Restaurant complaint etiquette
April 22, 2017 1:09 PM   Subscribe

There are a wide range of items one could potentially have issue with while dining out. Which complaints warrant mentioning to the wait staff or manager and which do not?

I realize that a dining experience is very contextual and the venue will dictate expectations to a large part, but let's say you are in an expensive restaurant. It's very bad form to send a bottle of wine back because you don't like it and should only do so when it's off. Very slow service may be worth a mention? How about small portions in a place that doesn't generally do that? What complaints have you overheard that were cringe worthy? What complaints do you regret not verbalizing? Where does one draw the line? What complaints are not to be verbalized even though it's tempting?
posted by waving to Food & Drink (50 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I would draw the line at "is this a possible health and safety concern?" and then not worry about whether it's too appropriate or not, because, well, it's something they should know about.
posted by aniola at 1:55 PM on April 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

Unless the food or service are actually putting me or others in danger, I'm probably not saying anything. I might ask the server to check on the order if it seems that, based on the fact that every table that arrived after me has not only been served but is already on dessert, that they might have forgotten to send my order to the kitchen, and I would ask for the right food if I was served something I didn't order, but that's about it. If it's a restaurant I love that's having a very off night, or if it's a small place where the owner is doing everything and/or I'm fairly sure that the people who work there are in it for a career and not just a job, I might send an email. Certainly not an online review. I'm not trying to shame anyone, or get anything for free - if I have feedback that I think could actually help someone who would want to be helped, I'll share it privately.

If it's a chain and/or if it's just a mediocre place where staff are making minimum wage or close to it, doing their best to pay the bills, I'll just... not come back. The "manager" is probably making less than the tipped staff and I'm not going to torture them by making them pretend to care that a $10 bottle of wine marked up to £30 tastes like £10 wine. What do I get out of it? I feel like a jerk, the manager has an even more stressful night, and all I get in return is a slightly cheaper bill? Not worth the trouble.
posted by cilantro at 1:57 PM on April 22, 2017 [17 favorites]

I cringe at most complaints I overhear. You assume a certain set of risks when you dine out-- you might not like the food, portions, prices, or service.

I think there are times you can politely communicate to your server that you're in a hurry, that you can't eat pepper, etc. But complaining seems a bit much for everything you've mentioned.
posted by kapers at 2:05 PM on April 22, 2017 [4 favorites]

As a single diner, I find that a lot of places try to seat me next to the bathrooms or kitchen. This is understandable when the place is busy, but when they're near empty? I ask for a different seat.
posted by easily confused at 2:06 PM on April 22, 2017 [21 favorites]

Things I would / have spoken up about, politely but firmly:

-health/safety things, obviously
-I once spoke up after having been seated for over 20 minutes without anyone coming to give us menus
-another time, we had been in the restaurant for over an hour with no food in sight yet (we had only allotted 1.5 hours for dinner, which had seemed plenty for the type of restaurant it was); we ended up leaving and getting takeout somewhere else because the food still wasn't ready when we asked about it
-receiving the wrong food; an element of the meal missing

Things that have / would make me cringe when others mention them:

-portion size
-food not quite to someone's taste
-food not hot enough (unless it's really egregious like hot soup actually being cold)
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 2:13 PM on April 22, 2017 [12 favorites]

I've only ever called a waiter or manager over to complain twice in my life, and both times were because there was something seriously wrong with the food. The first time, my companion bit into a burger, winced, and pulled a piece of metal wire out of his mouth. The second time, there was what I'm 99% sure was a fingernail sticking out of the breading of my fried chicken.

Service issues I'm more willing to give the benefit of the doubt. If I've been waiting an abnormally long time for my food or something, I might flag someone down and ask for an update, but I'd never outright complain.
posted by darkchocolatepyramid at 2:21 PM on April 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

I almost never complain about anything to restaurant staff, and in fact I often encourage others not to bother too. In my opinion, complaining seldom works out to anyone's real benefit, and all parties usually end up feeling worse with the complaint process than they would if they could manage to ignore and move on.

Recently I was dining with my mother-in-law at a pretty nice Italian joint. She complained to us that her pasta was too salty, that she wanted to send it back. I asked to try a bite, and agreed it was rather salty. But I didn't want to mess around with the time it would take, the awkwardness, how that would make her sit and watch us eat ,or us wait too and let our get cold. It just seemed to mess up the whole evening. So I offered to switch dishes with her and she agreed.

