/ Travel & Leisure

Restaurant complaining: should you eat your words?

Angry woman in restaurant

If complaining is a big deal generally, then complaining in restaurants is the daddy of them all. Here’s our guest author Ingrid Stone with her tips on how best to complain when a restaurant meal goes wrong.

There’s a wonderful, albeit soup-spilling chapter in celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential called From Our Kitchen To Your Table, which describes some of the more dubious tricks of the culinary trade that certain (I’m not saying all) eating establishments employ. And then there was the TV series Restaurants From Hell, where complaining customers were served up somewhat unsavoury plates of revenge. Luckily, we have the Food Standards Agency, but the possibility, no matter how remote, of having our bavette wiped on someone’s bottom continues to haunt us.

Let’s face it, cooking food for another person is an emotional exchange so it’s little wonder people feel awkward about complaining in restaurants. Oh horror, if you complain about your food, you’re not only shunning the chef, you are indirectly telling them they are bad in bed.

Top tips for restaurant complaints

So how do you go about complaining when the tasting menu isn’t quite up to scratch?

1. To quote James Brown – get on the good foot. Restaurant people work hard, so begin by establishing a positive relationship with the waiting staff. Flatter them by asking what they like to eat, what wine they recommend. Showing that you care tells the staff that you not only value their opinion, it also matters what is on your plate.

2. Be nice – and it’s an obvious one, but make eye contact and smile. It is surprising how many customers abandon all common decency when their head is buried in a menu. Heck, you might even be rewarded with a digestif on the house for your efforts.

3. Now that you have created a basic rapport with the staff, you will not be considered a nuisance figure should you need to voice any concerns (politely of course) about your meal. Done respectfully, the restaurant might even welcome your feedback. It gives them the opportunity to make things better – not only for you, but for their other customers.

4. If the waiting staff cannot help, ask to speak to the manager. Use the bonding techniques as described.

5. If the above approach is ineffective ie. the restaurant/bar/café doesn’t give a monkey’s, you are fully permitted to share your annoyance to the max. The entire viral world is your oyster, so to speak. Tweet about your bad experience and post photographs of your sloppy meal, leave damning reviews on Time Out, Trip Advisor, Square Meal et al – or if you are feeling especially creative, sing a song about the restaurant and post it on YouTube.

6. Finally – do not ever, ever complain about a meal after eating everything on your plate; that really is taking the biscuit.

Bon appétit.

This is a guest post from Ingrid Stone and was originally published on her blog Letters of a Dissatisfied Woman.


For some insight on how some customers behave there are some interesting stories here


Hi Nick, care to elaborate on what’s discussed in that blog?

Well it speaks for itself, I’m not sure what you want me to say. I pointed it out because I though some might find it interesting or amusing.

Loved reading the blog post and the customer is not always right. I used to work as a waitress to supplement my meagre income when I was a student back home in Norway and I lost count of how many people had the guts to complain AFTER they had eaten all the food on their plate. When I politely queried what was wrong with it, I used to get responses like ‘it was too cold’, ‘too bland’ or ‘too spicy’ etc. and when I pointed out with a smile on my face that they should have told me straight away the list of excuses were equally amusing.

the biggest worry when complaining in a restaurant is if you are going to consume the food that comes back after you complain about it. if you ate half then complain and leave then fair enough but who knows what the added ingredient will be to your meal when you get it back and the waitress gives you that Jack Nicholson “here’s johnny,” face from The Shining.

Jill Kuiper says:
19 July 2014

We all welcome constructive criticism in the food trade, this is how we perfect what we do. However, there are many people who do not complain, consume all their food and leave without a hint of there having been any problem with their meal, until you see a new posting from TripAdvisor or some such, really being very negative about their experience at your establishment. This is the cowards way out and unacceptable behaviour. It is also common knowledge that about 96% of anything published on TripAdvisor is bogus anyway. So my recommendation is – please give us constructive criticism and we will do everything in our power to rectify the matter and by the way it has never occurred to me to do a nasty to anybody’s meal if they complain, my business is too important to do that. Oh and by the way, whilst on the subject, if you really enjoy your meal hugely, why don’t you post something positive somewhere like TripAdvisor – why should these websites always brandish negatives.

Michael says:
20 July 2014

I contribute to Trip Advisor and I am not sure about your 95% statement as all the reviews that I have contributed to are about right. I am not a culinary expert nor wine either. However I do recognise good bad or indifferent service.

My overview of service in GB is, I know this is a sweeping statement, I think people confuse giving service with servitude.

My age is 68 and quite well travelled and experienced a lot of cultures to give my comments some framework in which I make these comments.

Jill Kuiper says:
21 July 2014

Hi Michael – I do agree that TripAdvisor can be a useful tool, if managed correctly. However, it should be something that a business owner should be able to choose to join. Being “bullied” into something is never a good idea.

Stephen Baxter says:
29 September 2014

Trip Advisor is a powerful took in assessing the quality of a restaurant. Pro-active restaurants seek feedback directly from their customers and act upon this feedback.

David says:
21 July 2014

When I have to complain about food in a restaurant, I wait until I have finished eating and after I’ve paid the full amount of the bill. I politely tell the waiter exactly what is causing me to complain, I never accept a reduction of the bill or a free anything, and I leave asking the waiter to pass on the information to the manager.

The restaurant staff will either learn from this or not as the case may be, but it won’t matter to me as it will now be a point of principle never to eat there again. Since customers complaining irritates restaurant staff and makes them very defensive, only having fewer customers will improve standards in British restaurants.