A couple of quotes to start with;
“Complainers are rewarded for complaining. Indicative of the victim culture in which we live, people have not only come to expect something for nothing, but are then rewarded for how loudly they can ventilate their sense of having been victims of fraud.” – John Ridley
Have a think about which sort you want to be….
I’ve recently moved house and as a result of this have eaten out more than usual. Some amazing meals (Man Behind The Curtain & The Cellar Key) some not so great (un-named as you’ll see why later). It was the poor ones that got me thinking, your mind needs something to do when faced with an Everest of unpacking!
I started to think about when, where and why is it appropriate to complain in a restaurant and came up with a few does and don’ts.
Firstly and above all else, complain discretely at first, shouting to get attention or instantly harassing an establishment on social media isn’t really on. We are all human, we all make mistakes so allow them the chance to fix it before going public. If the issue was fixed and it didn’t impact on your enjoyment of the meal then why bother, you’ll end up getting more wound up with yourself.
If one element of the meal is wrong, meat over/under cooked, missing an item etc then bring it to their attention immediately – this is probably the most valid & important time to complain. All good establishments will fix this without fuss. What if the whole meal is poor? For instance, a Full English where the bacon was overcooked, the sausages appalling quality, the tomato still cold in the middle but not as cold as the toast, the black pudding could have doubled as an ice hockey puck, the crispy potatoes were not crispy and still raw in the middle and the “homemade” baked beans were not homemade. What should you do?
- Grin and bear it, never return.
- Complain and demand the whole thing is remade.
- Send it back and order something else.
- Send it back and refuse anything else or to pay for it.
All of these have their pros and cons. The problem here is that when the whole meal (as opposed to one aspect) is below standard, will ordering something else or asking for it to be remade actually change anything? Will a kitchen that ruined a Full English fare any better with an omelette – unlikely. So realistically you’re going to eat what you can, pay and leave or refuse to pay for the meal (your call if you include everything or just the inedible plates). My take on this is if you’re going to send it back as inedible then you should have had no more than 10-20% of the plate, to decide your steak is inedible after eating 7/8ths of it is kind of suspicious.
When complaining, have a think about what your expectations were compared to what they should have been. If there’s an offer of a steak and a pint for a fiver, you shouldn’t be expecting beer fed Dexter fillet, but you should expect it to be cooked correctly.
There are times where you might not want to complain then and there, you might be in a hurry, it’s a bit awkward to explain to a server that their BO ruined your meal, or that the abusive table next to you didn’t go down well. If that’s the case you should keep your complaints private and especially offline until you’ve addressed them to the establishment directly, ring them up and ask for the email of the manager/owner and drop them a line, give them time to reply and take it from there. Any decent place will take this feedback on board and do something about it.
Value for money – this is a difficult one, unless the menu states weights (burgers, steaks, lobsters etc) then value is a pretty abstract concept. Some people would define value as quantity, others quality but it’s definitely an area where no two people feel exactly the same, I’d prefer smaller portions of top quality made by well paid cooks than a dustbin lid sized plate full of poor quality food bulked up with filler & water. If you are going to complain about the portion size then you have to do so straight away, and certainly before you start eating. The quality is more difficult, again I think you have to use price as a guide, but effectively if you’re complaining about the quality you’re saying something hasn’t been prepared correctly or not a true representation of what was stated on the menu.
Taste, very difficult – I don’t think not liking something is grounds to ask for a refund (overly salty, so much chilli that it’s painful then ok) one of the reasons to go to restaurants is to try new things, hopefully cooked by someone who knows what they’re doing. It’s ok to return a plate of food and request another if you don’t like something but you should pay for it. Plated food is pretty much the most perishable consumer good there is, if there’s nothing actually wrong with what you’ve ordered then you have a moral obligation to pay for it, the establishment can’t use it again – or would you be ok with your dinner being someone else’s reject?
Then we come to the murkier end of the spectrum, the “found a hair” brigade (link ) people who see going to restaurants as a challenge to try to reduce or eliminate their bill. Despite the previous link the days of deliberately sabotaging food seem to be on the decline, I remember working in a place when we had that kind of a complaint, a long curly red hair which the table insisted wasn’t one of theirs (despite one of the diners having long curly red hair), they started screaming, shouting and making a scene, embarrassing all the other diners. The manager came across, apologised to the other diners at the restaurant that their meals would delayed by a couple of minutes and demanded that everyone from the kitchen come out to the dining room, 5 blokes, all clean shaved and nobody with hair longer than a number 2 cut. Some backtracking and the table admitted they “may” have made a mistake. I wonder what would have happened today – 8 people on a table, a flurry of Twitter & Facebook posts with the restaurant having to back down to avoid further publicity or go on the counter offensive – a dangerous move (unless you’re Sticky Walnut). Then the absolute worst – “Unless I get money off or something for free I’m going online (especially Trip Advisor) to slate you” let’s start calling this what it is – blackmail/extortion. I won’t deny that if you go online, or threaten to, you may well get a reduction in your bill, but it’s akin to fraudulent injury claims, generally people will pay out to make you go away – not because they believe it. A friend of mine had a regular who would order one of the cheapest things on the menu, claim not to like it and then demand the most expensive item on the as a replacement – would you go to a car dealer and tell them you weren’t happy with the Ford Ka you bought so you’d like an Aston Martin DB9 instead? Not, if you want to be taken seriously – although if you find a place that will do that, please let me know.
When I’ve had really bad meals I’ve emailed the place afterwards, explaining what was wrong and have invariably been invited back for a meal (normally the food free but pay for drinks) along with an explanation about why things weren’t up to scratch and what they’re doing about it – for me this is the right way to do things, by complaining in this way you’re helping the establishment and giving them a chance to fix problems – remember restaurants are people’s livelihoods. I do this with other companies as well, I used to use a house cleaning company, their last clean of our house was absolutely shocking, almost nothing had been done properly. Instead of going online, kicking off, posting pictures of everything they missed/didn’t clean I contacted the owner directly, agreed some corrective actions and got the issue sorted without potentially harming their business.
If you are going to complain you should bear the following in mind:
- Is it because there is something actually wrong?
- Not as stated on the menu
- Improperly cooked, etc
- Is it something out of the restaurant’s control?
- Is it simply a case of you not liking the ingredient/flavour combination?
- Have you done everything you can to deal with the issues in a reasonable manner?
We all have different tastes, and this piece is my views on the matter. I find the social media meltdown particularly distasteful, it’s like an infant screaming because they’re not getting their own way and been given some sweets by a parent just to shut them up.
If you do go to an establishment, lie about finding something in your food, or threaten them with a bad online review what you’re doing is not only morally equivalent to but literally the same as stealing someone’s dinner money.