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Is it the customer's role to complain to a restaurant after a poor experience?


[NOTE: We've moved this discussion from the thread at http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7748... -- The Chowhound Team ]

It's not a customer's role to complain to a restaurant. Some may, some may not out of reticence; but blaming the customer is like blaming the victim!!

  1. I agree. I don't view it as being my "job" to help restaurant owners/managers do better at THEIR jobs. Generally speaking, if we're not happy with a restaurant experience, we just don't go back. It's just the way it is. We don't dine out that often, we have limited disposal income to spend on dining out and I'm not wasting my time or money more than one time on a less than great dining experience.

    8 Replies
    1. re: flourgirl

      Hear hear. Absolutely. Cant understand the criticism of the poster for not telling the restaurant of their issues. Not the customer's role.

      1. re: menton1

        "Not the customer's role"
        I'm surprised and somewhat baffled by some of the comments posted above.
        Anytime I'm treated poorly or served substandard food by a substandard Server it not only becomes my, ( AKA The customer) 'role' it becomes my responsibility to at least let someone in charge know what is or is not happening and give them the opportunity to do something to correct the situation, Otherwise I would really feel like a 'victim'.
        venting my displeasure in some passive aggressive way. That just makes no sense to me.

        1. re: Tay

          You express your displeasure by not returning, as another poster indicated, spending your hard-earned restaurant dollars elsewhere. Not passive-aggressive at all.

          1. re: menton1

            i see a lot of passive-aggressive behavior all over the internet, CHowhound included. Instead of making a simple comment in situ, people will stew about it and vent in a chat room.

            My rule of thumb is that if you think it's something that can be handled right there and then, go ahead and say something. This would include almost all service issues.

            But if you think the kitchen is simply incapable of producing good food, then I doubt there is a fix for that.

            1. re: menton1

              "You express your displeasure by not returning'
              mention 1 ...
              Very often I express my displeasure by speaking to the Server or if necessary, mgmt
              Contrary to the beliefs of some, many food/service issues are miscues or misunderstandings. If patrons never point out problems to mgmt/staff. they may well think they're doing a good job/ After all, (Hopefully) No one does a poor job on purpose and no mgmt wants unhappy customers, especially if they are owners. Not saying anything at all, rewarding a bad Server with a 20% tip and then venting by posting a highly critical review does nothing to improve the quality of local eateries.
              You better believe I'm not inhaling disinfectant spray witjout saying something!.

              1. re: Tay

                You seem to be bringing in details from the original thread that do not necessarily apply to posters of this thread (eg. 20% tip).

                1. re: dump123456789

                  "You seem to be bringing in details from the original thread that do not necessarily apply to posters of this thread (eg. 20% tip)."


        2. Takes a lot of energy to whine, a lot less not to go there again.

          1. I always say something in a respectful manner rather than stay silent or complain on yelp like a coward. Anyone in the service industry that does not have their head up their ass appreciates constructive criticism. face-to-face.

            7 Replies
            1. re: cookingasshole

              I agree. Anyone in retail would like to know when they aren't meeting customers expectations. I usually tell someone (in person, via-email, or even old fashioned snail mail which I've found works the best) if something falls short. If its clearly wait-staff that is the problem I tip less and wait staff almost always knows when they screwed something up.

              I usually say something on my way out the door as I don't want to appear as one of those people who are just looking to get something comped; and there are a lot of them out there.

              That said, if someone doesn't want to say something and simply not return that is their prerogative. But good retailers would want to know.

              1. re: HoosierFoodie

                When you say snail mail "works the best", what do you mean? Do you mean restaurants have improved more when you've sent snail mail than when you've spoken in person or via email? What barometer are you using to judge this?

              2. re: cookingasshole

                I won't do either. I just don't go back again. And actually, almost every single time I have read a post here on CH where someone wrote of speaking to management about a poor experience, it was not welcomed with open arms by said management. IMO, it only has the big potential for making an already unpleasant experience even MORE unpleasant than it already was.

                1. re: flourgirl

                  The attitude one projects is typically met in kind. Acting like a dick accomplishes nothing but a pleasant demeanor encourages proper discourse and issue resolution, in my experience.

