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.



Morrison Supermarkets PLC.

13 May

Complaint Letter No. 51

Compensation: £5 shopping voucher

Morrison Supermarkets





Dalton Philips Esq.
Chief Executive Officer
Wm Morrison Supermarkets PLC
Hilmore House
Gain Lane
Bradford   BD3 7DL
Dear Mr Philips
I hope you do not mind me contacting you directly.
I write on behalf of a friend, who purchased Morrison’s own brand “Hot Pink” Piping Icing for a fun afternoon’s biscuit-making session with her children. There is a reason for the quotation marks. If the colour of this icing is your idea of hot pink, then I positively dread to think what Morrison’s interpretation of ‘lukewarm’ – or even ‘tepid’ is.
At the end of this letter is a photograph to illustrate the contrast of the hot pink of the packet to the actual Percy Pig pink of the piping icing in question, which is the culinary equivalent of a floppy handshake – or worse.
If you require the original “Hot Pink” Piping Icing tube, do let me know. In the meantime, I look forward to hearing from you.
Yours sincerely
Ingrid Stone
Morrisons Hot Pink Piping Icing

The Response:


 19 May 2014

Dear Ms Stone
Thank you for writing to our Chief Executive, Dalton Philips, who has asked me to respond to you on his behalf.
I am very sorry to learn of your friend’s disappointment with some Morrisons Hot Pink Piping Icing that she recently purchased from us. Please accept my sincere apologies for this.
Our aim at Morrisons is to only offer for sale safe, wholesome, quality food products at affordable prices. Please be assured that this product is purchased from a supplier who has been subject to intense scrutiny to ensure that they are able to meet with our exacting Food Safety requirements prior to their supplying us with their products.
You can be assured that your feedback is very valuable to us and this product will now be closely monitored to ensure that we continue to maintain the highest possible standards that our customers expect.
In the meantime, in light of your concerns, please accept the enclosed shopping voucher on behalf of your friend, as a gesture of goodwill and in recognition of any inconvenience caused in pursuing the matter with us.
I have no hesitation in reiterating my apologies to you both and assure you of our continuing commitment in providing top quality products that please our customers.  I do sincerely hope that it will not deter you from shopping with us again and trust that all your future purchases will be entirely satisfactory.
Yours sincerely
Lorraine Dickinson
Customer Service Manager

The Art Of Complaining: A Podcast for Which? Consumer Rights

12 Mar

The Dissatisfied Woman was delighted to have been invited as a special guest on a podcast to celebrate Which? Consumer Rights website’s first birthday.  You can have a listen here



15 Jan

Available to purchase from Lutyens & Rubinstein bookshop in Notting Hill, Queens Park Books in Queens Park, Lark London in Kensal Rise and West End Lane Books in West Hampstead, London.  Also at The Bookhouse in Thame, Oxfordshire.

Or click here to buy.

Letters Of A Dissatisfied Woman

“The Queen Of Complaints”

– The Daily Mail

Ingrid Stone is a seasoned complainer. She wrote her first complaint letter at the age of eight and over the years has complained about everything from can-openers that should be renamed can’t-openers to cocoa powder that tastes like bad breath.

Every letter is genuine.

The book is beautifully illustrated by Tim Rockins, who has created artwork for everyone – from Gorillaz and Kate Moss to Jake Chapman, Terry de Havilland and Agent Provocateur.

The Queen Of Complaints’ First Ever Complaint Letter (aged 8)

28 Jun

Now beautifully restored and digitally remastered…

First Complaint Letter

Scan 2

Universal Music Group UK Ltd. – 22nd January 2013

21 Jan

Complaint Letter No. 50

Universal Music Group

Max Hole
Chairman & CEO
Universal Music Group UK Ltd.
364-366 Kensington High Street
London W14 8NS
22nd January 2013
Dear Mr Hole
First of all, I would like to congratulate you on your new role at Universal Music Group International.
I am sorry to mar your first month, but I was compelled to write after discovering a typo on my The Very Best of Michael Nyman: Film Music 1980-2001 CD (please see below) that I purchased last month.

