As I pointed out in my previous “complaining” post, I have found that restaurants want to know if you are dissatisfied and will normally bend over backwards to ensure your problem is fixed and guarantee your return. But how do you complain? For many people initiating conflict is uncomfortable. It is much easier just to keep quiet and leave. However, there are three (3) easy steps you can take to make this action non-confrontational and benefit both you and the establishment. I strongly believe there is a definite etiquette involved when complaining, so pay attention.
- First of all, act immediately, and not when the bill arrives. By that time it is too late since the restaurant will be very limited in the actions they can take.
- If the food is not hot (as long as its not gazpacho) you will know as soon as it arrives.
- If it does not taste good, you will realize this on your first bite. Don’t wait until you’ve finished your dish to complain. If the bad taste is caused by something not described in the menu (like spiciness), then register your complaint and ask for it to be modified or ask for a different dish altogether. If you simply do not like the taste, most restaurants will allow you to order something else without charging for the extra plate (ask first). You won’t know unless you ask.
- If the food takes too long, speak up before it arrives. If you and your partner’s food arrives at different times speak to the waiter right away and ask for the other meal. If the delay causes your food to get cold ask for both plates to be taken back and brought at the same time, hot. You want to give the restaurant plenty of opportunity to fix the problem or make amends.
- If you don’t like where you are sitting, mention it immediately.
- Smoking too close? Say something.
- If the food is not cooked properly, mention it to your waiter immediately.
- If the wait staff is rude, ask to speak with a manager or owner immediately and be specific about what happened.
- Don’t like that bottle of wine you ordered? Say something. If it is obviously corked (spoiled), this won’t be a problem. If you just don’t like it, the restaurant will probably reuse it and sell it by the glass anyway.
- Second, and most importantly, be calm and objective. You will be less likely to get what you want if you are rude or aggressive (in fact, you may get some “special sauce” from the server’s friends in the kitchen). In addition, this is a problem between you and the restaurant, not the other patrons. Don’t disturb their visit with your loud complaining (that’s just wrong). Simply explain the problem.
- Third, suggest a resolution that matches your complaint. Again, the request should be reasonable. Many times, an apology will suffice. Having your meal re-cooked is sometimes appropriate. Most of the time, I let the staff make a suggestion. I was once made to wait over an hour to be seated with my three young children after being told the wait was less then 30 minutes. The food was good, and worth the wait, but I said something anyway. I asked the manager if she would give us two desserts to make up for it and not only did she oblige, she asked us to call her personally the next time we planned to visit and she would put our name on the waiting list.
- Take it to the next level if your complaint falls on deaf ears.
- Reduce the tip if all else fails. However, be sure to differentiate between a problem with the restaurant and a problem with the wait staff. Your waiter may be doing everything possible to help you out but to no avail. I think a tip here is still appropriate.
- Tell your friends about your experience, whether good or bad. Word of mouth is a powerful tool, and the restaurant needs it if you had a good experience. If you had a bad experience and the establishment did nothing to fix the problem then everyone should know about it.
- Lastly, compliment. I make it a point to tell the manager if my server displayed excellent service (they deserve the kudos and a good tip). If the food was exceptional make sure you tell the waiter. If it blew your mind then you should tell the manager or ask to speak with the chef directly. To be honest, I probably compliment more than I complain. If your experience is good, say so.
(I know I said 3 steps but you see 7 numbers here. In reality, only the first three are needed for the complaint. The next four are all follow-ups.)
By the way, understand that mistakes are made. A good measure of any business is what they do to correct their mistakes. There are numerous forums out there in which restaurant owners wished their patrons would just say something. Give it a try, you might be surprised.