                  1. re: cookingasshole

                    In your experience how has poor service or food been "resolved" by your demeanor and discourse?

                    1. re: cookingasshole

                      I don't think it's valid to draw the conclusion that every time management is less than thrilled with being on the receiving end of "constructive criticism" that it's because the customer acted like a "dick".

                  2. re: cookingasshole

                    Anyone in the service industry that does not have their head up their ass realizes that not all customers will be direct (or constructive) with their criticism. It's part of the service provider's job/responsibility to deal with that, not the other way around.

                  3. Not returning because you don't like a place, no matter what the reason? But how does the restaurant know that's why you're not coming back?

                    Maybe you live somewhere else and were just visiting.
                    Maybe your life has gotten too busy.
                    Maybe you got fired and can't afford to go.
                    Maybe you're the sort of person that only goes to most restaurants once.
                    Maybe you got transferred to Beloit.

                    Don't speak if you don't want to. But don't think that not coming back is a clear message.

                    9 Replies
                    1. re: lemons

                      It's not my job to make sure they get a "clear message."

                      1. re: flourgirl

                        Maybe not, flourgirl--but I, as the potential (and unsuspecting) next customer, would appreciate it if you did!

                        1. re: Miss Priss

                          I'm sorry, but it's not my job to pave the way for the "next" customer. I have a business I'm responsible for running - I am NOT responsible for helping other people run theirs.

                          1. re: flourgirl

                            "it's not my job to pave the way for the "next" customer. I have a business I'm responsible for running - I am NOT responsible for helping other people run theirs"

                            EXACTLY the point.
                            Wouldn't you like to know about an unhappy custimer BEFORE he/she just walks away?.

                            1. re: Tay

                              So why does that make it the customer's responsibility to report problems ? It's the customer's prerogative to do so, but not their responsibility. Any service provider who thinks otherwise shouldn't be surprised if they lose customers.

                              1. re: dump123456789

                                "So why does that make it the customer's responsibility to report problems ? It's the customer's prerogative to do so, but not their responsibility"

                                Of course it's not their responsibility. It just makes common sense to do so. Going back to the original thread, customers that accept substandard food/service and reward wait staff with a generous tip without saying anything to anyone, should not complain if no effort is made to correct issues that arise during their dining experience,
                                Common sense would dictate that saying something is better than just suffering in silence and waiting until reaching home and the anonymity of the computer to vent their displeasure/frustrations

                                1. re: Tay

                                  I think people are talking about bad food in general. Not something technically wrong with the cooking of a steak, for example. Although I generally don't send food back, because anything is edible, and my time is more important than giving some crap cook the chance to get it right.

                                  But Tay, we all appreciate what you're doing for the restaurant industry. It has really improved since you've been involved. LOL!!!!!!!!

                                  1. re: Tay

                                    Nobody in this thread said they would generously tip bad service, nor that they would suffer in silence then vent anonymously online.

                        2. re: lemons

                          If I want to deliver a message I will take out some space in the local paper ... it's not my job to deliver any kind of message.

                        3. I don't think people complained directly to the restaurant mgmt about the price points of a new restaurant in my area. I do know there was a very active thread here on Chowhound about it. And, within a week , the restaurant prices dropped. Coincidence? I don't think so.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: CookieLee

                            I was going to say something like this. This is a major part of what Chowhound is all about, no? People write about their likes, dislikes, issues etc. about all sorts of dining establishments - and the smarter establishments are monitoring the site and adjusting as they feel the need.

                          2. The way I see it, one can bitch if one wants to bitch. Sometimes it may very well accomplish what one intends. It's just not my thing.

                            Generally speaking, in social settings I find no pleasure in unwarranted confrontation - no matter how politely I may introduce it. Typically, my actions convey my displeasure. Uneaten food or a very small tip are pretty clear indications of dissatisfaction when it comes to the fare or the service. If asked about either, a simple, matter of fact explanation is given.

                            3 Replies
                              1. re: MGZ

                                Sooooo, if you order a rare steak and it comes out, say, medium-well, you'd suck it up instead of complain?

                                I think there's reasonable complaining (steak example) and unreasonable ("I don't like the color of the carpet in here"). One accomplishes something (new, properly cooked steak); the other person just likes to bitch.

