/ Food & Drink, Shopping

Complain for change: how I took a bite out of Eat

We’re starting a new series of Conversations that we’re calling ‘complain for change’ – we think you should be proud to tell companies when they’ve got it wrong. What does it take for you to make a complaint?

Are there some things you just wouldn’t bother to complain about?

With the recent criticism that Three Mobile levelled at its customers who complained, you’d be forgiven for not bothering.

But the Which? Consumer Rights team thinks it’s always worth making your feelings known – no matter how small the company transgression.

I love cheese. I especially love very strong flavoured cheese. So, when I spotted a mature cheddar cheese sandwich in my local branch of Eat, I thought ‘that’s the sandwich for me’.

But oh, how wrong I was. After the first disappointing bite, I knew their definition of mature cheese was nothing like mine. ‘Mature cheddar’ the sandwich claimed. ‘Tasteless fodder’ my palate countered.

After begrudgingly finishing the flavourless sandwich and feeling utterly dissatisfied with my lunch, I headed back to the office and promptly emailed an indignant letter of complaint to Eat.

Tackling complaints in a mature fashion

Now, you may think me a curmudgeonly malcontent for complaining about something so trivial – and, on the whole, I’d have to agree with you. But, it’s the principle that’s at stake here. If something is labelled one thing and it turns out to be something else, then you’ve got me riled – no matter how insignificant it may seem.

When I hungrily tucked into my mature cheddar cheese sandwich and my palate was assaulted by a bland bit of bread playing host to a tasteless slab of cheese, I was incandescent. Actually, no, I’m getting carried away with myself here. Let’s just say I was a tad displeased.

To give credit where it’s due though, I did receive a very apologetic response from Eat, offering me a voucher as a gesture of goodwill. And once I sent them my address, the £5 voucher promptly arrived on my doorstep, for which I am most appreciative.

What gets you to complain?

But, my question is this – how bad does something have to be before you’ll complain? A recent survey by online research companies Andrew Smith Research and Research Now, found that 30% of people didn’t complain, even once, to a company over the last year.

Now, this could mean that these people had no cause for complaint. But from previous Which? research, we know that many people don’t complain because they can’t be bothered or, they don’t think it’s worth it.

The survey also found that the number of serial complainers – those making more than ten complaints in a year – has fallen in the last couple of years. Are you one of those who’s let complaining go off the boil? Or will you join me in being a proud serial complainer?


My complaint is about consumers who when writing reviews or filling in ratings on products, services, restaurants or hotels will insist on giving 5* or 10/10 for good service or rating and not reserving the top mark for excellent or exceptional service or rating.

I doesnt encourage suppliers if they can get max marks for the level of service or performance of a product which should be normal and dont get rewarded when they go out of their way and offer something exceptional or excellent.

It also doesnt help other consumers when they see 5* for food given to a good cafe and the next door award winning restaurant !

Hmmm. I think the word ‘complain’ is being overused, especially on Which? Conversation.

I feel very sorry for those who have to listen to all these complaints. A tasteless sandwich hardly deserves a complaint. How about a polite suggestion? After all, getting people on your side can be half the battle.

Let’s reserve the term ‘complain’ for where it is justified. There will be plenty of other opportunities. 🙂

Boblechien says:
6 July 2012

A tasteless sandwhich is something that should be complained about. You’ve paid good money for it and it wasn’t advertised as a “tasteless sandwhich”.

When was the last time you order food and added “… and make it tasteless!”? It like saying you want a ticket to Birmingham but it is OK if you are taken to Manchester!

Tastes differ. Like Amanda, I enjoy strong cheddar, but I hate the smell and taste of certain strong cheeses.

Bland food and drink may leave some of us disappointed, but most of us would not complain. What would happen if all spicy food was as hot as a vindaloo curry? Some might find this very satisfying but most of us would not be able to eat it.

The only solutions are really to go to somewhere that will make a sandwich to suit your wishes or make your own sandwich.