Boy, was I wrong! That pasta just got saltier and saltier, to the point where it was nearly unbearable. I suffered through a $35 pasta dish that most people wouldn't touch, and in hindsight, she was right, and I should have stayed out of it: that pasta was really bad- -someone messed up, and the restaurant needed to know so they could fix it, and nobody should pay that much for past that bad. (N.b. all the other dishes were very tasty. I think 98% of Americans would agree this dish was too salty, 85% would say insanely too salty. Imagine tablespoons were added rather than teaspoons, or worse. )
posted by SaltySalticid at 2:25 PM on April 22, 2017 [25 favorites]

Extraordinarily slow service. If I don't have a drink within 20 minutes of sitting down, that's about as long as it'll take for me to complain.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 2:34 PM on April 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

I have complained about drinks a few times that I found undrinkable - like a tequila cocktail that had Serrano pepper in it and was really spicy. I've only done this when the drinks were in the $12-15 range - if I'm going to spend that much on a drink, I'd like to not hate it! Each of those times the server has graciously offered to have a different drink made and I tipped extra, and it wasn't weird or awkward (probably because the servers were really professional).

The only other times I've complained were when I got the wrong thing (and honestly, if the thing I got instead was fine, I haven't always complained) or on the few occasions when I had a piece of metal or a little pebble in my food.
posted by lunasol at 2:37 PM on April 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

Eponysterical, SaltySalticid!

Loud Muzak that impedes conversation will get a request from me. What follows may get me drummed out of MetaFilter, but the thing I struggle with is whether to speak to a manager about intervening when other guests are interfering with diners' enjoyment, like, say, a raucous batchelor party. I never say anything to the servers, because their tips are in jeopardy, but I think asking the manager to have a quick word with the perpetrators is ok. Usually people just don't realize that they've gotten loud and recalibrate their voices immediately. But the worst is a family with screaming babies or children who are being allowed to run around the restaurant. I'm sympathetic, but if it's a special occasion place I don't think the kids should be allowed to dominate--ruin, actually--everyone else's meal. That kind of entitled behavior by the parents should be called out. It's possible to encourage the parents to take the kid(s) outside until they calm down with sympathy, kindness and tact.

Today I was attended a funeral that was ruined by a screaming baby coupled with an inadequate sound system--the combination meant that no one could hear any of the speakers--so this issue probably has special salience (ha!) for me today.
posted by carmicha at 2:48 PM on April 22, 2017 [12 favorites]

If I'm dining alone, I will get up and leave if the waiter hasn't stopped by my table within 20 minutes of being seated; it's doubtful the experience will get better from there.

The one time I semi-regret not saying anything: while dining out with another couple at a restaurant they loved, I ordered the same fish entree as one of my dining companions. She raved about her meal, however, my filet had gone over, tasted of ammonia, had clearly been rinsed in milk to mask the odor, and was inedible. I pushed it around on my plate rather than sending it back because I didn't want my dining companion to feel bad about her recommendation or enjoyment of her own meal. I was annoyed that someone in the kitchen knew the filet was stinky enough to need a milk bath yet sent it out anyway. I don't know, under the circumstances it felt like it was the courteous thing to do, not bringing this to the attention of the waiter but I was hungry through the rest of the evening's activities. I've never come up with a way I could have gracefully avoided that outcome so I've been ambivalent about it since.
posted by jamaro at 2:58 PM on April 22, 2017 [5 favorites]

Single diners coming back from using the bathroom (having left their coat at their seat) to find that their unfinished plates and glasses have been cleared away by busstaff who couldn't bother to find out if the diner had actually paid their bill and left.

Being harassed by restaurant staff.
posted by brujita at 3:04 PM on April 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

Things I will complain about.

Food not cooked as requested. ie well done steak when wanted med rare. Pasta undercooked
Dirty menus/table/utensils.
Food served cold/warm when it's supposed to be hot or visa versa or meal incomplete.
Rude service.

Things I won't complain about.

Slow service on a crazy busy night.
Noisy restaurants I won't even sit down in. Socializing is a big part of why I eat out, if I can't easily talk to the people I'm with for the most part I can't see any point in being there.

I was raised in a family that worked hospitality. Most staff want you to enjoy yourself. Politely but firmly raising a problem & asking for a reasonable solution (ie none of this I want a comped meal after eating half of it bs) is usually OK by staff if the complaint is justified. Again it's the basic rule of life. Don't be a dick. But most staff I've known over the years, just want to work with the customer to make sure both the customer & the staff has as smooth a night as possible, think of it as a team working with you & not minions you order around and you'll have better luck working out what's OK to complain about.
posted by wwax at 3:07 PM on April 22, 2017 [10 favorites]

I worked as a server for years. Things I would speak to staff about: potential health and safety regulations (undercooked food, dirty food), getting something other than what I ordered. Things I would get up and leave about: waiting more than 10-15 minutes with no one coming over to greet you/deliver menus/ask about drinks. Things that I wouldn't complain about but would make me not go back: long wait times for food, poor service, low value for money. Things that don't warrant complaint: portion size, food/drink that I don't like the taste of but has nothing wrong with it.
posted by emd3737 at 3:08 PM on April 22, 2017 [9 favorites]

Waitstaff trying to take unfinished plates and glasses AS they are asking if the diner is finished BEFORE WAITING for a reply.
posted by brujita at 3:11 PM on April 22, 2017

... huh. If something's not hot enough I do ask the waiter to pop it back on the flattop or whatever. I'm not rich, eating out is a splurge for me, and temperature a fixable thing that is going to make or break the meal for me.

