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When to post a negative review about service

So there is a restaurant that I frequent a few times a month. It is a neighborhood ethnic restaurant. The food is excellent, the service attentive and enthusiastic despite language barriers, the menu varied, and I like the atmosphere. I have recommended it to many and brought lots of out-of-towners there. This weekend I suffered some of the worst service I have ever had -- and I used to live in Williamsburg Brooklyn. I will likely go back (at least once more) but I'd love to hear opinions about whether I should continue to wax positive and when/whether to reveal this experience. BTW-the food was still excellent it had everything to do with service and timing.

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  1. I'd say start posting about it now. You seem to have a balanced assessment of the place anyway, judging by ``the food was still excellent.''

    1. I'd say before you start posting, you might want to get in touch with management. It's entirely possible they have unwittingly hired a bad egg. I am certain they would want to hear about your experience, especially if they know who you are. Give them a chance to make things right before you start posting a negative review based on one instance of bad service, especially as you have previously loved the place.

      1. By "continue to wax positive" do you mean posting your experience here and name the restaurant, or do you are you asking whether to mention said experience or even recommend the restauant to friends?

        I think it would be quite harsh to post about a place where you're apparently, heretofore, a satisfied customer, based on one sour experience. Better to give it a give it a break/talk to the manager rather than go public.

        1. I never judge a restaurant about one instance of bad service - it just could have been a bad night on the part of the restaurant or the server. Now, two instances of bad service is another story. When I'm posting about a restaurant, I try to tell it like it was when I ate there, but I also try to remember to mention that it was one instance of bad service in comparison to many great experiences. People make their own decisions about the place after that.

          1. I concur with the person who recommended letting the management know before you post something negative to the world They should be given an opportunity to fix the problem--if no one tells them, they will never know.

            7 Replies
            1. re: Erika L

              I agree with your second sentence, and tend to be more, well, vocal (politely of course) than my husband might appreciate. But, at the same time, one's experience is what it is, and I see no reason why someone shouldn't post about it. The fact that one didn't alert management of the problems during the meal, thereby not giving them a chance to fix the situation, is just one factor that other posters can use when evaluating the place. Of course, I'm not talking about people posting vituperative rants, but factual descriptions of their experiences.

              1. re: MMRuth

                We went to a pricey, yet casual restaurant not long ago, where the food was 75% good, but the other 25% was cold or lukewarm. Another problem was that once we told our waiter that we didn't want to order wine or alcohol, just tea, please, he stood off to the side and just watched us. He never once came over to ask if things were to our liking, or any other comments he should have made. Finally, at the very end of the meal another waiter asked how we liked everything and I made a couple comments to him. He fixed one of the problems, but we were ready to go, so I passed on the other "fix." We had plans to meet up with others in a nearby bar for after dinner drinks.

                The following day I called and spoke to the manager, just to let him know, not to be a witch. He asked what our total bill was, which was $100 w/tip, then told me to come by and he would refund the full amount. I told him I wasn't calling to get our money back, just to let him know that the restaurant had some kinks to work out. He insisted and then told me that now he knew he needed to pay more attention to the details. I still have not reviewed this place, because I am torn about what to say. I don't want to trash them, because I want this place to succeed. Since it was our first time there I think I will wait until we go again.

                My main point is that you do need to let the manager/owner know when there is a problem. If it were my place I would want to know.

                1. re: danhole

                  I completely agree with you, but at the same time, I was just trying to say that there are ways to point out service issues without actually trashing the place. When I read reviews, I don't write off a place b/c of reported service issues or, if I still think the food sounds interesting, mixed reviews of the food. That may not be the case for everyone though.

                  1. re: danhole


                    that's refreshing - you weren't one of those people just out for a "freebie". I lurk on Sietsema's WaPo chats on Wed. and there are a LOT of people that would expect a full comp for less than what you experienced

                    1. re: danhole

                      Danhole.... since we live in the same city I am curious ... which restaurant was this? I hate the "turn and burn" attitude from servers when I dont want to bulk up my bill (and their gratuity) with overpriced wine. Did your gratuity reflect your treatment? I'd be interested in trying the place just to see if I get the same reaction from the servers.

                      1. re: Cheflambo

                        It was the Nelore Churrascaria on Montrose. Fixed price, all you can eat brazilian steakhouse. There were separate servers for the tea refills and water, which we got plenty of. We left a bit more than 15% for our tip. Usually we leave 20%, so we really didn't stiff them, just didn't go all out for our waiter. We got there around 6 pm on a Saturday night, and they open at 5 for dinner service. If you go, post in our Texas board. We will try it one more time before we write it off.

                    2. re: MMRuth

                      Super, since you've received lots of good service there in the past, it is possible that they were just having an off night. I would certainly give them another chance. If you're friendly with the management, you might mention your bad experience, but dont write them off until you know for sure.