The Very Best of Michael Nyman  The Very Best Of Michael Nyman

I appreciate that the CD was produced by Virgin Records, but my understanding is that Virgin Records is now owned by Universal Music Group International.
The music sounds like Michael Nyman all right, but how am I to be sure it is not by someone called Micheal Nyman posing as Mr Nyman himself?  Or perhaps it is like those fake designer handbags so lovingly copied, except for one small slip-up.  I note that the CD cover has the correct spelling.
I should think the real Michael Nyman would be appalled if he knew of this error.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Yours sincerely
Ingrid Stone

To Complain Or Not To Complain

15 Dec

The Dissatisfied Woman was asked by a television company to compile a list of the compensation she has received from her complaint letters. Here it is… 

£30 Virgin Trains vouchers and signed paperback copy of Sir Richard Branson’s autobiography
A3 Jiffy bag full of various Pilot pens – ballpens, fine-liners, fluorescent markers, silver decorative pens
Postal order to cover cost of Aquafresh dental tape
One free night’s stay in one of the Corus Hotel’s executive rooms with breakfast
£50 John Lewis gift vouchers
Personal shopper experience and £100 to spend on clothes at Debenhams
One free Bikram yoga session
£300 Selfridges vouchers
£0.20 token to spend against any purchase of Mars confectionary
£25 credit on my mother’s BT account
One pack of Cobra Beer 5% premium lager
Six complimentary return British Airways Club Europe tickets
A cheque for £350 to cover cost of Sony repair bill
A full repair to Apple MacBook
Case of 6 x 125g Food Thoughts cocoa
£21.72 refund to cover costs for faulty Just Sheepskin booties and postage
Replacement runners for IKEA chest of drawers
£11 refund for Clinique superfine liner for brows
£50 Gap gift certificate
Replacement Culinare Magi-Can can opener
Six boxes Dorset Cereals Simply Delicious Muesli
A selection of Deva glue dots, glue tags, gift bags, wrapping paper
Bonhams refund of full hammer price of £150 including all illustration fees, commission and loss warranty costs
4 x £1 Weetabix vouchers
STV Fly papers and a packet of window fly traps
£5 voucher for Alldays, Always and Tampax
2 x boxes Jelly Belly 10 individual flavours, 2 x boxes Jelly Belly Fruit Bowl, 2 x packets Jelly Belly Fruit Bowl, 2 x Jelly Belly fridge magnets
Replacement Le Creuset butter dish
£10 postal orders
Replacement candle from Archipelago Botanicals, plus an additional candle from the company
£35 Tesco Moneycard

Tesco – 14th October 2012

14 Oct

Complaint Letter: No. 48

Compensation: £35 Tesco Moneycard

Philip Clarke
Group Chief Executive
Tesco PLC
New Tesco House
Delamare Road
Herts EN8 9SL 
14th October, 2012 
Dear Mr Clarke
I recently purchased a 25-pack of your Tesco Party! pearlised balloons.  The colours are lovely and they were absolutely perfect for the Bollywood-themed party I put on in a friend’s garden. 
That delight, however, was short-lived.  Five out of the twenty-five pack of balloons exploded (enclosed) which was most upsetting for the children present.  One of the infants was crying.
I trust your Tesco own-brand condoms are more reliable (let’s hope they are of the Tesco Extra ilk rather than Every little helps”).  As it is, your balloons were something of a let down.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Yours sincerely
Ingrid Stone   


The Response:

Dear Ms Stone

Thank you for your letter addressed to Philip Clarke, to which I have been asked to respond.  Please accept my sincere apologies for the delay in my reply.

I was very sorry to learn of your disappointment with the Tesco 25 Assorted Pearl balloons you purchased and I regret any upset which was caused when five balloons exploded as you were organising a party.

The samples you kindly returned have now been analysed by our Technical Manager for this product range.  She was equally sorry to learn of the problem and has discussed the matter with our supplier.  Please be assured all necessary manufacturing controls will be increased to prevent a similar situation happening again.

It is always disappointing when a customer has cause to complain about any of the products we sell and, as a gesture of goodwill for any upset which has been caused, I have enclosed a £35.00 Tesco Moneycard with my apologies and best wishes.

Thank you for bringing this matter to the attention of the Chief Executive.  Once again please accept my apologies for the delay in my response and any upset caused.