I guess my rule is to "complain" about something that it's reasonable to expect them to fix - and I guess I don't view that as complaining, as much as requesting the fix. And if there's something so wrong with the food that it's inedible, I'll send it back. I know the difference between something that's improperly prepared vs personal taste. The other day I sent something back because it was wildly oversalted, and the waitress told me later that they tasted it in the kitchen after I sent it back and were mortified it had gone out that way. I wouldn't have been doing anyone any favors to not tell them.

I agree with whoever said that if the waiter hasn't been by in 15-20 minutes of you being seated, you should just leave. Something's wrong and it isn't going to get better.
posted by fingersandtoes at 3:15 PM on April 22, 2017 [10 favorites]

I wouldn't complain about a mistake by the staff which has no health and safety consequences and which doesn't inconvenience or upset me. But if there was an error with the food, I'd discuss it with the staff. The last time this happened they brought something different from what I'd ordered. I can't have anything that contains alcohol, and I explained to the waiter that this wasn't what I'd ordered, but if the chef could confirm there was no alcohol in it, I'd be happy to eat it, as it looked delicious. It caused something of an unnecessary furore in the kitchen apparently, and it took way too long for me to get an answer to what should have been a fairly simple question.

Another time, I was at an office lunch at a very fancy restaurant. I'd ordered terrine to start and I found the tiniest piece of cling film on the side of my slice of terrine. It'd been used to line the terrine mould, and must have been missed when the terrine was sliced. It wasn't a problem, I just moved it to the side of the plate and enjoyed the terrine. Because this was a work function and I was with some very senior colleagues in a high-end restaurant, I didn't think it was worth mentioning.

At the end of the meal, the maître d came over to our table and said "who had the plastic on their food?" I raised my hand and he apologised profusely and said my entire meal was comped. My boss told me afterwards that her boss (who'd organised the meal) had been impressed that I'd not made a fuss about it at the time, so it worked out well for me really.
posted by essexjan at 3:20 PM on April 22, 2017 [3 favorites]

I have sent back undercooked chicken (still pink! ick!) and a pasta dish with a cream based sauce that had congealed - I suspect it had been sitting under the heat lamps waiting for everyone else's meals to be ready and the sauce just wasn't meant to survive that.

I am always pleasant and reasonable when dealing with these things. Some times things just go wrong - they're usually easy to fix, and I don't consider that kind of thing to really be a complaint.

I have made a complaint about service once or twice. The most recent was at restaurant where my social group goes once a month. We always ask for the dishes to be brought out as we order, rather than waiting for the whole table, but it still took 45 minutes for my meal to come and this happened on multiple visits. If it was just a once off, I wouldn't have mentioned it, but it was happening regularly, and to multiple people, so I spoke to management. My dessert was comped and the next time we were there, all the meals were delivered more quickly. Happy with that outcome! Due to logistics, it wasn't going to be easy to change locations, so the group is pleased we can keep going there.
posted by eloeth-starr at 4:25 PM on April 22, 2017

Loud Muzak that impedes conversation will get a request from me.

I do make it a point to complain whenever I hear Starship's We Built This City, which has happened three times in the past ten years. Seriously, there ought to be a law.

And one time at Dennys, I got some fried chicken that wasn't actually cooked inside. Other than that, I tend to just bite my lip and take note.
posted by philip-random at 4:25 PM on April 22, 2017 [3 favorites]

I'm not a big complainer, but I complained the other day because a take-out joint forgot part of my order. They were really sweet about it.

Many I've gotten something that wasn't quite what I ordered (maybe I asked for potatoes on the side and they gave me broccoli), but I was too hungry to send it back and wait for them to fix it, and I was happy enough with broccoli, so I ate it anyway.

If it takes a very long time for food to come out, I'll mention it.