There is a sufficient demand for strong, highly roasted coffee that it is now readily available, even though many are happier with something much more bland. Likewise, decent beer is now widely available, even though most of what is sold is bland beer and lager.

Michael Hodder says:
5 July 2012

British Gas Complaint letter.
We have stopped our direct debit for the so-called “Homecare” because we feel we have been mislead and you are in breach of contract. When we took out the agreement for “Homecare” we were told that if we needed an engineer to carry out a repair to our appliances an engineer would call.

However all we get is salesmen who are trying to sell us a new boiler or to have our system “power flushed”, the last engineer told my wife “I can’t do anything with this boiler because it is clogged right up and needs an urgent power flush”.

Our boiler runs fine for central heating however when we want hot water the boiler does not fire-up, that said, if we put the central heating on then we can have hot water.
To keep putting the central heating to obtain hot water is wasteful and expensive hence our request to British Gas to fix the problem.

I contacted Ariston boilers their engineer told me “the boiler is not clogged up in anyway what it needs is a “New diverter valve”.

On a previous visit by British Gas we were told “Ariston don’t make parts anymore so we can’t get a replacement.

Why should we be expected to pay nearly £44 per month for a “service?” that is no
more than a sales pitch.

PeterW says:
6 July 2012

Had a similar problem with British Gas. After being a service contract customer for very many years, with few callouts, when our system stopped working properly their engineer told us (1) it was “all sludged up” – and that (2) because of something in the small print, their service, which we had paid for, did not cover this. They then told us (3) the system needed power flushing for which they would charge over £700; and that (4) despite our being long standing customers, we would have to wait 2 to 3 weeks before this could be done. I did some research and found another engineer; all our system needed to get it working was a new pump, a part costing £60. Needless to say I complained to British Gas and have not used them since. Potential customers should remember they are only in the business to make as much money as possible, not to help customers stay warm.

Boblechien says:
6 July 2012

Try complaining to Ryanair.

Try complaining about Ryanair.

Try just contacting Ryanair. They’ve probably charged me just for writting this.

Suzie in Stoke says:
6 July 2012

try complaining to tesco on line they don’t even acknowledge your email never mind reply.
I havebeen conducting my own survey 000000on this 000000000and 0000000000000010 out of 10 messages are ignored

I’ve used Tesco Online for over fifteen years. Over that time I’ve had occasion to email them on a number of occasions and always I’ve had an automated acknowledgement followed up with a personal response which has resolved any issues.
If you have email problems, they have a very good Customer Service Centre who do their best to help.
Are you using the email address from their Receipt (online@tesco.co.uk)?

I’ve complained to Tesco a couple of times, and although they have sometimes been very slow in responding, they have always responded. My main gripe, though, is that I always contact companies by email, and Tesco was no exception (when I could get hold of an email address, that is). They then respond to me by letter, not just once but three times.

– Once to say they acknowledged that I had made a complaint
– The next time to say that they had investigated my complaint and taken X action
– Finally to tell me that they hoped they had dealt with my complaint successfully

I appreciate the attention but three letters in response to an email is a bit much. Apart from being a waste of paper it’s also a much slower means of communicating with me. Just email me or give me a ring and we can sort things out in five minutes!

We are important says:
6 July 2012

Its much more difficult to complain these days. Companies are bigger and more fragmented making it easy for them to shift the blame to other departments/ 3rd parties. It needs to be addressed because it makes consumers feel helpless.

All opinions are valid – complaints are a necessary process to ensure companies acknowledge problems and make improvements. Complain!! Don’t roll over – do it for those that feel they cant!

Richard says:
6 July 2012

One vendor our company uses has a product that is comprised of component from (at least) two different departments. We had an issue with the product and each department “blamed” the issue on the other. Fortunately we pay a lot of support and have a good “champion” who essentially said that it didn’t matter which component was at fault, the product wasn’t working for the customer. I think normally the customer wouldn’t be aware of the internal issues.