                                1. re: invinotheresverde

                                  Honestly, I experience problems infrequently. Nevertheless. on the occassions where improperly cooked food has been served to me, I ceased eating it after a couple tastes. When inquiries were made as to why my plate was still full, I simply explained the problem. It just didn't matter to me enough to wait 15 minutes for a new dish while my companions awkwardly waited.

                                  I settled for an extra glass of wine, a couple bites of my wife's entree, and the assurance that the unacceptable plate would be removed from the bill.

                                  I find the distinction you draw based upon hope of accomplishment to be a valid one.

                              2. If something is not the way you thought it should be, then you need to say something...how can anyone possibly fix something if they don't know there's something wrong?

                                Someone in that organization cares and WANTS to know if you're not happy, because it's them who's mortgaged to the eyeballs to have this restaurant, and they WANT to be profitable, and that means they WANT their customers to be happy and come back...the server? maybe, but probably not. The shift manager? More likely. The owner or franchisee? Damned right.

                                If you don't give them a chance to make it right, then you can't complain...if, however, you mention it, and get a load of crap? Let 'er rip.

                                What if this happened at your job? You think you're doing a great job - the paychecks keep coming, the good reviews (we'll call those "tips" in this conversation) are coming in -- everything's going great.

                                One day, your boss blows into your office and fires you on the spot, with no explanation whatsoever. When you ask why, he just shrugs and says he's taking his money elsewhere, because he had that one bad experience with you.

                                THAT is what you're doing when you walk out, pissed off and unhappy, and never return.

                                11 Replies
                                1. re: sunshine842

                                  "If you don't give them a chance to make it right, then you can't complain...if, however, you mention it, and get a load of crap? Let 'er rip."

                                  Well, sure you can complain. This is a discussion forum. People are here to discuss, and there's no proscribed set of steps one must take to try to remedy a poor situation in order post here.

                                  And I don't agree with "Let 'er rip" as a meaning of exacting revenge if you don't like the response you get from management if you do bring the problem to them.

                                  That being said, I think there's more good done in the world when people share their concerns with management about delivery not meeting expectations whenever there's an opportunity to do so.

                                  1. re: sunshine842

                                    You've assumed that one cares if they fix it. Frankly, sometimes I simply don't give a sh*t (unless it's something simple like the fact that my martini had vodka in it, etc.). Moreover, I assume no obligation to lend my knowledge and experience to improving a restuarant simply because I chose to dine there.

                                    I do agree, however, that it would be a silly thing to just get pissed off about.

                                    1. re: sunshine842

                                      Your job analogy fails because the "paycheck" and "good reviews" do not keep coming in from the people who are not satisfied.

                                      Here are my analogies:

                                      I'm walking down the street and I see a store selling clothes. I walk in, look around, realize that there's nothing I like and leave. Do I owe it to the ones who are mortgaged to their eyeballs to tell them that I find their clothes unattractive and not of my size, and that their floor and window displays are unappealing ? And if I don't, am I then forbidden to tell other people those opinions ?

                                      I go to a community theatre production. The acting is unconvincing, the pace drags, and the sets look cheap. I leave without talking to the cast, director or set designer, and I decide to avoid future productions by the company. Am I allowed to tell my friends about this ?

                                      The best analogy in support of your point is if you get a bad haircut, massage or manicure. In those cases, I suspect most people would bring it up immediately. I think the difference is that these are situations where either the issue has a high likelihood of being addressed right away (as opposed to all-around mediocre food), or are much more personally damaging (walking around for weeks with a bad haircut is much worse than not getting your water refilled for 20 minutes).

                                      1. re: dump123456789

                                        Well said.

                                        I just find it bizarre that so many people like sunshine842 feel that they have some kind of right to dictate to others what their "role" as customers of a restaurant consists of - and that they actually have the nerve to have "rules" about that role as well.

                                        I see this kind of behavior a lot - and I don't like it. Don't set "rules" and "roles" for me. I don't work for you, I don't answer to you, and I am quite capable of making my own decisions, thank you very much.

                                        1. re: flourgirl

                                          It's more amazing that they think they are making such an impact by talking to managers and cooks and waitstaff.