I try to be super nice when I have to complain and probably apologize even when I don't realize I'm doing it. "I'm so sorry, it's been about 30 minutes, do you know when the food will be out?" I know it's probably not the fault of the person I'm talking to, and even if it is - well, I briefly tried to waitress and I sucked at it. But even when I was sucking at it I was doing the best I knew to do, and didn't deserve to be sneered at or intimidated. They don't either.
posted by bunderful at 5:06 PM on April 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

I have a food sensitivity to a common ingredient that's often added as a garnish. I ask specifically for this ingredient not to be added, and the server always acknowledges this. About 20% of the time, the food comes doused in this ingredient and I have to ask for a new one. The server apologizes; somehow there was a miscommunication with whoever is adding last minute touches in the kitchen.
A friend I eat out with has a gluten intolerance. I was with her a couple of years ago when she ordered a hamburger with no bun. It came with a bun, and she asked for a replacement (she can't even have it touch the meat.) The server said, "I'm sorry, but we can't substitute, and you have to get the bun." I still say in randomly absurd moments, "You have to get the bun."
NB, I was a server all through high school, college and grad school. Asking nicely for something to be corrected when you've already specified is, in my opinion, fine. The reason you're paying so much more for this food than you would at home is because you're being taken care of.
posted by flourpot at 5:11 PM on April 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

I've complained when there were multiple pieces of broken glass on my pizza. (I complained first to the waitress, who pretty much shrugged, then to the Health Department the next day.) Obviously, I never went back to that place.

When I order, I tell waiters I have X food intolerances and Y food allergies, and can they confirm that Z food won't contain them? If Z food DOES come out with them, I send it back and ask for a version that won't make me ill.

I will politely check on my food or drink order if it's been more than 30 minutes, because that usually means it has been accidentally lost - eg the cash register sends the order to the kitchen printer wirelessly, and the printer paper got jammed, or the printer ran out of paper. But I won't frame this as a complaint, but as a calm, friendly "Hey, just checking on my [food/drink]?"
posted by Sockpuppets 'R' Us at 5:54 PM on April 22, 2017 [3 favorites]

I had super slow service the other night and did not complain. Because of our patience, they offered to give us free dessert, but since I had been ready to go home about 45 minutes earlier, I thanked them and asked if they would be willing to comp appetizers instead. Done!

I usually complain if I get a wrong item or something not prepared how I requested (mostly due to food allergies).

I am actually not a complainer though...I negotiate. Lol. There is never any shame in asking for something as long as it's done respectfully and kindly and knowing that part of asking is giving the other party the option of saying no.
posted by floweredfish at 6:43 PM on April 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

If the food is not to taste, I'll let them know why after making it clear that I'm not looking for a comp or discount. How else are they going to correct problems if they don't know they exist? Simply not going back after bad experiences doesn't let them know what specifically they need to do better with.

This is especially true with expensive places - you're paying an exceptional amount for an exceptional experience. Why would you not expect what you're paying for? I'm not going to bust someone's chops if the $7 lasagna at the neighborhood place is so-so, but if I'm paying $40 for it I'm going to expect it to be well crafted and prepared.
posted by Candleman at 6:59 PM on April 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

The only times I've ever complained or sent food back was twice when chicken was still pink and bleeding in the middle, and once when a lasagne was stone cold in the centre.

I dined recently with a friend who made me cringe and feel like I can never go back to the restaurant, though. There was a dish on the menu that came in two versions, was also a relatively common dish, and the more expensive one was well described - imagine something like:
Caesar salad $7
Jane's special Caesar salad with smoked chicken and our special spicy sauce $15

She ordered 'The Caesar Salad' (and paid $7 - it was the sort of place you pay up front). When it came out, she called the waiter back over and said, "I thought this had smoked chicken?" I nudged her and said that was 'Jane's special Caesar salad' and she'd only ordered the regular 'Caesar'. The waiter was very kind, however, and took her plate away and made it up again with the smoked chicken and spicy sauce without charging extra. THEN she called them over again to complain that it was too spicy, and she didn't like spicy food. (And she offered the croutons and egg slices around the table, saying she didn't like that sort of thing, so I don't know what she was doing ordering a Caesar salad in the first place really).
posted by lollusc at 7:01 PM on April 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

At a place where we are Extreme Regulars I have (kindly, respectfully, apologetically), asked for something to be done about

1) food served not at temperature

2) food served in a way the kitchen and management wouldn't be proud of (like: weird crusty hard black beans inside the burrito I have had 100 times and know is not normally gross)

3) food served not as ordered (ex: salad with dressing not on the side, which because of my pickiness renders it totally inedible).

No staff has ever batted an eye at this. They seem to still like us. It doesn't happen much which is why we go there.

I think it's also okay to ask the server to check on food that is taking an inordinately long time. I think it is a jerk/rude move to complain about food you ordered and just don't like- on vacation in Hawaii I watched someone demand their money back at a poke place after they'd eaten half their meal because it turned out they didn't like poke, which seemed super obnoxious.
posted by charmedimsure at 7:13 PM on April 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

At a restaurant that I have expectations of quality I'll certainly complain if things are not meeting them, portion, flavor, timing whatever. And if the waitstaff asks how things are, I'm not shy about telling them.
posted by mzurer at 7:27 PM on April 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

Short pours. Order a cocktail, can't even taste the booze, that sort of thing.

