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Restaurant Complaining Etiquette


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I was made to think about this on Valentines day this year. We went to a great organis restaurant, which was more of an informal family run affair with great local produce served simply etc...

They are a fairly new outfit, and i think had panicked a bit about the large volume, and there were a few things that weren't spot on, but the menu was £30 a head for four courses, coffee and all the usual bits and bobs, which was absolutely worth it for the food.

The couple next to us sat and moaned about absolutely everything. The temperature of the food, the service was too fast or too slow, they could smell smoke from the bar in the next room, they were at the wrong table, the Tournedos Rossini was delivered too soon after the pre main course bloody mary soup, the coffee was the wrong temperature. What got me was that they only mentioned one thing to the staff, which was the quality of her main course. They didn't ask for it to be taken back and done again, they just kicked up a fuss and then sat moaning to each other to the point where i had to ask them to stop because it was ruining my meal.

If you're at a top restaurant and want to complain then complain and get the food redelivered, but don't get dellusions of grandeur and sit moaning for no reason everywhere you go because it doesn't live up to your last meal at Le Manoir!

Rant Over!

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Shout it from the mountain tops, Great Prophet!

I've had more than one wonderful meal ruined by asswipes at the next table who seem to get a thrill out of being miserable. Once, at Bluebird, the people next to us (close, you know) had complained about everything. And they somehow felt like they should actually direct their coversation towards us! Finally, after being told how dreadful my entree was, I told them how sad it was they couldn't have eaten in the same restaurant I was, because my dinner was perfect, save for a rude couple at the next table. Not another peep out of them.

Aidan

"Ess! Ess! It's a mitzvah!"

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It is brilliant telling them!! i talked fairly loudly with my girlfriend about how i hope we never end up sitting in a restaurant we don't like with nothing better to speak to each other about than to moan non stop!

I think it's insulting to the waiting staff to have a go at them but not allow them to take the food away and get it done again. I love my food but i can forgive a few mishaps for the price i paid, because the food was generally lovely, the company was great, i had a few gorgeous bottles of wine and a great evening!

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I wonder why they didn't just leave? Unless it was a game for them...go to a new place, fuss about it because you've got nothing else to talk about. I bet they moan at home about everything on TV, the newpaper boy, trash pickup, shopkeepers.

Probably don't have any friends, either.

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Two issues here--people who whine about there experience to each other so much that it intrudes upon your enjoyment, no excuse for that.

However, I don't think that customers are necessarily under any obligation to inform the restaurant of everything that they think it is failing at. There are times when it would make my dining experience even worse if i were to spend the evening trying to re-train the staff or explain to the management all of the things that they should have known before deciding to go into the restaurant business.

That being said, I do sometimes struggle with how to communicate, and how much to communicate to management, especially in places that have potential, or seem to be trying to do it right, but still have miss-steps. It is to my benefit to help them see what they need improvement in, but hard to do sometimes.

Fred Bramhall

A professor is one who talk's in someone else's sleep

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Remember: this unfortunate meal took place on Valentine's -- a.k.a. Amateurs' Night for dining out (and I don't mean just lovers). A lot of people just don't know how to behave.

As someone who has on occasion been guilty of such rude behavior -- although I hope not quite THAT rude -- I thank you for the reminder to keep my voice down. I've also been on the receiving end of neighbors' too-loud bitching, and if it happens again, I just might follow Comfort Me's lead.

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That being said, I do sometimes struggle with how to communicate, and how much to communicate to management, especially in places that have potential, or seem to be trying to do it right, but still have miss-steps.

Just last night I was in a restaurant (Cafe Rouge in Berkeley) with friends. I don't go out that much these days because I'm getting my business off the ground and in the end, I often think I could have done a better job than the restaurant.

Our waiter had an odd sense of humor (that made our ordering confusing and awkward), which is a forgivable sin. But once our meal was served, that was the end of him. At various times I wanted more bread, drinks and water. After the dinner I wanted an espresso.

For me the quandry is do I say something? My life will continue despite the inattentive waiter but at the same time I wouldn't go back and obviously, I'm talking about it with other people, spreading some bad news. As a business owner, I'd want to know about this if this were my restaurant.

I didn't say anything.

Visit beautiful Rancho Gordo!

Twitter @RanchoGordo

"How do you say 'Yum-o' in Swedish? Or is it Swiss? What do they speak in Switzerland?"- Rachel Ray

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I agree with Suzanne that the particular day (Valentine's Day) may have had something to do with it -- for both the rude couple and the restaurant. Not only can the day be amateur's night for patrons, but restaurants experience high volume that night, many of which don't come close to approaching that volume very often.

