank. It’s usually cheaper to refund my money.

  40. veritybrown says:

    The article doesn’t make it completely clear whether they TOLD him to begin with (when he first placed the order) that they were out of the items he wanted. If they DID warn him in advance, then part of the responsibility for what happened next shifts to him. If he insisted on waiting until more was ready, then he forfeited some of the right to complain about having to wait. However, PE should have made it clear to him just how long the wait was likely to be, so that he could decide whether it was worth the wait.

    PE definitely didn’t offer good customer service here–not having menu items available is never a good move, and setting part of the food out to get cold before the rest of it was anywhere close to being ready was a very bad idea. Refusing to offer a refund when the food didn’t arrive in a reasonable amount of time was also wrong.

    But the OP didn’t handle this well, either. As a general rule, if a restaurant doesn’t have the item you want readily available, waiting until they get around to making more is almost always going to be an exercise in frustration. I would have chosen from the items they *did* have available or, if that didn’t suit me, I would have simply left and gone elsewhere. Also, he should not have paid for ANY part of the meal until he had been given a firm time commitment about when the missing food would be ready.

    If a store is giving you bad service from the get-go (by not having menu items available), allowing them to *continue* giving you bad customer service for the next half hour is just throwing good time and effort after bad. There comes a point when putting up with bad service becomes a “shame on the customer” instead of a “shame on the business.”

  41. Alessar says:

    I wouldn’t have paid at the 15 minute mark. I would have said, “are you cooking the food now? When exactly will it be ready? Why have you dished up some of the food and allowed it to sit, isn’t that unhealthy?” and then I probably would have said, if they couldn’t answer those questions, “you know what, cancel the order. Bye.”

  42. TheWraithL98 says:

    a full refund, and a coupon or something for my time wasted. no less

  43. jimstoic says:

    Chipotle told me they would bring out my guacamole once. By the time it arrived, I’d finished my burrito. I contacted them about it and they sent me coupons good for two free burritos. That’s how you do good business, Panda Express!

  44. JadePharaoh says:

    I’ve seen a few stories like this here now. The restaurant takes your money, then tells you they’re out of whatever it is you just paid for. Patron asks for their money back, restaurant refuses, citing a “no refunds” policy. I recall reading on this site about a lady who called the cops over this and was mocked by all for it, but I don’t think she was entirely in the wrong. This is theft, after all.