My boyfriend just played travel advisor for someone about to visit Scotland, told them to expect a bit of it as tourists, and recommended a jovial:

D'you think you could fit a whisky in there?


Then how about you fill it up with beer, like I ordered?

Hilarious, probably not ideal for most of N America...

But I have been boozing in restaurants and bars for over a quarter century and know what the drinks I order are supposed to taste like. I try to be as polite as possible. The usual result is something good and strong. If nothing is done it is a "Thanks, then," get up, leave. I will also send back the wrong drink -- a dry Manhattan instead of the regular one I ordered ("with extra cherries," not leaving much room for doubt).
posted by kmennie at 7:38 PM on April 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm not much of a complainer, but I recently won over the clientele of an entire airport bar when I called the bartender over, gestured at my drink, and said "excuse me, what is this?" Him: "Old fashioned?" Me: "So why is it... bubbling?" Him: "Oh, the house likes to top it off with soda water." Me: "..." Him: silence. Me: *slides drink across bar* "Alright then. I will have one without that now, please."
posted by deludingmyself at 8:45 PM on April 22, 2017 [8 favorites]

The worms are exactly the color of the lettuce. Everyone around us is eating salad. The blue cheese dressing at this place is phenomenal but I ordered the vinaigrette which dyed the worms and made them writhe.

Hey boo, stop eating. Why? I'm going to show you and you are not going to scream. I hold my fork up. How many of those do you think we ate? A couple at least. I don't think it's going to make us sick except in our heads but everyone around us is eating worms and I think it would be better if they didn't know that, so we're going to do this quietly. You order whatever the hell you want.

Guy came to refill our water and I held the fork up and said you've a problem maybe take that back to the kitchen?

Boy looks around at all the people going nom on salad and it is too much for him. He gets the giggles. Waitstaff comes with a note: "You are comped" Boy manages to order rack of lamb.

The place had only been open two weeks.

So he sends things back if they are wrong or not as good as last time, but not if it's something new to him and he just doesn't like it.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 9:49 PM on April 22, 2017 [3 favorites]

I'll gently point out to the server when the poached eggs on my Benedict are hard instead of runny yolks as I ordered them.
posted by matildaben at 10:04 PM on April 22, 2017

I used to run a restaurant.

Broadly, if there was anything that bothered you or was sub-optimal, I loved to hear about it. Running a restaurant is more like riding a bike than building something - it's an ongoing process - not a thing that is done and then accomplished. Not everything was solvable (one person's too bright lights is anothers too dim) but we exist to for you to have a pleasant experience and feedback helps.

That said, you wouldn't believe some of the ridiculous moronic nonsense that people would bitch about. One person I recall to this day was literally upset that the crease in the tablecloth wasn't centered.

Places will vary on their receptiveness to criticism, but really, it's more about your attitude than anything else. People who were just trying to help and were polite and pleasant were a joy. Really - useful constructive criticism is a huge help! But, people who were antagonistic, and shitty, and angling for a free meal were the worst.

As others have mentioned, there's a continuum of issues from annoyances to safety issues - try to place your issue accordingly and use good judgment.

And if it is a real safety issue, call the health inspectors. Don't be shy. I ran a tight ship, but it costs money and time. If my competitors get away with not following code while I'm busting ass, then they have an unfair advantage.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 12:08 AM on April 23, 2017 [20 favorites]

Our food at home is most of the time really ok, so if I go out, it's mostly for a stress-free (and dishes-free) experience. My take on complaints: don't complain, unless something is entirely out of whack, as in: fly-in-the-salad* or big-pulled-out-nail-in-my-curry**.

I do keep mental notes, though, and I won't go back to a place that made bad food*** or had bad service (both: compared to my personal expectations/comfort level).

In upscale restaurants, where the culture is anyway more like having a conversation about how the experience turned out to be, I might mention one or another thing if I felt like it (if nothing else, because of the to-be-anticipated pay check), but even here, I mostly tend to smile and keep my thoughts to myself.

* You can say "I didn't order chicken salad," like my dad once did when I was ten. Ten-year-olds like this kind of thing, waiters don't. You do risk getting the same salad back a little-re-tossed (or not even that), without the fly.

