Should you complain at a restaurant? (part 1 of 2)

6 12 2007

My wife and I rarely go on dates. When we do, our favorite thing to do is eat. It doesn’t have to be an expensive place, we just like good food. One evening we visited a fairly new restaurant founded by two well-known restauranteurs in San Antonio, so we expected the experience to be great. I ordered a typical Mexican pork dish that I am very familiar with, and my wife tried an enchilada plate with a sweet potato sauce. The enchiladas were fantastic. My dish, however, didn’t taste good at all. But it was edible, you know? I ate it all, no big deal. However, while taking our plates, the waiter asked “How was everything?”

What do I do? Nothing, and try to forget the whole experience and never return again? Should I spout off a lengthy diatribe about how they have ruined my date and wasted my money and blah, blah, blah? Or should I honestly let him know what I think?

Problems at restaurants are not isolated to dissatisfaction with food, however. We have all experienced bad service, long waits, rude staff, and lack of value. What many people don’t realize, however, is that we have a decision to make. Whether to keep quiet and never come back, or give the restaurant the benefit of the doubt and see what happens when we complain.

I usually choose the latter, and almost always with satisfactory results.

The first thing you need to realize is this: You are paying your hard-earned money in return for food that should be cooked to your liking, within reason, of course. You deserve to get what you pay for. Now, the definition for “reasonable” is subjective and everyone has different perceptions and expectations. Nevertheless, I will assume that you, as my readers, are all “reasonable” consumers and, therefore, have the right to express your displeasure if your experience at a restaurant is not to your liking.

The fact is that most restaurants want to know if there is a problem. No business can afford to lose valuable customers, especially when it has the ability to make amends. I read somewhere that it is estimated that only 1 in 20 customers will complain at a restaurant. Imagine how much business is being lost because we don’t open our mouths to let the management know there is a problem, and they have the means to fix it.

However, an interesting study I read showed that about 60% of people will return to a restaurant when their service issue is resolved, and close to 100% of people will return if the problem is solved to their satisfaction and done quickly. Imagine that! That means that if you and I just let the restaurant know we have a problem, if we just give them the opportunity to act, the likelihood that we will be so satisfied as to return is almost certain. I have found that to be true in my own experiences.

It turns out that the kitchen used the wrong base for the sauce in my dish. The manager agreed that the taste was off and apologized for the experience. He asked what could be done to make it up and I politely asked for two cups of coffee and a dessert to share (nothing outrageous here). Not only did they gladly honor my request, they surprised me by not charging me for my dish.

Would I return to this restaurant? 100% absolutely, with recommendations.

Have you complained at a restaurant? What happened? Did you go back?

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