Words: Mr Mellors, gamekeeper turned poacher (he used to make you drinks & carry your food, now he watches others do it and now provides us with advice on how to complain in restaurants).
Now it may seem hypocritical of me to start off this piece here but who said I wasn’t one? Prompted by the tweets of two local characters I want to discuss complaining in a restaurant, pub, bar or café. In this golden age of information and social networking have we lost the ability and courage to actually complain in person in the establishment at the time of a bad meal, poorly made drink or crap service? The internet seems to indicate that we have lost our collective balls to get into any kind of face to face discussion.
The first event that prompted me into writing this was a tweet by Baz at St Giles Café publicising a link to his response of a poor review on a particular review site. Someone had posted a review there that stated they had had “Everything a European expects – over priced, poor quality food badly prepared”, now anyone who has met Baz and eaten at StGC knows he prides himself on the quality of his ingredients and even makes his own sausages (a far cry from its previous owners). They had obviously not said a single word at the time though and thought it easier to post their first anonymous review. His reply was funny, erudite, clever and stopped just short of declaration of war on the nation that spawned the complainer.
The second was another review on the same site by a local reviewer linking to a review of No1 Folly Bridge. In it they stated they and a companion had poor food, drinks and service on a recent visit. Now all the complaints seemed reasonable, justified and having read his reviews of other places in town I do know, I’m minded to trust him on this one; but when asked if they had actually raised any of their issues at the time, the response was “We didn’t leave the service charge, no questions were asked. It’s difficult to know what warrants complaining sometimes?!” Well, err, how about any of the numerous points you raised in your review?”
And this is my point, as an ex caterer who worked his way up from potwash as a spotty innocent teenager to General Manager of quite a posh restaurant as a bacchanalian thirty something, please, please say something to us at the time! Eating out is a social experience and we are human beings, though I have worked with some strange beings in my time, capable of reasoned argument. If you are not happy with your food or drink then be polite, explain what is wrong and if we can we will try to remedy the situation. I’ve pretty much heard and experienced it all in my time. From the time I was brought a six inch bolt that a customer had found at the bottom of their side salad bowl in a large palm filled city centre brasserie (it had fallen off the industrial salad slicer earlier in the day, I comped their whole bill for two) to the time I was kicked in the balls by an elegantly dressed lady in a white linen restaurant because I wouldn’t comp a whole table of four because one of their steaks was overcooked (I’d already taken the steak off the bill, the bartender locked the door & called the police as I rolled around on the floor in agony).
If you have an issue with an item of food or drink then speak to your waiter and give them the opportunity to replace it. If the service is not up to scratch then ask to speak to a manager, they generally are in their position because of the experience they have gained on the floor and they should know the companies required standards. After all we want you to go away well fed having had a pleasant experience and with the possibility of coming back again thus helping to keep us in business.
Here are some points to remember when you have to complain;
- Raise the issue straight away – take a second to collect your thoughts & explain exactly what is wrong, this gives the restaurant an opportunity to resolve the problem with minimum fuss.
- Be polite but firm and remain calm –It’s not the waiters fault if the kitchen got it wrong so don’t take it out on them. Anger will only inflame the situation. If the waiter isn’t helpful then ask to speak to a manager.
- Explain how you want the situation remedied – be specific about what you want to happen next. Easy if you are alone & want the dish replaced because the steak was overcooked but if there’s two of you don’t be afraid to ask for your guests food to be kept warm whilst your food is prepared again. Any good establishment will happily do this & quite often cook both dishes again so that both are perfect second time around. If you have time constraints such as cinema tickets then state this and ask for it to be taken off the bill instead or replaced with a dish that is quick to cook & the bill amended to reflect this.
- Reduce the tip – had poor service? Then don’t tip or leave less than you would normally. Explain this to the manager too on the way out stating specific instances such as waiting for drinks, forgotten items or food taking ages. We want to know if someone isn’t doing their job properly. If the service is good but you object to a Service Charge then do not be afraid to ask for it to be removed, you are entitled to do so and the restaurant must if you ask. The waiter will quite often be grateful for a cash tip instead.
- Take it to the next level –still unhappy? Then call the next morning and ask for the General Manager, Operations Manager or Owners name & email address. Then drop them a line stating what was wrong, how it was dealt with & why you are still unhappy. It’s their business so they’ll want to know & remedy the situation.
Then by all means write a review, blog, tweet and tell all your friends but only after you’ve given us the opportunity to remedy the situation. At worse you’ll leave the establishment having gotten it off your chest and with some more material for your review. If they are running a professional operation and they actually care they will have had some genuine feedback on what they could do better and probably taken the substandard items off the bill. Maybe, even, have given you some freebies too.
By the way, I got my second coffee for free whilst writing this as the waiter had forgotten my order and had to be asked for it again.