Personally, I have no qualms letting the restaurant know where it failed or is failing in delivering quality food or service. If you don't give the restaurant a chance to succeed or improve the situation, you have no right to complain in my book.

A couple of examples...

I made reservations for an up and coming Italian restaurant in St. Paul, MN. At the time I made the reservations, I was told that I'd be at a table in the back, far from the bar (which permits smoking), and in an alcove area along the windows. Very nice. When we showed up, the restaurant was very busy, and the table they offered us was not the same. This one was relatively close to the bar and in the middle of a non-descript part of the room. I mentioned that I was promised a different table. The restaurant apologized, but said it was out of their hands, and offered me this table or the option of waiting for another. There were four of us, and I didn't want to hold everyone up, so we took the table. But, before we ordered, a better table did open up and the restaurant staff offered it to us. I could've taken the poorer table, complained to those seated with me who would listen, and say nothing to the staff. By saying something, however, they were given a chance to recover, and they did.

At a different restaurant, that is affiliated with a premier hotel in Minneapolis, I had ordered the rack of lamb to be prepared rare. When it came tot he table, it was in the form of chops, not a rack, and it was cooked medium-well. The restaurant was very busy, but I was still paying good money for what was billed as the best domestic lamb from Virginia. So I sent it back asking it be cooked rare, and that it be served as a rack. Not only did the order come out right the second time, but an extra portion was included for the other diners at the table to try. Now, was I etter off saying something or should I have just groused to my dining companions?

Finally, a humorous one. Four of us were dining at the kitchen table at Charlie Trotter's in Chicago. This is a coveted table. One of the courses was kobe beef with matsutaki mushrooms. The mushrooms were gritty, and propably hadn't been cleaned thoroughly, but we were a bit initimated to say anything. Charlie asked how everything was, providing an opening. I asked, "Are the mushrooms supposed to be this gritty?" He grabbed my plate, took a taste, order the plates cleared from the table and said "Four people just got fired tonight." He may or may not have been exaggerating, but the course was served to us again, prepared from scratch, and we were comped some of our wine.

I will add, however, that there is a way to "complain," if we're going to call it that, and way not to. If you do it artfully, you'll likely get the problem addressed more to your satisfaction.

We cannot employ the mind to advantage when we are filled with excessive food and drink - Cicero

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I agree with you in principle, Brad, although I don't necessarily agree that one has no right to complain if not complaining to management. But, sometimes I just don't want to work that damn hard when I'm out to dinner. I expect a certain level of competence (which is of course, different for different types of restaurants), and I'm out to dinner to enjoy myself, which sometimes is facilitated by speaking up, as in your examples, and sometimes suffers by having to spend my evening pointing out the restaurants failings.

Fred Bramhall

A professor is one who talk's in someone else's sleep

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I agree with you in principle, Brad, although I don't necessarily agree that one has no right to complain if not complaining to management. But, sometimes I just don't want to work that damn hard when I'm out to dinner. I expect a certain level of competence (which is of course, different for different types of restaurants), and I'm out to dinner to enjoy myself, which sometimes is facilitated by speaking up, as in your examples, and sometimes suffers by having to spend my evening pointing out the restaurants failings.

Fair enough. I agree that one has to weigh in the hassle factor.

We cannot employ the mind to advantage when we are filled with excessive food and drink - Cicero

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I had the most amazing experience at Shula's in DC once. My b-f's filet was a tad too cooked (he likes his steak nice and bloody), so we traded since I'm not quite as picky with my steaks. No loud complaining, no big scene - just a swapping of the plates. Not 30 seconds later, 3 of the staff rushed over to our table and immediately wisked my plate away to replace the steak.

I guess I was spoiled, because now when I'm at a restaurant and something isn't quite right, I just expect it to fix itself! In fact, I don't think I've ever said anything about a meal - just grinned and bared it.

So, I guess my question is: what is the best way to complain about a dish without pissing anyone off and getting a big loogie in the next course?

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Just be gracious about it.

The problem I have is with the word "complain". Don't complain. Just point out what isn't pleasing about the dish and ask politely if it can be fixed. Are they gonna say no? Smile and don't be accusing about it. Life isn't perfect. So you got a bum dish: it's not the end of the world! If the kitchen will fix it, fine. If not, then leave.

On the other hand, inadequate service bugs me. If it's really bad, let the maitre d' know when you leave....and don't leave the goofball a tip unless it's obviously a scheduling issue and not his/her fault.