** This was in my student days in Amsterdam, and we had decided to splurge and go out and have some Indian food (which was a bit more special in Amsterdam then, compared to Britain and Indian takeaway now). So, yes, I literally chewed down on a big ol' not-rusty-but-clearly-pulled-out-of-some-refurb-in-the-kitchen-project type of nail about halfway through my otherwise delicious curry. I shoved it to the side and ate on. Later, the waiter (visibly stiffening) played his part excellently, too, by not commenting on the object at all. No idea whether he thought that I was pranking him or something. I would definitely say something today, immediately, in fact. I mean, moar Curry, right?

*** Like that over-treakly peanut Satay sauce we once ended up with, or some shamefully over-priced burned pasta-thin pizza I remember, or the ubiquitous old-sock-type of Spanish olives in (often rather expensive) salads, or a memorable guacamole-con-goat-cheese-hamburger with fake smoke aroma.

posted by Namlit at 5:05 AM on April 23, 2017

Interesting question and responses.

"Complain" is much too strong of a word, but I will politely speak up if we've been seated for >20 minutes or more and no menus or drink orders have appeared, if my food or drink doesn't match what I actually ordered, or if food isn't the right temperature (this has only happened once - tilapia, potatoes, and veggies that came out ice cold). I don't mind waiting a few extra minutes to get the right thing and I always tell my dining companions not to wait on me to start eating. Sure, sometimes it causes a bit of awkward timing but oh well, I want to get what I'm paying for and it happens rarely enough.

My mom is hard of hearing and consistently requests that restaurants turn down really loud music, and while I would never in a million years ask that myself, I'm always secretly glad when she does it.

The last time my in-laws visited us, my husband's stepmother spent close to five minutes loudly criticizing the staff at one of the best fine Italian restaurants in town on their cooking and preparation of fresh pasta while the rest of all quietly died inside. My husband and I are frequent regulars there and my husband actually wrote a note of apology to the waitress on the receipt before we left.
posted by anderjen at 6:10 AM on April 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

Cringe-worthy complaints. Walking into a crowded restaurant, short on waitstaff, with a waitress running around trying to do the work of at least two. Having the people you're with make loud comments about the slow service within earshot of the waitress. It is totally unfair to blame waitstaff for issues beyond their control, so that was worth a $20 cash tip and the equally loud "She's working very hard" in response to the quizzical look from across the table.

Because you *know* that overworked waitstaff is getting the short end of the stick in that sort of situation. I consider both service and effort, because while the service is the part that directly impacts me, it is unfair to screw someone out of a tip when they're working as hard as they can.
posted by jgreco at 7:53 AM on April 23, 2017

You can say "I didn't order chicken salad," like my dad once did when I was ten. Ten-year-olds like this kind of thing, waiters don't. You do risk getting the same salad back a little-re-tossed (or not even that), without the fly.

I don't get it. Why wouldn't you tell the waiter if you hadn't ordered chicken salad?
posted by bunderful at 7:55 AM on April 23, 2017

It's a joke about finding a fly in the salad. Like the fly is meat, and you didn't order salad with meat.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:58 AM on April 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

I complain about:
  • food that's not hot enough (about 10% of my dining-out meals, unfortunately)
  • food that seemed to be all vegetable on the menu but comes with meat in it (once got a shortbread cookie accompanying a creme brulee, and the cookie had bacon in it!) I do ask before ordering if I have any suspicion, e.g., that the "vegetable" soup might be made with chicken stock
I still usually tip well, because I certainly don't blame the waitstaff for the second issue, and for the first, if they are eager to please and they get it reheated or re-served quickly, it's all good.

I would complain about wine only if it were corked.

I don't complain per se about dirty silverware, glasses, or dishes, I just ask for them to be replaced. Would anyone not? If service is super slow and the waitstaff hasn't come by to reassure us it's still in the works, I'll check on the timeline for our food.

If I had a very rude or otherwise awful wait person, I would complain to the manager, either in person or later via email, but that's extremely rare in my experience.
posted by mmw at 8:44 AM on April 23, 2017

I am actually not a complainer though...I negotiate.

Yeah I feel like "complain" may be not as accurate as just making sure everyone is holding up their end of the arrangement.

I have a friend we sometimes call Customer Service Karen because she is very nitpicky about how service is at various restaurants, especially when she is hungry. And she'll sometimes bitch which makes me sort of cringe. It might be more understandable if we lived in a big city and were at a fancy restaurant but we don't and we weren't. My feeling is that we are at small scale restaurants, usually being served by our neighbors, in a small town in rural Vermont and I try to keep those standards in mind. My least favorite dining experiences are at places that act like they're giving you the hookup (and are expensive) and are just one particular sort of fancy that can be alienating and snobby. I rarely go to those places.

So I will sometimes ask if the music can be turned down a little (after checking with my companions to confirm that it's really loud) or I'll send food back if it's either not cooked (underdone chicken) or not what I ordered. I'll ask if something is going on if service is really slow. I'll ask to be reseated if I think I got a crummy seat because I am eating alone and there are other spaces available. But none of this is complaining it's just "Hey, can we adjust this?" and we go accordingly.