The same should apply to complaining to big companies (our vendor is a big one), it shouldn’t matter which part of the company the fault belongs to, for the customer it’s the company and it’s product. Companies need to ensure that they remember that and route issues properly and keep the customer informed about the status of their complaint.

It’s a waste of time complaining to big companies. Makes no difference. Nobody listens, nobody can be bothered to sort out the problem.

Clive says:
10 July 2012

Went out to eat at a Pizza Express in Southampton. Something I would not normally do but on this occasion I thought oh well their reputation goes before them !!! The staff were very welcoming and prompt at the table drinks were good and again prompt . We ordered a flat based pizza with rocket and tomatoe topping with a ceaser salad dressing.
When it arrived it was a flat pizza base with melted tomatoe that looked a little old with a handfull of rocket popped on top with the dressing dripped around, the tool they gave us to cut it would not cut the pizza it was that tough and the knife and fork same result were the same but we soldiered on pulling it apart with our fingers thinking that this was the way it is.I later complained to their complaints department sombody rang me from the restueraunt and apoligised never heard any more about it so my conclusion is thats the way they do their pizza’s

I was inspired by this Conversation to complain to Amazon about a recently delivery I received, which was both already open on arrival, and delivered 2 days too late (I pay over £40 a year for ‘Prime’ delivery – which should always be next-day).

I complained via ‘live-chat’ and found I was very pleasantly surprised – they gave me an extra month of Prime delivery for free and also gave me a £5 gift voucher by way of an apology. I didn’t have to fight too hard for it, and my little blip with Amazon was soon repaired by their super-quick response.

We have had reason to complain to Amazon about a printer that we have since found out is shown in ‘Which’ reports to be the least reliable of several major manufacturers. After only 18 months the print quality is wholly unacceptable – it began ‘solarising’ photographs and now plain paper prints are the same. Research across the internet indicates that problems with this particular printer are rife. Amazon are insisting that the two year warranty granted by EU directive does not actually give any more rights than the 1 year warranty given by the manufacturer and therefore they ‘can’t support’ us. What is the point of the compulsory two year warranty if you cannot claim against it when a product lasts for only three-quarters through the period? I have never before had a printer that stopped working however old it was and have only ever bought new printers to take advantage of upgraded technology – in this case the wireless function – I have had to revert to using the old printer and thank goodness I kept it! Amazon are in danger of losing my custom altogether, but they are too big to care. But just who can a consumer trust At one time I would have said John Lewis, but having recently discovered that a ‘Solid Oak’ bed bought from one of their stores consists of a large proportion of veneered material and still waiting for their response to my complaint, I just don’t know.

Our hard-working Fellowes office shredder died after we had owned it for over eighteen months of a two-year guarantee. We contacted the firm by phone. A complaint form arrived by fax within the hour, we returned it the same day and a replacement shredder was delivered two days later. No arguing, no quibbling. It’s nice to get service like this once in a while.

Have to post a follow up to my previous moan – John Lewis definitely came through with flying colours in the end. They acknowledged ‘solid oak’ bed was not as described and refunded the money. That is the kind of service that gives me confidence to keep shopping there.

fed up shopper says:
5 November 2014

My complaint is relating to something I thought was outlawed some years ago.
I try to use the £/k but they always mix these up with price per item. The mutipack of quavers was priced per item in the small writing as they don’t really want you looking here. Many of the other mutipacks were £/k. I asked the staff to tell what the £/k was and 3 of them spent 15mins working it out for me. Their calculations were wrong!
The staff had based their sums on the weight of a single bag of quavers as the multi pack only said how many bags were in it, not giving a weight on each of the bags or the overall weight. The bags actually smaller in the multi pack and so once again the word Swindled came to my mind.
Why is shopping so difficult still.
I haven’t even started on these so called special offers which I saw last night which were 10 times more expensive than those not on the offer.
How can I tackle this scullduggery that shoppers are still being subjected to, can anyone advise please.