19 July 2014

How to complain in a Restaurant

Everybody loves a good moan, but something I've noticed since moving to the UK is that even when something is wrong, that there seems to be a reticence to actually tell the restaurant that there's a problem. I know so many people that won't complain except to the rest of the table afterwards, pushing their food aside, making one of those 'I smell something gross' faces and then reluctantly pay the bill, skimping on the tip. A bit pointless, no?

Having seen both sides of the hospitality coin extensively (I worked as front of house/management for more than 3 years, and spend a ridiculous amount of time in restaurants of late) I'm no expert, but having seen things go embarrassingly wrong, I wish this could have been plastered over the walls of many previous establishments.


The law says a service must be carried out with reasonable care and skill and in a reasonable time. If the service is poor, you do have a right to complain. For example, if the waiter is rude or you have to wait a long time for your food. Personally, I've found that in order to avoid having your food spat in, used as a hockey putt or finding flies doing backstroke in your soup there are a couple of simple ways to complaining gracefully.

Funnily enough the few times I have sent things back, or had to enquire after a lost rounds of drinks I've often fond myself almost apologising to the wait staff for interrupting them - is this a British trait rubbing off? When it has happened, they have been so effusive in their apologies and tried their umost to fix the problem. That's great service.

Let the staff know.
Sure, a tirade on Twitter, a blog or TripAdvisor can be stress-reliving, but in some cases it really doesn't help anyone. If you don't tell the restaurant at the table that there's a problem, how can they fix it?

Don't be rude.
There's no point getting aggressive, raising your tone or getting personal when letting them know that your fries are cold. The more of an idiot you are, the higher the likelihood your dinner could be spat in. But then again, it's your food.

Be specific.
If there are ingredients that you don't like/can't eat that could be included in the meal, just ask. Yes, some waiting staff are lazy, but if it's really important, just get them to check with the kitchen. Most chefs don't mind you asking a couple of questions.

Have a reason.
Is the complaint because you just don't like it, or is there actually something wrong? Most genuine complaints the wait staff will happily try and get fixed for you - as the Guardian so eloquently puts it "any decent restaurant will know that if they can turn your criticism into a positive experience, they may retain your loyalty for ever."

Let them know swiftly.
Don't wait until you're most of the way through your meal. People who drink the majority of their drink or eat most of their dinner then complain it are ridiculous. It's complete obvious that they're after free stuff to which any decent manager will decline and a scene in the restaurant will be caused. 

Escalate it by asking for the manager if you feel the kitchen or staff are being unreasonable.

Then, only then let loose your scorn upon the world.
Then, if all else fails and the restaurant aren't effusive in their apologies and finding a solution (which I've usually found them to be) go forth and complain aaaaalllll you like.

Never, ever complain at your Mum or Granny's house.
They won't ever see you as an actual adult or too big to smack. Just sayin'.

Mr Kiwi won't complain about food being wrong. I suspect it's down to watching too many episodes of Faulty Towers as he seems to be terrified about his food being spat in (or in one memorable case the burger he had ordered Well Done re-grilled and returned complete with bite mark). It is quite funny sometimes to watch him with that look on his face, plate pushed aside in protest whilst I happily eat my meal.

Do you feel like you're unable to complain?
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  1. I will complain but perhaps that is me being American.

  2. I don't ever bother to complain when things aren't right at restaurants. I've even been given a completely different dish than I ordered and I didn't complain about it. :) It just doesn't bother me that much...and also maybe I'm a little bit like your kiwi and can't stomach the thought of my food being spit on, wiped on the floor, etc. :)

  3. Lol - love the 'never complain at your Mum or Granny's house'. I wouldn't dare! I've only complained a few times in London, when there was something seriously wrong with the food. As for the gruff service, think I'm now used to it ;)

  4. Hilarious!! I have never complained at a restaurant - I wouldn't dare! Do I found this illuminating! I put my lack of complaining down to a problem with assertiveness though!

  5. I always find it really hard to do. And im always apologetic! I know it shouldnt be that way though.

  6. I've only mentioned things weren't right a few times in my life, and I'm always reluctant to do so because I've worked in the restaurant industries so I know how they feel. If something isn't right though, I definitely think its ok to to politely point it out and try to get it fixed.

  7. See, I think that - and every time I have nicely apologised that something is wrong they have been happy to fix it - mistakes happen!

  8. It's natural though, isn't it, especially in London where you apologise when someone barges into you...!

  9. I think as long as you're nice and there's a genuine problem, they'll happily sort it out for you.

  10. I wouldn't complain unless there's something seriously wrong either, but can't understand how it's not a 'done' thing. Why sit there with the wrong dinner, then pay for it?

  11. I guess if you get something different then it can be an adventure, but I'd definitely say something! It doesn't happen often, and they're seriously not allowed to spit in things... :D

  12. Yes, I am unable to complain. I just suck at it. The other day I asked for Green Tea and I got Mint Tea.. I hate mint and I still drank it!?

  13. I have SUCH a hard time ever complaining about food. I always feel so horrible and I don't want the waiter to think I think it's their fault so I just kind of suck it up and eat it or just... don't eat it. The only time I was SERIOSULY angry was we took some friends to our then favorite restaurant and 2 hours later we had water... thirty minutes after that our pasta arrived. I had something very local that I know very well. Well since the waiter and chef got in a fight in the middle of the restaurant (it was wild) I probably shouldn't have been so angry about the basic tomato sauce from the can poured over badly cooked pasta!

  14. It really depends if I will speak up or not. I also think some people just complain to complain or they don't understand what they are ordering. I think I would be much less likely to complain being in Europe than the States too. I think I'm a bit more forgiving and not forgiving at the same time about service since I was a waitress for a while in college. If they are really slammed than I'm fine but if they are just lazy I'm more likely to complain.


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