Phew: this all makes going out to eat SO not worth it!!!

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Sometimes no matter how nice you are.....it just doesn't matter. I've been in this business so long that I NEVER complain when I go out, because I've been the reciever before, and I know how bad it sucks. But....

I once complained about a steak I ordered Medium RARE arriving at my table, Medium WELL. The waitress took the steak to the kitchen, and came back 5 minutes later with the same steak. (I know this, because I had cut it into three pieces. I received back the same three pieces.) I looked at my friend confused, and asked the waitress, what was going on? She said "Thats what the kitchen gave me." I asked her as politely as I could, how could it be possible for them to reverse the cooking time, Once again repeating that I had requested a Medium RARE steak. She said, "I dont know, but that's your steak." I then asked to speak to the manager and he looked at the steak and said, "That may not be Medium Rare for you, but that is Medium Rare for us." I am the most non-confrontational person any one of you has ever met. It's just not worth it to me to argue over 25 bucks, but this was so aggravating, that I was close to losing it. I tried to explain the difference between a grey steak and a pink or red steak, but it was falling on deaf ears. Finally, I said to the manager, please take it back, I won't be eating it, and please bring the check (we had appetizers and drinks.) I just wanted the miserable Twilight Zone-esque experience to be over. 10 minutes pass. I say to the manager, can you PLEASE bring the check. He tells me "I'll be right back." He then comes back and says, out of the blue, " It turns out you were right about the steak. It wasn't Medium Rare, it was pretty well done, in fact. The chef confirmed it. We would like to bring you a new steak." Completely dumbfounded, I declined, saying I just wanted to go home, but thanks (?). He then said, why don't you let us bring you dessert then. To which I replied, "No thank you, I prefer to go home." He asked again and I just kept declining, saying I just wanted to go home, PLEASE just bring the check. He said Ok, he will bring the check. Another 10 minutes pass. Check still no where in sight. Finally, my friend and I get up to leave. If they don't want us to pay, WE WON'T!! Finally, a runner bolts over to the table with DESSERT!! I know what it's like to desperately want to turn around a table, but this was so rediculous, we just wanted to GO HOME. We finally just got up and left. And yes, they did land up bringing us a check.

But on another note, I always speak to the manager when I receive great service. I may be going to the wrong places (I'm not going to any 4 star restaurants,) or just have bad luck in general, but great service is somewhat hard to come by these days. That may be why I am so appreciative when I do recieve not good, but GREAT service. I also grew up in th service industry and worked in it for so long, that I know compliments are much harder to come by then a complaint.

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But on another note, I always speak to the manager when I receive great service. I may be going to the wrong places (I'm not going to any 4 star restaurants,) or just have bad luck in general, but great service is somewhat hard to come by these days. That may be why I am so appreciative when I do recieve not good, but GREAT service. I also grew up in th service industry and worked in it for so long, that I know compliments are much harder to come by then a complaint.

Yep, same here. I let everyone in the place know -- the server, the manager, the chef if I can, the people at the next table.

That's a funny story about your steak. My only guess with the check/dessert thing is that the owner was telling the manager to do something different than what you wanted -- "She doesn't want a dessert." "Bring it to her anyway; we owe her something."

We cannot employ the mind to advantage when we are filled with excessive food and drink - Cicero

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foodie52Posted: Mar 4 2004, 01:52 PM

"Just be gracious about it.

The problem I have is with the word "complain". Don't complain. Just point out what isn't pleasing about the dish and ask politely if it can be fixed. Are they gonna say no? Smile and don't be accusing about it. Life isn't perfect. So you got a bum dish: it's not the end of the world! If the kitchen will fix it, fine. If not, then leave."

I agree 100%. Also, I very graciously ask the server lots of questions like: "Are th mussels fresh" (as in never have been frozen)? or "Is it going to be a problem getting my meat really rare... not uncooked and not medium rare"? I warn them ahead of time that I can order something else if they think it's going to be a problem. The ball is then in their court and then if I have to send it back I have already warned them what was accepable. Attitude is everything when complaining. Sometimes you can tell complaining will do no good at all. I just don't go back and ofcourse tell 10 friends about the experience.

Which reminds me I also always tell 10 friends about a good experience and make sure to register compliments as well, particularly to the chef or about great service to the manager.