                  2. Why would it ever be wrong to tell the truth?

                    'Tell management before you tell other people' Why would that be?

                    So the advice here is pretty much, don't tell anyone you got bad service one night at this place. IOW, don't tell anyone about your experience there. Keep it hidden.

                    Those who think the poster should not tell, have you any advice if someone asks "How was your dinner Thursday?"

                    Paraphrase time 'I think it would be quite harsh to post [the truth], based on one ... experience' Ooh, that would be harsh.

                    What other secrets should we keep?

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: FrankJBN

                      'Tell management before you tell other people' Why would that be?

                      I had a service business, and there were clients that used us once and never again. If they gave me a reason that they would not go back, I could re-evaluate our customer service, and make changes. If they just went away, then I had no clue what the problem was. It is a good practice to let the management know what the problem is, and see how they respond. If they brush you off, then you forget them. I had one situation where there was an employee that was actually hitting on clients. Once I found that out, I could, and did, fix the problem. The problem was solved quickly and no one needed to know. Same should apply to restaurants. You don't need to trash them if it is a "quick fix", i.e bad server, etc.

                      1. re: danhole

                        I just think there are two different issues here - one, whether or not to post a review that discusses negative service experiences, w/o having spoken to management about it, and two, should one speak to management about it.

                      2. re: FrankJBN

                        I totally agree. It would be courteous of you to call the restaurant and let them know what happened so they have a chance to fix it, but there's no reason you can't also tell *us* what happened. What if someone is considering going to this place and the service issue would totally ruin their visit, say if they got this server for a special occassion dinner? They should have all the info they need to make that decision. It's obvious that you like the place notwithstanding this one incident, it's not like someone is going to think you're faking the incident to slander the restaurant.

                      3. I would just provide the raw facts, and let chowhounds decide for themselves if they want to try the restaurant. You could say something to the effect of I ate there 20 times and had great service 19 times and bad service once. Restaurants are extremely fluid and things change from day to day. It's useful to everyone to get information in real time.

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: limster

                          On another, similiar, thread, a poster commented something to the effect that he views his reviews as a snapshot, which I thought was a great analogy.

                            1. re: MMRuth

                              Yeah - agree entirely. There are restaurants where I have eaten regularly for many years (something like a few hundred meals) and it's remarkable how much things can vary. Even with a serious amount of data, it's still hard to pin down a moving target.

                              1. re: limster

                                "Even with a serious amount of data, it's still hard to pin down a moving target"

                                So true! Like many things in nature, nothing is 100%. There is a certain day-to-day variation in quality of food, service etc. that cannot be avoided. A serious amount of data helps because it helps identify overall trends, but there is still no 100% guarantee that when you go to the resto, you'll have the same experience. Consider the following scenarios:

                                1. One reviewer, one visit: The reviewer could have gone on a typical night, and gotten a very realistic experience of the restaurant. Or they could have gone on a terrible night, and come away with an incorrect impression. It is hard to judge a place on one visit. Keep in mind that the amount of variation also influences this impression. If you have a place that is consistently good or consistently bad, it is more likely that a single review will be close to the overall experience. But if you have a place that swings wildly between sublime and terrible, well, watch out. That single review is much less reliable.

                                2. Single reviewer, Multiple visits: Super Salad is in this situation. The nice thing about this situation is that you have a single judge who can compare between visits. This reviewer can use the same criteria of taste, expectations of service, etc. to evaluate the level of consistency over a period of time. If Super Salad has eaten at a restaurant 100 times, and had terrible service on visit #43, that tells me that this is a pretty consistently good restaurant for service and I will have a very good chance of having good service. If after 100 visits, Super Salad comments that service was terrible on visit #99 and #100, that warns me that the service might be declining, that there may be a trend towards bad service. So yes, in this situation, I would say Super Salad needs to see if this is a trend, or just a bad blip. It would be very helpful if he went again, to see if the bad service was repeated. This would give us more information than just reporting after one bad experience.
                                Now, Single reviewer, multiple visits is great, but it tells me nothing if i don't know anything about the reviewer, and how their tastes compare to mine. So whether Super Salad is talking about Applebee's or The French Laundry, I don't know if I will agree until I reference my tastes to Super Salad's tastes.

                                3. Multiple Reviewers, one visit each: Better than one reviewer, one visit, but again, there is still the question of consistency. But at least you have more than one "snapshot in time", so more chance to have a reasonable assessment of the "true" nature of the restaurant. (such a subjective term, "true". But lets not go there.)

                                4. Multiple reviewers, multiple visits: best case scenario. But of course, everyone has different tastes, and there may be disagreement about issues that have no right answer (eg. which tastes better, Greek or Chinese? Expensive restos vs. cheap but yummy dives). As you say, it is a moving target, but at least you'll be shooting in the right direction!

