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opinions on guest complaints (moved from Southwest)

  • b

I was at a quite well-reviewed, upscale Phoenix restaurant a few months ago sitting at the wine bar and I had a completely unimpressive soggy pizza and a tasteless, wilty $11 caesar salad. I wrote a very respectful guest comment (of course NOT looking for freebies but just a 'hey' the kitchen was cranking out some shoddy stuff) to the restaurant and as of now still have never received any word in reply...

here's the thread: what are some of your experiences/opinions/thoughts on upscale restaurants that answer/don't answer genuine, respectful guest complaints? (i'm not talking chili fingers...)

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  1. FYI--this is probably going to get moved to General Topics--

    Commander's Palace in New Orleans responded to our email about inattentive service by sending us a copy of their cookbook and an apology. They are a class act and I hope the reopened restaurant is doing well.

    1. We were at "a quite well-reviewed, upscale" New York restaurant known for its "authentic" Italian cuisine a while back. We had ordered some of the more unusual dishes and wines, discussed some of the ingredients, even discussed some food travel to Italy with the person who took the order (sort of a team manager-asst. captain). I had ordered a "whole, roast fish". When the dish came out, the head had been removed. I politely asked where the head was, since for presentation, and that there are some tasty morsels in the head as well as for the esthetics of presentation. I was told that "the average diner doesn't want to see the head, so we just automatically remove it". I don't mind being called "average"-don't have that kind of ego- but if you've been ordering all kinds of special things and discussing Italian cuisine in detail-would you do this? Especially in a place that prides itself on its authenticity. I politely expressed my disappointment, especially when the menu stated "whole fish". She gave me a "tough-luck" look, shrugged her shoulders and walked away. Otherwise the food was excellent, but the attitude was lousy. I composed what I thought was an extremely polite, respectful, non-complaining letter to the chef/owner about our experience and our disappointment. Again, I wasn't looking for anything-just perhaps to give them a heads-up about what is going on with the staff (no names were mentioned). Never heard from them; needless to say, we won't go back. There seem to be a few approaches in NY (and probably elsewhere)- some like Danny Meyer who takes every comment/complaint/suggestion/compliment seriously and tries to respond-they realize it's a competitive market and word of mouth is powerful. And others-apparently like the place we went to-that has favorable pr, good Zagat reviews, etc. and probably a bunch of favored regulars, so one malcontent once in awhile is probably ignored and written off. By the way, later that year, we were dining in a nice, but much simpler spot at the Jersey shore and again ordered whole roast fish. The server mentioned that some people like it that way and others don't want to see the head on. I told her how we wanted it and I thanked and praised her for her professionalism and told the manager on the way out. The restaurant was a byob and we left her the rest of the Oregon Pinot Noir we had besides the tip.

      1 Reply
      1. If you use the comment card in the check holder, I think your chances of getting a response are much lower than if you write a letter or email. The comment cards seem almost designed to be anonymous feedback.

        1 Reply
        1. re: babette feasts

          i think alot of those comment cards wind up in the trash, well before a manager would ever see it, especially if it's about poor service.

          an e-mail, phone call or polite word with the manager should do the trick. if you never hear back, never return. and tell your friends.

        2. If it were me in the situation you described, I would have asked to see the manager - if I were offered a freebie, I could choose whether or not to decline, but "look at this junk" is a lot more effective than a tale told days later.

          2 Replies
          1. re: wayne keyser

            Serving whole fish is a minefield.

            You wanted the entire fish. I lose my appetite if the fish comes to the table with the head on and there are at least two restaurants in NYC that I have never returned to because I was served fish with the head. (When I think there is a chance the fish will come with the head, I ask for it to be removed in advance, but was once denied this request so I ordered something else and never went back.)

            I think the poster who mentioned that the server asked when they took the order had been given the best approach.

            I think you would have had better luck complaining about the server's attitude than the fish head.

            1. re: Le Den

              Sorry if that wasn't clear- it wasn't about the fishhead per se- it was just an example of a diner's issue of any sort with a restaurant, be it the quality of the food, service, reservation policy, noise level, etc. It's about whether at the time or afterwards the restaurant is attentive and responsive to any of your concerns. Unfortunately, the place I went to did not have one of those comment cards.

          2. Please do not take this the wrong way but if you go to an "upscale" resto and order pizza and caesar salad and then write a letter, the resto is probably thinking "big deal", the guy is probably looking for a freebie. But you should have received a letter out of courtesy.

            Letters are a good means to give a full perspective on a bad experience, but why wait til then. If something is wrong during a meal, point it out to the server. If you get any attitude, excuse yourself from the table, approach the host(ess), maitre d' or the manager and have a quiet chat with him. Explain calmly what has transpired and he will 9 times out of 10 apologize and take care of it. If not the resto's a write-off anyways.

            Wrt the comment cards, I would venture that the server picks up the credit slip, take a look, good ones go to the manager and the bad ones go in the pocket.

            1. I would think that sitting at the wine bar, you would have had a number of opportunities to express your disappointment to the staff. You should have said something, politely, while you were there. You never know who gets the comment cards, checks the email, or opens the mail.

