/ Food & Drink, Travel & Leisure

What would it take for you to complain about a restaurant?


Poor service? Cold food? Food poisoning? My recent rodent experience forced me to take action and call Environmental Health, but maybe I should have just checked the restaurant’s hygiene rating beforehand?

Last week my lovely colleagues took me out to a fancy restaurant to celebrate my birthday. The place looked fabulous – it was well decorated, the waiters were smart and attentive and the menu looked delicious.

As the starter arrived my mouth was watering. But as I took my first bite, my friend Hollie shrieked. She’d spotted a rodent running across the floor and my other friend had felt it run over her foot.

Not only were we all pretty disgusted, but Hollie suffers from a phobia of rodents. We left swiftly and thankfully didn’t have to pay the bill for our uneaten food.

Complaining can cause change

Before we left I had a word with the manager. She offered to show us their pest control records – unnecessary seeing as whatever action they were taking clearly wasn’t working. She also took my contact details so I expected to hear from them shortly to apologise about the situation.

Sadly, I haven’t heard anything. However, I did email Environmental Health and was impressed that they responded quickly, sending an inspector to the restaurant the very next day.

They found ‘low levels of mouse droppings’. As a result of the visit various actions are being taken to stop the rodent problem, although the restaurant didn’t get shut down. The officer has also assured me that he will carry out a surprise inspection on the restaurant to monitor its progress.

I was pleased to learn that complaining can change things for the better. Hopefully the restaurant will sort out its problem, ensuring that it’s safe and hygienic in the future.

What are your rights?

Was it just down to the restaurant’s good will that we didn’t have to pay? I thought so, but our senior solicitor Joanne Lezemore had this to say:

‘When you go into a restaurant you enter into a contract – it is implied that all aspects of the service will be carried out with reasonable care and skill. Part of this would be the implied term that the restaurant would be fit for its purpose – to eat in – and for these reasons it could be argued they were in breach of contract. So you should not have had to pay, even if you were asked to do so.’

If something equally disgusting happens to you check out our guide to your restaurant rights so that you know who to complain to.

Would you research a restaurant before booking?

Of course it’s also possible to do your research and try to avoid a situation like that in the first place. Which? has long campaigned for restaurant hygiene scores to be public – and it’s finally happening. With hindsight, we should have looked at the score for this restaurant before we chose it, because it was only given two out of five. As a bench mark, three stars means that a restaurant is broadly compliant with hygiene standards.

The Food Standards Agency has now launched a national hygiene ratings scheme to ensure a common approach. We want all local authorities to use the same scheme and restaurants to display their ‘scores on the doors’ too.

So what would it take for you to complain? Have you experienced a similar situation – and will it encourage you to check a restaurant’s hygiene rating before you book a table?

Sophie Gilbert says:
9 December 2011

I’m a wimp, I wouldn’t complain, I would just never set foot in the place again and tell everyone I know the reason why whenever the subject cropped up.

Why wouldn’t you feel able to complain Sophie? Having worked in many restaurants I have quite high expectations now – after all, if you’re paying for food and service than they should get it right. I’ll happily complain if something hasn’t been right, although it is more awkward when you’re out on a special as you don’t want to ruin the atmosphere!

Sophie Gilbert says:
12 December 2011

I dislike direct confrontation, which I would feel complaigning there and then at the restaurant would be. That’s why I appreciate websites such as Tripadvisor or the List, which allow me to make a complaint, or indeed to praise, both of which I have done, from the comfort of distance. I should have expanded on what I said, sorry.

I complained once by letter to a coffee shop, John Lewis in Edinburgh. Their coffee shop at the top seems to be in a nearly permanently dirty state: lots of tables left uncleared and unwiped, lots of crumbs on the floors and chairs, dirty trays left lying around by customers. They sent me back an apologetic letter, but appear to have done nothing about the nature of the complaint itself. I went back to the coffee shop early one Sunday morning a few weeks later and the floors didn’t look as if they’d been cleaned since the day before. When I asked a member of staff to clear the table I had chosen to sit at (fantastic view over North Edinburgh and Fife), she lifted the cutlery that was lying on it and wiped the square inches where it had been and no more. I won’t describe the expression on her face. I should have asked to see a manager there and then, but, as I say, I’m a wimp, so I chose instead never to set foot in the place again, and to let people know of my experience at every appropriate opportunity.

I can definitely understand that, and I think they might take it more seriously if you take the time to write, making it more official. I had a similar experience at the doctor’s recently when the receptionist was really rude. I mentioned it to the doctor, but they brushed me off, obviously not wanting to discuss it, so I stupidly didn’t take it any further! It’s easy to lose your confidence and convince yourself that you’re overreacting!

I agree with Sophie. I do not like confrontation or embarrassment. Furthermore I do not like to criticise anyone in front of customers or other staff. I would like all staff to identified by name or number and comment cards available, so that I can provide feedback (whether negative, positive or both) at a later date.

My embarrassment extends to tipping and it is about time that all staff are properly paid, but that is getting off topic.

Adrian Underhill says:
9 December 2011

The National Food Hygiene Rating Scheme will nver be fully effective until they make displaying the certificate compulsory.

I’m the same as Sophie, and frequently get told off by my sister because I won’t make a fuss in a restaurant if something’s wrong. “But you work for Which?!! You should be good at complaining and getting things fixed!” True, but for some reason it feels much harder in a restaurant. I often wonder if it’s a hangup from childhood politeness – you don’t want to complain about food because when someone cooks for you you should be grateful! I’ve sat through awful meals and never said anything, I’d just make sure I didn’t go back. But I am trying to get better at complaining – after all, if you don’t tell the restaurant something’s wrong they won’t be able to change it.

I think if I actually saw rodents in a restaurant, though, that might push me just far enough to actually speak up and say something – I don’t have a phobia of them, but the idea of them being in a restaurant, where I’m eating, is disgusting.

My concern is not rodents in restaurants but the risk of food poisoning, since there is no way of being sure that food has been stored and prepared safely or what the state of the kitchen is.

I might change my view if I saw a mouse.

Well – being vegetarian, the food I am served with often leaves a lot to be desired. I don’t see it as complaining, when I mention this, but as helping the restaurant to be a better service to its customers. How do they know otherwise? Of course some do know and don’t care.

My friend and I live near Worthing. We went for lunch to the Fox pub in Patching, which has a good reputation. She found a hair in her food, which is not only unpleasant, but she suffers from trichophobia. She took it back and the person behind the bar said words to the effect of Oh yes, I think it is a hair. No apology, no offer of refund or another meal. It put me off as well. When the waiter came for my plate, which still had food on, I said that I didn’t want it because of the hair my friend found in hers. He just took it away and said nothing. Waiting for an apology was in vain. So I wrote to them. No reply.
We never went again. I now call the pub “The Fox and Hair”

Sophie Gilbert says:
13 December 2011


Christine Seagroatt says:
9 March 2020

Went to a new hotel restaurant in London yesterday for for their buffet Sunday lunch. We had a drink at the bar and the bill showed 12.50% service charge had been added. When my friend took the service charge off the bill the barman queried it my friend said she will leave a tip as service charge was optional. Barman was not very happy at all and would not accept her tip. He was insulted even though it said on the bill service charge was optional. it was included in the total amount and watching other customers they never looked at their bill but I’m sure will have a surprise when they did.