With most restaurants (even in my town) on social media I'll often just send a private note in if something seemed really off (waitress didn't seem to know the menu and confused our orders, kitchen staff was overheard saying something racist, something got really fucked up with our meal and no one apologized or tried to make it right, portions suddenly changed dramatically). I think the only time I'd try to talk to the manager at the time is if something crazy was happening (wait staff disappears, something bizarre with our bill, something terrible happens with another group at the place) but I'm not sure I've ever done that.
posted by jessamyn at 9:59 AM on April 23, 2017

We eat out quite a bit and live in an entertainment area with lots of options. We have about five places in regular rotation. We will complain to waitstaff, but I don't think we've ever asked for a manager. We will complain about 1) lack of service, slow service. 2) cold food. 3) wrong food. 4) wrong bill. That's about it, and we mostly just bring it to the attention of our server. If we have a rude server, I suppose we would complain to the manager, but honestly, I can't remember the last time that happened. Those folks work hard for their money and if you aren't cut out for it, you figure it out pretty quickly. If we try out a new place and get two of these issues in a short span, we have the luxury of just dropping that establishment from our list and moving on. After thinking about this response, I can tell you that the five places we frequent, they ALL have a manager on the floor actively patrolling and the difference is obvious.
posted by raisingsand at 11:04 AM on April 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

I don't know if "complain" is the right word, but I will definitely ask the staff to address fixable problems -- my dining companion's dish came with cilantro when she asked for it to be left off, something came out in other-than-expected condition (steak cooked well when I ordered it medium rare, food that is notably over- or under-salted, food that is inedibly spicy when I ordered it at my normal two star), food or drinks that haven't come, food that is poorly cooked. I am polite about these things and have always been well received.

Only three times in my life have I actually complained. Once was when we watched the two wait staff on duty flirt with each other for twenty minutes while our food sat on the serving station next to them; we eventually called the restaurant from our cell phones, asked to speak to the manager, and asked her if she could give us a timeline for when this particular romance would cool off enough that we could get our food.

The other two times were due to foreign objects in the food, once a piece of beauty bark (!), once a cigarette butt (!!!!) The beauty bark restaurant kind of was whattayagonnado about it and only grudgingly took that entree off the bill, and went out of business shortly thereafter. The cigarette butt restaurant was HORRIFIED, comped our entire bill including drinks, brought us a special off-menu dessert, and gave us a gift certificate for a free entree on our next visit. They are thriving, twelve years later, and have become one of our favorite restaurants.
posted by KathrynT at 11:14 AM on April 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

Single diners having to fill out and fax an application in addition to giving credit card info for a reservation, being told that if they arrive more than 1 minute late they would lose the spot, then upon arrival being led to the bar instead of a proper table.
posted by brujita at 11:46 AM on April 23, 2017

Making a complaint and asking for a correction are two totally different things. If there is a mistake (such as something made incorrectly), I will ask for a correction. If there is a problem (such as a health issue), I will make a complaint.
posted by Vaike at 12:18 PM on April 23, 2017 [3 favorites]

- Non-food item in food
- Really long wait (I'll usually just ask the waitstaff 'hey, do you know when we might get our food')
- Really egregiously untasty food (I've sent food back for being hideously salty or tastes like it went off)
- Unsanitary conditions (bug infestation, etc)
posted by rachaelfaith at 5:56 AM on April 24, 2017

  • If my party is the only one in the room, and the TV is on or the music is loud, we may ask for it to be turned down.
  • If the order I'm brought is not the order I requested and it doesn't seem like something I'd want, I'll send it back.
  • If there's something wildly, obviously wrong with the order I'm brought (like a bug in the salad), I'll complain. This has been extremely rare. Though I do recall the time there was broken glass in my rice bowl.
  • I've walked out of a few restaurants where I've been seated without my order being taken for a long time.
  • I recall my wife once ordering a glass of wine and saying "there's something wrong with this wine." It wasn't just that she didn't like it. She pointed it out to the waiter, he tried some and agreed the bottle was bad.
  • The last time I can recall going to a restaurant with service so bad that it deserved rebuke was around 1983.

posted by adamrice at 7:37 AM on April 24, 2017

I thought of this thread last night as I stood in a very long line at a Dairy Queen, being held up because the customer at the window was refusing her Blizzard and insisting that a fresh one be made for her, because this one was "not made with love." (It turned out eventually that she meant it didn't have enough Oreos in it, and if it had been made with love it would be chock full of Oreos, but it took a while to get to that point.) So that's a new standard that has been set for me now, in terms of "weirdest reasons to send food back."