              12 Replies
              1. re: mojoeater

                The above would likely work, but I'm by nature a bit non-agressive and not overly assertive in these situations. One of those people who think hours later "This is what I should have said or done!". I know of a number of restaurants that do pay attention to the comment cards/e-mails/letters- as I have been responded to-although I'm usually giving complements-not complaints. Yes, I should have spoken to a manager, but I didn't want to make a scene at the time, just try to enjoy our meal. Just wished they would have responded to a polite letter.

                1. re: markabauman

                  You don't have to be aggressive in order to say something, and you don't have to ask for a manager unless the service is the problem. Just very nicely tell the person who brought you the food, "I'm sorry. I think my plate must have been wet. The pizza is a little soggy."

                  1. re: markabauman

                    I am sure that some establishments care....you never know, perhaps they talked with /fired the chef that was on duty that day..... and some establishments don't. My single friends and I had started a tradition of Thanksgiving buffet at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Sq PA. About 6 years into this tradition they changed caterers and the food went totally downhill. We wrote, politely voicing our concerns, and never heard from anyone. During one of our many visits to the gardens during the next year we stopped in and talked with one of the managers and voiced our disappointment. She seemed very interested, asked us for our phone numbers and assured us someone would be in touch with us. Well, 4 years later we're still waiting for the call. Needless to say we never went back.

                    1. re: markabauman

                      markabauman, I will never understand all the people who insist everyone speak immediately with a manager. I've said it before on these boards, and I'll say it again - it's a matter of personal preference. Some people like to immediately speak their minds, others don't. Extrovert, introvert, duh.

                      There's nothing wrong with writing a letter; don't let anyone tell you there is.

                      1. re: spigot

                        I have seen all too often in restaurants people voicing "complaints" as a power-wielding ego trip or in an attempt to get something in return. I want neither. I've seen where the attitude masks the content of the concern. Therefore, yes, I felt a letter was in order. I have no problem speaking up to a maitre 'd or manager if there are different problems- being given a lousy table when a specifically requested table is available, etc. Thanks for the encouragement.

                        1. re: spigot

                          Let's see if Jfood can assist. We all have limited time to relax an enjoy time out with our friends and family. We also need to assume that something is, or has, occured that either a manager will be spoken to or a letter will be written. If you speak up the item that is causing the issue can be addressed and corrected while writing a letter after the fact does not correct the issue so the custo is upset throughout the meal. Now some will say that "No I will not stay upset" but if that's the case then why write a letter, sorry can;t have it both ways.

                          So if the custo speaks up, the issue can be resolved and the evening goes on swimmingly, if the custo waits and writes a letter, the issue was not resolved , and the evening was not what was wanted.

                          1. re: jfood

                            the problem with writing a letter of complaint is that it might be difficult to retrace the problem in question for the restaurant.

                            I think it is best to talk to your server first, and if still not resolved then a manager or owner. I guess sometimes people don't want to make a fuss in front of friends or family.

                            1. re: smartie

                              In my experience as a server and restaurant manager, letters (of complaint or praise) rarely result in any action being taken. In fact, the prevailing view of people who write letters is that they are simply out to get something for nothing--a voucher for a free meal usually.

                              However, if a problem is brought to the attention of the server (and servers are usually trained to bring any problem to the attention of the manager), the problem can be taken care of immediately. You don't have to sit and stew. You don't have to compose the letter in your head while you choke down your soggy pizza. You don't have to be a jerk about bringing the problem to someone's attention. Servers and managers want you to be happy and if you're not (and you have a legitimate reason for not being happy), they want the chance to fix the problem. When the manager can see the problem (a soggy pizza), they can correct it (speaking to the cook, for example) and offer a replacement or some compensation to the guest.

                            2. re: jfood

                              I always love your posts, jfood, but I disagree here; you're just universalizing from your own experience.

                              You say if the customer doesn't speak up they're "upset throughout the meal." Not necessarily so. A) Last time I spoke up during the meal (two weeks ago, about an overcooked steak), the server was a bitch for the rest of the night, thoroughly dampening our evening. There would've been less upset if I had not sent back the steak. And B) lots of people, particularly introverts, like to mull things over before they commit to a position. Those people will be happier writing a letter after the fact - whether it's more effective or not.

                              I personally have written letters of complaint about restaurant experiences twice. I don't remember if they resulted in any action. I do remember they were cathartic and fun to write :-)

                              1. re: spigot

                                Obviously there is not any one perfect way to react in these various situations. If it is just my husband and I, and I am dissatisfied with a meal I speak up at that time. When my friends and I were disappointed at a Thanksgiving buffet there was obviously no way for them to fix the problem at that time, so we chose to write a letter afterwards. The last, and one of the few times I had a dish I was not happy with, was when my husband and I were having a holiday meal with his brother and sister-in-law. Everyone else was very happy with their meal. We were relaxing and enjoying each others company without the kids, which in our family is rare. Although my lamb was not cooked to my liking, or my instructions, It wasn't like it was absolutely horrible or not eatable. I didn't think it was worth ruining the good vibe that was happening at the moment. So there you are, one diner, three different meals, and three different reactions.