                                            1. re: tommy

                                              Well, I'm not saying it doesn't sometimes work. Sometimes, it does. But, sometimes it doesn't. And I think a reasonable person can tell upfront whether it might or might not. It's ridiculous to have a blanket policy for every situation.

                                              1. re: dump123456789

                                                The very few times I have politely bothered at all to mention an issue I had regarding food or poor service, there has been never been a result that remotely made it worth the time and effort expended. (I will say that I will make an exception for places where we are regulars - but there are very few of those.)

                                                For example, the one and only time I sent food back because it was truly inedible, I was treated fine, but the food I received back was as equally inedible as the first plate I received. My response? We never went back there again.

                                                  1. re: sunshine842

                                                    Um, YES what ? I'm not sure what you're responding to, since some of it contradicts what you posted.

                                                    1. re: dump123456789

                                                      that any reasonable person can tell up front whether it might (work) or might not.

                                        2. I don't think it is a customers "role" to do anything but be a customer (order the food, pay for it and leave). The restaurant can choose not serve you if they feel like it and you can choose not to come back if you feel like it. Who is giving me a "role" when I go out to eat?

                                          I complain "on the spot" if I feel like it will accomplish something (like getting my eggs re-cooked as ordered or finally getting my glass of water). I would not complain about terrible food "in general". If the servers, cooks and management can't tell they have crap food then they deserve to be out of business. Crap food is not just something I personally don't like- but food of poor construction or quality. It is THEIR job to check for quality unless they want to compensate me for the consultation.

                                          If the server is giving poor service - it is reflected in the tip (for me). I would never give 20 percent tip if the service was really bad. I would also never blame the server for faux pas of the cooks or management. If the server is serving you crap food- but served it well- then full tip. IMO if the server doesn't ask you for your opinion, doesn't care, doesn't notice the uneaten items on your plate- then I don't say anything either. I just don't return. If they actually care and take a minute to ask, I tell them the truth and they can choose what to do. Often, this results in absolutely nothing but a sheepish "sorry about that". I would not take the time out of my day to seek out management and give a full verbal complaint -nor would I take the time to go home and write letters in any form.

                                          1. It comes down to effort. It takes time, effort, and energy to inform a restaurant that I'm unhappy. Most of the time, I'm going to be unhappy about something they can't fix at the moment or has already happened. Rather than taking the time to do something that's likely to be unproductive or possibly unpleasant, I'd rather just leave and get on with my life.

                                            I'm also relatively introverted. Perfectly capable and happy to talk to people if they initiate, but I very rarely to go out of my way to talk to a stranger unless I have to. I'm much happier that way.

                                            6 Replies
                                            1. re: tazia

                                              I had a feeling there is an introvert vs. extrovert component to this. Some see confrontation where others see interaction.

                                              1. re: monavano

                                                No, I don't agree at all. Not only does introvert/extrovert not necessarily translate into seeing every human exchange as either confrontation/interaction, you're assuming a lot based on one person's description of themselves.

                                                And just because someone IS perfectly comfortable with interacting with others, and is quite capable of presenting a legitimate concern to a business owner or store manager in a non-confrontational way does not mean that they are required to do so or that they have to have any inclination to do so.

                                                1. re: flourgirl

                                                  Agreed. I am certainly no introvert and I typically would not take the time to complain. Why not? I don't care that much about it (unless hundreds of dollars were expended). It's a restaurant meal! I get over things like that quickly and have learned to pick and choose my own issues. The crappy steak or the person that runs the place would not be one of those issues. To each his/her own.

                                                  1. re: sedimental

                                                    Yup. Frankly if a place sucks, I'm pleased to see it go under. Why should I spend my time prolonging that ultimate reality?

                                                    1. re: tommy

                                                      Yes, I don't see anything wrong with doing it differently though (like formal complaining to the management for x,y,z). I just choose differently. We all choose our path based on our time limits, values, personality, etc. Restaurant foibles and the owners resulting business problems....not my concern. Now, when my bank screws up.........

                                                2. re: monavano

                                                  I see it too. Extroverts think their way is the only "right" way, and any other way is cowardice, passive aggressiveness or whining. There is no grey to them.