                                All this to encourage people to write more reviews, to revisit places, to continue to report! More data, more good food. I also find it is helpful when I get a sense of the reviewer's personal tastes, so I can calibrate to their preferences. And it is helpful for me to know if you have never been before, or if you have been there a million times. Can't expect everyone to agree, but if 10 people who have been to the same restaurant 10 times in the last year say it's great, then I have a better chance that I will also think it's great. The best we can hope for is "What is the likelihood I will like this restaurant?"

                        2. Thanks everyone for weighing in. I was hesitant to make a special trip to speak to the manager but I'm not sure why. Thinking about it, if I get a good response we all leave happy. If I get a bad or indifferent response then I guess I know not to support them and I find a new neighborhood place that could use my business and appreciates my candor.

                          Promise to let you know how it goes!

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Super Salad

                            or if the food continues to be good and the service continues to suck - get carry-out.

                          2. This probably doesn't apply since you've been there lots, but in my experience with ethnic restaurants there might be cultural differences that might seem to be bad service. I remember finding out after complaining about shockingly bad service that in some cultures it was considered rude to bring the bill or offer another beverage without being specifically asked for it. If this was the kind of bad service, maybe they have a new server FOB who doesn't know better about service norms here.

                            1. If I were going to write about it, I would just be honest. I'd still give a good rating but say that last time the service was awful and you're really hoping that's not the continual trend. Then, I would come back and edit the review after my next visit.

                              I recently wrote about my first visit to a local Italian place where the food was good, the service was friendly, but then at the end of the meal, the busboy spilled a balsamic vinegar/olive oil mixture all over me. It drenched my brand new shirt to the point that we cancelled the rest of our evening. I looked like a Dalmation and smelled awful. The busboy didn't tell anyone this happened, probably because I'm very calm and polite. I wrote about it on a review site and the manager wrote to me, offered to replace all of the items that were ruined (I got home and saw my brand new $200 shoes stained as well.) I declined the offer of having them replaced, but the manager apologized and sent me a gift certificate. I would probably guarantee that the manager made sure to tell all of his employees that if anything like this happens again, to get the manager ASAP, not to just assume everything is cool. Does that make me feel better? Yes, because it's somewhere I'd like to visit again, and I will.
                              So, long story short, I think being honest is the best route and I do think that talking to the management is a great idea. If they don't care, though, you might feel scorned and be prepared to never return.

                              4 Replies
                              1. re: Azizeh Barjesteh

                                I believe if you normally get good service and good food somewhere, and one visit goes awry, I wouldn't suggest shouting about it from on top of the mountain.
                                Nothing makes an owner or manager madder than someone having a problem and not letting them know about it so they can have a chance to make things right, rather than not saying anything and going to a very popular website and tearing the place up.

                                1. re: Barbecue Joe

                                  yeah I'm with Joe and some others, the pro food journalists give a place several visits over a number of months and well after a place first opens before saying anything - not the case here, but you gotta allow for an off night unless that night was just rock-bottom atrocious on all counts.

                                  1. re: hill food

                                    I agree that that should be the protocol for professional journalists - but as a chowhound, I'm not a professional journalist. I eat, and then I post a report. I try to do it in a fair way, without ranting or raving. But I don't think it's my job to be "impartial" about it. I do notify management or the waiter if there's a problem, in hopes that they will correct it, but to me, that is a separate issue than whether or not to post on Chowhound about my experience. And, even though I do that because I figure "If I were the manager, I'd want to know", that's also not my job - I also wonder if food journalists bring problems to the management's attention.

                                    1. re: MMRuth

                                      if the findings are published they do...(smirk)

                                      I agree that it (MSM) is a quite different arena and scale (and set of rules) than sharing with a group of fellow obsessives in a forum that (relatively) few will probably read. I'd still see if a pattern develops before commenting negatively (unless as a casual aside allowing it may have been a one time occurrence) if it wasn't, then someone else is bound to chime in)

                                      I think a lot of people are afraid of confrontation, but to that crowd I would suggest a simple phone call the following day, not expecting a comp, just a general "heads up you're slipping in this regard"

                                      after all it's not just the staff that have to perform, a manager not making a profit isn't going to last either and by extension the owner.

                              2. I think that your willingness to report a negative experience at a restaurant ought to be influenced in some large part by the positive experiences that you have had there. It seems like the only fair -and responsible- thing to do. After all, restaurants are staffed by actual human beings, and we humans make errors sometimes. A series of bad experiences justifies a bad post for sure, but one event does not seem like a good enough reason to trash a restaurant that you like, nor does a report that your friend had a bad experience there, or that you heard that the place sucks.

                                If anything I would think you should post a positive review that notes the negative event, rather than making it a negative review over the one issue.

                                I get the impression that some people put cleverness ahead of integrity in online reviews and sadly I am compelled read them with that in mind.