                                1. re: spigot


                                  As Procol Harum's great song title of the 60's it's a "whiter shade of pale." While the universe is the only thing we can universalize on, i am just trying to give the 95% answer. Nothing is perfect when dealing with humans, so just trying to keep between the yellow lines, as they say.

                                  There is no perfect solution, and historically, speaking up during the meal does allow for the situation to be handled and corrected. My experience is probably 85-90% success if I speak up at the time. Not knowing more of the situation that you experienced a couple of weeks ago, it's too bad a wiatress acted so unprofessionally. I cannot remember when I mentioned an issue or sent back an overcooked steak that the waitress was anything other than apologetic. Sorry about that. As you also note the two letters you wrote received no reaction.

                                  Yes introverts do like to mull before sending and if truly an introvert probably never send at all but that's another thread. I agree that writing the letter is extremely cathartic, and many a letter are written that never get sent.

                                  If you feel better not saying something during dinner and writing a letter, go for it. Whatever works to keep the stress low and the enjoyment high.

                        2. The place I work at, the management do read comment cards, although I personally don't feel it necessary that people who write negative comments should be called to be apologized too (sort of treads that line between considerate and creepy, in my opinion), although they may wish to be listened to. Of course, face-to-face, email, and telephone complaints should be handled at the moment and not ignored (although I have never done the last two items I mentioned).

                          Conversely, I've heard enough stupid complaints in my tenure (such as the most recent bout of customer ignorance to claim that they thought the prosciutto pizza wouldn't contain ham) to really be annoyed at people making what I feel are unreasonable guest complaints. However, I guess I just don't act like a majority of North American diners and my expectations for the behaviour of diners mirrors the way I would act in a restaurant. I mean, so I ordered the wrong item, unless there's a big sign i.e. in a department store about their return and exchange policies, I'm not going to go around demanding new food and have the other food I order removed from the bill... and I won't look any more negatively at a place that wouldn't comp the order than a place that graciously offers to remove it off the bill.

                          1. I'm still trying to figure out how a pizza can be soggy.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: tom porc


                              Let me see if i can help. Remember how a pizzaq is made. The dough is thrown, then spread with toppings (wet and dry) and placed into the oven. If the dough is too thick under all those ingredients it will not have a chance to cook through and will be limp (i am sure you've had that at some NJ pizzerias).

                              Si if there was too much sauce, too many other non-traditional ingridients taht are wet (pineapple, blah), the the dough may actually be soggy when served.

                              1. re: jfood

                                Must have been a very poorly made pizza. I wonder if the kitchen rushed it because the customer was waiting for it.

                                I always ask for thin crust well-done.

                            2. I think that if they provide the comments card they should respond to each and every one -- assuming management saw it. That's probably a big if!

                              I would suggest, though, in future, that you ask your server if the problem can be corrected so that they can see what the problem is and fix it for you and you can enjoy your meal. An after the fact letter re the food prep means that you were miserable through your meal and that should not be the case.

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: Bite Me

                                too many people complain in restaurants because they don't ask a server about the ingredients prior to ordering and then expect the restaurant to take it back because they 'forgot' to say they don't like an item like sundried tomatoes. I don't see where that is the restaurant's fault and why they should take back a dish, cook something else, throw out the original meal, and now the whole table is eating out of synch.

                                I went out last night for a meal at an ale house. Our waitress was totally unknowledgeable about drinks, and was pretty terse and unfriendly all evening. Outcome - I won't go back in a hurry or if I do I would hope to get a different server.

                                I believe it is up to a customer to choose his/her food carefully and ask questions or say in advance what they don't like or are allergic to. That being equal if there are genuine complaints about service, food etc they can be adressed quietly with a manager there and then so as not to embarrass the rest of one's table.

                                Some diners are never satisfied though and complain about everything in order to get free food/drinks.

                                1. re: Bite Me

                                  Many restaurants don't respond to comment cards simply because comment cards merely ask for comments--not phone numbers, addresses, names, etc. Very few customers volunteer this information (I've seen it perhaps twice in ten years of restaurant work). I probably wouldn't put my name or contact info on a comment card--but then again, I would speak up if something was or wasn't to my liking.

                                  As far as customers complaining because they didn't ask about ingredients: I was recently in a upscale-ish diner where I picked one of the few items on the menu that was without nuts (a tuna sashimi "salad"). Who thinks to ask if the restaurant uses nuts in their sashimi preps? Of course the sashimi came covered with pesto (no, no mention of the pesto topping on the menu and I had ordered the salad made without any dressing). I did send it back and I don't consider myself to be at fault for not asking about ingredients.

                                  Bitchy servers? Also a problem that can be dealt with when brought to the attention of management--so long as the customer doesn't present himself or herself as a jerk when complaining (because then the server's attitude will seem warranted). Usually another server or the manager will finish your table service.

                                  1. re: tokyorosa

                                    As with all things in life, there's rarely a solid division between black and white, but I personally feel that if the menu calls itself a Prosciutto pizza and then lists prosciutto again in its ingredient list, then perhaps if you don't know what it is, you should ask, or make sure it's not ham before being surprised.