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Finally, a humorous one.  Four of us were dining at the kitchen table at Charlie Trotter's in Chicago.  This is a coveted table.  One of the courses was kobe beef with matsutaki mushrooms.  The mushrooms were gritty, and propably hadn't been cleaned thoroughly, but we were a bit initimated to say anything.  Charlie asked how everything was, providing an opening.  I asked, "Are the mushrooms supposed to be this gritty?"  He grabbed my plate, took a taste, order the plates cleared from the table and said "Four people just got fired tonight."  He may or may not have been exaggerating, but the course was served to us again, prepared from scratch, and we were comped some of our wine.

I will add, however, that there is a way to "complain," if we're going to call it that, and way not to.  If you do it artfully, you'll likely get the problem addressed more to your satisfaction.

You're right. Complaining is something of an art. And you only do it if you think someone might rectify the mistake(s). But - even if you don't think it would help - you don't blab about it all night. You just don't return to the restaurant.

Along the lines of your gritty mushrooms - one night we ate at a pretty good local hotel restaurant. And one of the veggie dishes was inedible - much much too much salt. So we complained to the waiter. And the chef came out. And he tasted the stuff - and he spit it out. Turned out the night's recipe called for 4 tablespoons of salt and the line chef had put in 4 cups. The chef made us a new veggie dish :smile: . Robyn

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Sometimes no matter how nice you are.....it just doesn't matter. I've been in this business so long that I NEVER complain when I go out, because I've been the reciever before, and I know how bad it sucks. But....

I once complained about a steak I ordered Medium RARE arriving at my table, Medium WELL. The waitress took the steak to the kitchen, and came back 5 minutes later with the same steak. (I know this, because I had cut it into three pieces. I received back the same three pieces.) I looked at my friend confused, and asked the waitress, what was going on? She said "Thats what the kitchen gave me." I asked her as politely as I could, how could it be possible for them to reverse the cooking time, Once again repeating that I had requested a Medium RARE steak. She said, "I dont know, but that's your steak."  I then asked to speak to the manager and he looked at the steak and said, "That may not be Medium Rare for you, but that is Medium Rare for us." I am the most non-confrontational person any one of you has ever met. It's just not worth it to me to argue over 25 bucks, but this was so aggravating, that I was close to losing it. I tried to explain the difference between a grey steak and a pink or red steak, but it was falling on deaf ears. Finally,  I  said to the manager, please take it back, I won't be eating it, and please bring the check (we had appetizers and drinks.) I just wanted the miserable Twilight Zone-esque experience to be over. 10 minutes pass. I say to the manager, can you PLEASE bring the check. He tells me "I'll be right back." He then comes back and says, out of the blue, " It turns out you were right about the steak. It wasn't Medium Rare, it was pretty well done, in fact. The chef confirmed it. We would like to bring you a new steak." Completely dumbfounded, I declined, saying I just wanted to go home, but thanks (?). He then said, why don't you let us bring you dessert then.  To which I replied, "No thank you, I prefer to go home."  He asked again and I just kept declining, saying I just wanted to go home, PLEASE just bring the check. He said Ok, he will bring the check. Another 10 minutes pass. Check still no where in sight. Finally, my friend and I get up to leave. If they don't want us to pay, WE WON'T!! Finally, a runner bolts over to the table with DESSERT!! I know what it's like to desperately want to turn around a table, but this was so rediculous, we just wanted to GO HOME. We finally just got up and left. And yes, they did land up bringing us a check.

But on another note, I always speak to the manager when I receive great service. I may be going to the wrong places (I'm not going to any 4 star restaurants,) or just have bad luck in general, but great service is somewhat hard to come by these days. That may be why I am so appreciative when I do recieve not good, but GREAT service. I also grew up in th service industry and worked in it for so long, that I know compliments are much harder to come by then a complaint.

Unless you had a *really* bad day and have a headache - I think you should always give a restaurant an opportunity to "make things right" if it shows an inclination to do so. I will sometimes order a dessert even if I don't want one just to give a restaurant that has made an earlier mistake the opportunity to "comp me" on the dessert - as a means of apologizing. Of course - some don't take the bait - and then they are toast in my book. Robyn

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I had dinner last night at a place that I eat at 3-4 times a week over the last 4 years. If the old staff were there I would have said something. New Front of the house. same Chef. Same owner. Lesser food lately. I know one of the waiters and when he ask's why he dosen't see me any more I'll tell him as a friend. Maybe the Owner and Chef will get the message. Small Town, word get's around.

Bruce Frigard

Quality control Taster, Château D'Eau Winery

"Free time is the engine of ingenuity, creativity and innovation"

111,111,111 x 111,111,111 = 12,345,678,987,654,321

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I never used to mention problems, just suffered in silence....until a friend of mine who used to be a line cook said that I *should* say something or they may never know.