Yours sincerely

Frances Hickling

Chief Executive’s Office


Culinare MagiCan – 14th September 2010

14 Nov

Complaint Letter: No. 13.

Compensation: Replacement Culinare MagiCan can-opener.

Nick Cornwell

Managing Director

DKB Household UK Ltd.

Bridge House

Eelmoor Road


Hampshire GU14 7UE

14th September 2010

Dear Mr Cornwell

I bought the enclosed Culinare MagiCan can-opener from Waitrose last week, as it looked like a good, sturdy product.

The blades cut into the can well, but unfortunately once the cutting has been completed, the can’s plastic ‘legs’ refuse to open and it is virtually impossible to remove the can.  It is especially annoying when trying to remove a tin of tuna fish.  I had this misfortune a couple of days ago, and I quite literally had to force the plastic legs of the can-opener apart. Of course the liquid in which the tuna was contained went everywhere – including over me, with everything smelling of fish, which was most unpleasant.

Not only is the product entirely impractical, it is also dangerous, as in trying to prise open the plastic legs of the can-opener, the consumer’s hand can slip and cut themselves on the tin or the can-opener’s blades in the process.

In fact, with the Culinare MagiCan’s reluctance to give over the can (rather like a dog refusing to let go of a stick), perhaps the product should be renamed a ‘Can’t-opener’ or even a ‘Shan’t-opener’.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely

Ingrid Stone

Northern Tea Merchants – 26th February 2010

14 Nov

Complaint Letter No. 11:

Compensation: Case of six 125g tins of Food Thoughts cocoa

Simon Dunn
Managing Director
Product Chain Ltd.
Unit 5
Beech Court
Wokingham Road
Berks RG10 0RQ

26th February 2010

Dear Mr Dunn

I purchased the enclosed jar of Food Thoughts “The Finest Fairtrade” Cocoa with the idea of making Nigella Lawson’s chocolate orange cake recipe, which requires a large amount of cocoa in its mixture.

It was lucky I sampled the cocoa before making the cake.  In order to make a mug of cocoa (which I was looking forward to), I did as the instructions suggested, and I can only describe the ensuing result as tasting like bad breath.  Had I not sampled the cocoa, I can only imagine that an entire cake would taste like a dentist’s waiting room where the patients are suffering from collective halitosis.  I would have been very embarrassed to serve such a cake to guests.

This is disappointing as I like to support Fairtrade products wherever I can, but unfortunately I must return your product for a full refund.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely

Ingrid Stone

The Response:

9th March 2010

Dear Mrs (sic) Stone

I am today in receipt of your cocoa powder, and I have tried it and made notes.  It appears that your complaint is justified.  The cocoa has above the normal amount of free fatty acids, hence the smell.  This can be called rancidity.  This very rarely occurs in alkalysed cocoa powder that has been correctly produced and handled.  It has no physical difference in appearance to standard cocoa powder, and flows the same through an auger filler.  In short, it is impossible to spot on a packing line.  That is why it is important we use reputable suppliers who produce the cocoa powder in a safe and hygienic manner.

We take great steps to ensure we look after our cocoa powder whilst it is in stock here.  We segregate it completely from other products and handle it in accordance with our independently audited quality manual.  It is imported from one of the largest European processors of cocoa, Messrs Dutch Cocoa, via a reputable importer called HB Ingredients.  I have also sent on the remainder of the cocoa to HB’s Quality Assurance department for further analysis.

Yours is the only complaint we have received on this product from the packing run of 12 pallets (12096 drums) that we packed on 12th and 13th November 2009.  Your tin was packed on the 12th and my packing records show nothing other than a problem-free packing run.  I can only hope that we receive no more complaints and yours is an isolated one.

I have arranged from a packing run we are carrying out today for a case of 6 x 125g Food Thoughts Cocoa to be sent to you.  I hope you will agree when you are trying it again that it is indeed an excellent quality Fairtrade product.  I personally love the brownies and chocolate cake it makes.  We actually use it for all the chocolate cakes we make in our cafe!  (Please see our website on

If I can be of any further service to you then please do not hesitate to contact me.

Yours sincerely


James Pogson