Personally, I have all sorts of Issues about not wanting to inconvenience anyone ever, anywhere, even at a restaurant where I am paying for the food and the service. So things generally have to be really bad for me to complain.

The only time I can specifically recall is once recently when I was out with a friend who has a medical condition that can make noise extremely difficult for him to handle, and there was a very raucous group nearby who were being so loud that it was pretty awful for me even without the extra-sensitivity to noise. We ended up asking the manager to ask them to turn the volume down a bit, because otherwise it would have been physically impossible for my friend to stay in that restaurant long enough to eat his meal.

The manager was apologetic and agreed they were being Too Damn Loud, they chilled out at least a few decibels upon request, we got a free piece of cheesecake, and all in all it was a perfectly fine complaint experience. I still probably won't do it again because of aforementioned Issues, but I guess it's good to know that one can complain in a restaurant without the world ending.
posted by Stacey at 7:50 AM on April 24, 2017

I almost never complain, because the amount of time it would take to fix things is usually longer than I am willing to wait. A few weeks ago I ate food that was colder than it should have been, but it still tasted good, so I didn't care. If I see a hair on something, I just pull it off. If meat is overcooked to the point of being unpleasant, I'm annoyed, but I just decide not to go there again (how could you, Daniel Boulud!).

But I would usually only send something back if it has something in it that will make me sick (stealth artichokes, ilu and your delicious taste, but I do not love what happens later).

However, I am occasionally one of those people who will ask to see a manager so that I can tell them a server is doing a great job.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 8:09 AM on April 24, 2017

I used to be a manager in fast food and pizza restaurants. I'm willing to give a lot of leeway, but I'm also going to expect fucked up things to be fixed RIGHT DAMN NOW.

Specific complaints I remember:
* My carer and I both wanted to try Red Lobster's new lobster roll. The bread was so toasted as to feel/taste stale, and was almost inedible. We both complained to the roving manager, not to get anything comped, but as an fyi. He loved the fries; I loved my salad. We were reasonably happy with the experience.
* At a different Red Lobster, our server was being far too familiar and making what I'm sure he thought were sexy comments about our physical attributes. After a "Hey, could we talk to your manager real quick?" we had a new server within five minutes, and haven't seen the first server since.
* At Steak N Shake, which my carer loves, I found my burger, fries, and shake all to be completely inedible. Despite my protests, the manager went above and beyond trying to find something I could eat. She ultimately failed. But I called corporate to tell them how amazing she was, and how fantastic her customer service was.
* At Papa John's (where I had recently quit as GM because upper management was misogynistic and refused to keep their word), I ordered a pizza with light sauce. It came with heavy sauce. I sent it back and asked again for light sauce. It came back with extra heavy sauce. I sent it back and asked to talk to the manager on duty, who happened to be my replacement. He personally made my pizza with light sauce, delivered it to make sure I was happy with it, and when he got back to the store, informed everyone that I was banned from ordering pizza ever again. (Lucky for me, the shift managers still liked me, and the GM didn't last long once upper management discovered he'd falsified half the stuff on his resume.)

The majority of the time when I ask for a manager, it's to tell them that the server was fantastic, or the food was amazing, or something along those lines. I'm a huge fan of rewarding outstanding employees. I once even wrote corporate about an extraordinary server at Red Lobster - the second one above - who went far and away above and beyond to ensure an amazing dining experience for my carer and I.
posted by The Almighty Mommy Goddess at 10:34 AM on April 24, 2017

I've only complained once. Ordered medium rare steak in a steakhouse with a photo of what the rarities look like... it came out with barely a hint of pink, if any (closest to well done on their photo guide). I tipped well but still feel kinda guilty years later.

On a related rant, I don't know if it's my city or I have no idea what rare is or I pick terrible restaurants or what, but this seriously happens every time I order a steak (in your average priced restaurants, like 15-30$ steak meals). I've recently started ordering it rare and that typically comes out as about a medium or a medium rare according to descriptions and visual guides online. This actually works quite well but it's still often too well done for my liking, and I'm also nervous that one day it'll come out as actually rare, which I don't actually want!! (Any tips for how to order to consistently receive a legitimately medium rare steak??)
posted by randomnity at 12:36 PM on April 24, 2017

randomnity, meat being too done seems to be a constant here in Chicago, at least to hear my partner tell it. At this point, I try to persuade him not to order steak in anything other than a steakhouse, and only after discussing degrees of doneness with the server. Because he does complain, and more than once it has led to a manager coming out and they wind up arguing about it, and it's just a crashing bore. (I always think my partner is right regarding the degree on rareness, but if there's a significant chance you won't be pleased with something, you shouldn't order it, in my opinion.)
posted by BibiRose at 6:31 AM on April 25, 2017

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