So I have :smile: . A restaurant we eat at somewhat regularly had a real timing problem on Friday and Saturday nights - other nights, everything was fine, but Fridays and Saturdays our entrees would come out approximately 30 seconds after the appetizer. One night I'd finally had it and quietly asked to speak to a manager - which terrified our server. After reassuring her she was doing a great job, I explained to the manager that we ate here a lot, and saw the same pattern, and he might want to check out some issues with the kitchen. I also mentioned the server was doing a great job, and we liked the food, so the problem was put in perspective. Sure enough, that was the LAST time we had that problem. I never found out what the problem was exactly, but I'm happy they solved it.

I still don't like to complain, but as another person said, if you don't tell them something is wrong, they don't have the chance to fix it. If I do have an issue, I try to decide who is the person who can do something about it, and speak to them directly.

And if I have praise, I make sure everyone hears it!

Marcia.

Don't forget what happened to the man who suddenly got everything he wanted...he lived happily ever after. -- Willy Wonka

eGullet foodblog

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And if I have praise, I make sure everyone hears it!

:wub::wub::wub: That is SOOOOOOOOOOOO important! All too often, the only feedback given is negative; or if everything is all right, there's just a grunted approval. Say it loud! :biggrin:

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Suzanne, i totally agree!

It's amazing getting praise for something you've put a lot of effort into. I'm only 25, i just hope that when i'm 35 i'm not sat moanig for no reason in restaurants like the couple next to me!!

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I am a firm believer that there is a time, place and way to complain at a restaurant. First it depends on the place. If I am having lunch at a mom and pop place (such as a small Chinese restaurant) then I would not say a peep if the service is a little lacking or if my drinks are not filled up promptly, I would complain if the food is not what I expect though. On the other hand if I’m having dinner at a fine dining restaurant where expectations are high and the bill is high then you bet I will tactfully complain if anything is lacking. At such establishments I am paying a very high premium specifically to get pampered and receive the best of everything. I certainly do not spend the whole dinner bitching to my wife because we want to enjoy each other’s company and the food. If a restaurant of this caliber has enough respect for the clients’, it’s management should be more than happy to please us. A case in point was when we had dinner at a very nice Houston restaurant and I was convinced by my waitress to order the duck, when the dishes came I was served quail. I immediately pointed out that this was not what I ordered. Sure enough the chef came over and offered to re-do both of our plates which means we had to wait about 20 more minutes or I can try the quail. I decided to have my quail dish which was superb actually and which was comped off our meal.

I do realize that it sometimes is a hassle to complain, after all we are out to enjoy ourselves not to bitch and feel miserable. So if it is something minor and it really does not ruin my meal I try to keep quiet and have a good time. I do know from my two years as a waiter in non-fine dining establishments that many people actually are complainers –probably by birth-, they love to complain and they think they should be the center of attention of the waiter who has five other tables to keep happy. I can list a lot of stories from those days!!

Basically my point is, if a restaurant meal is really ruining your evening out then some tactful and constructive “complaining” will not hurt. Don't be an a-hole just tell them why you don't like your food or service this way you -usually- will be pleased and they get a chance to fix the problem and have a new repeat client.

E. Nassar
Houston, TX

My Blog
contact: enassar(AT)gmail(DOT)com

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I'm with FoodMan on this - my expectations rise with the prices. No way will I put up with bad food or service when I'm throwing down US$100+ a head (which is easy to do in here in Hong Kong). Also, I do quality control for a living, so I notice everything... But if I'm in a stripper bar eating a burger and they forgot the lettuce, well, no big deal.

My approach is never to complain, but rather to quietly bring the problem to the house's attention - maybe even away from my table. I start with the assumption that I'm dealing with pros, and the staff want to know about and are eager to address problems. I want to do what I can to help, because I'm eating there. The table next to me, or my own table for that matter, should not have their dinner disrupted by the problem. If the house is any good, they'll make it right quickly and quietly, and they'll get a regular customer, and I'll tell people about it. I'm very loyal to restaurants that look after me. If they don't, they don't see me again - and I tell people about it.

But there's never an excuse to get loud in the front of the house, that's just bad manners. Plus it's usually counterproductive. If it's something that can't be resolved while I'm there, I send a real letter (not an e-mail) to the manager. Again, if they place is good I'll get a phone call immediately and probably get comped next time. If it's not, we never see each other again. But nobody's meal gets disrupted.

- Hong Kong Dave

Hong Kong Dave

O que nao mata engorda.

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