Restaurant Complaining – Should You Eat Your Words?

23 May

I was interviewed by BBC West Midlands radio the other week and one of the questions that came up was about complaining in restaurants. Now, if complaining is a big deal generally, then complaining in restaurants is the daddy of them all.

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, that simple act of giving and receiving is psychologically akin to having sex. To put it bluntly, if you complain about your food, you are not only shunning the chef, you are indirectly telling them that they are bad in bed.

Gastroporn aside, associations between food and sex are centuries old and well-worn, 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

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

  1. If the above approach is ineffective i.e. 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 Trip Advisor, Square Meal, Time Out et al – or if you are feeling especially creative, sing a song about the restaurant and post it on YouTube.

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

Bon appétit.



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