                                                  Can you seriously claim that all those negative incidents (in which things did not go smoothly when the diner brought up issues with the restaurant) count as mere interaction, and not as confrontation ? And don't you think some of us are wise enough to know a priori which is more likely to occur ?

                                              2. I am a non-complainer, it isn't out of reticence. Complaining is unpleasant and very negative, and I am not paying good money to patronize your restaurant to put myself in a bad frame of mind.

                                                If I didn't like the dining experience, that's life, it happens. I won't eat there again but it's no big deal, it will be forgotten in minutes.

                                                So long as you didn't poison me.

                                                If you want someone to evaluate your offerings, hire someone, don't expect me to do it.

                                                1. I always try to tell the restaurant if the meal was not to my liking, the service was sub-par or anything that I can do to help. I LOVE eating in restaurants and if the little bit of feedback i give can make it better, can keep it open and keep those people employed than that is what I do. And to someone's point above, yes, I can absolutely point to where my feedback has been taken to heart, and the restaurant has actually told me of it.

                                                  And if I leave less than the normal tip I think it is my responsibility to mention why to the MOD on the way out if possible or call the next day. In this age of electronic data-gathering I sure as heck do not want "lousy tipper" placed next to my name because the server totally screwed up and received a 5% tip.

                                                  Is it my "role"? Call it what you would like...no titles needed.

                                                  4 Replies
                                                  1. re: jfood

                                                    Oh,come on now-- if it was our role to "keep people employed", how can we shop at one store and not another? If we go to Macy's, what about keeping the people working at Bloomingdale's employed? Maybe we should just cruise down the highway and buy something at every store to keep these people working!

                                                    No, it's the restaurant management's job to keep their employees working and to keep the customers coming in. And when they do their job poorly, and one has a bad restaurant experience, we don't go back. There's hundreds of other restaurants with employees that need employment too.

                                                    As many posters above have indicated, when they did comment, it either fell on deaf ears or was looked at with scowling and scorn... Most restaurant owners have big egos and don't take kindly to criticism, deserved or not.

                                                    1. re: menton1

                                                      "Most restaurant owners have big egos and don't take kindly to criticism,deserved or not."


                                                      1. re: menton1


                                                        You and i just have a different philosophy..

                                                        I am one who believes that if there is a way to make something better I try. I do not want to do a "Ah the heck with it." Just not my style. If you feel good about going to a restaurant and seeing things that you think could be done better and do nothing about it, then you and i are different. I give feedback and am glad when a M&P turns around and starts delivering good food. And I am glad to see locals employed there.

                                                        Does every chef, manager or owner listen with open ears? Of course not, but I would guess that my rate of a good conversation is in the 75-80% range. And if others have all of their comments fall on deaf ears, did you ever consider it was the way they presented the data?

                                                        If you feel comfortable in not giving feedback that is fine with me. But I will continue to make the restaurant scene a little better and yes I will continue to do my little bit to keep my neighbors in the local restaurants employed.

                                                        1. re: jfood

                                                          Most of us would probably report issues to restaurants we care about, but not to those we don't. Where this thread is splitting is that some seem to believe that we as customers are duty bound to report issues to all restaurants, whether we care about them or not. And I have yet to see one valid reason why that should be the case.

                                                    2. I see this as a bigger issue than just dining in a restaurant and unfortunately is a clear example of how our society is today. Too many people are unhappy with our government and yet they do nothing feeling that no one will listen to them. Obviously, one letter here or there by an individual is not going to get much attention. But letters/calls from MANY people may. Getting back to the OP, one complaint here or there will likewise not do much. But MANY complaints just may. And no, it is not your job or responsibility to tell other people how to do their job. However, that is not an excuse to do the right thing. Communicate. Give the opportunity to change. As a teacher, I am beyond frustrated with my students who are often extremely apathetic about life. They often feel they shouldn't try and change things because nothing will make a difference. This makes me incredibly sad, but guess who they learn this from? Often their parents. Start with the little things like talking to the restaurant owner... and hopefully soon we'll see some real positive changes in the larger picture.

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: NicoleFriedman

                                                        Very, very well said. Thank you for your thoughtful post :-)

                                                      2. Evidently, the OP and those that agree believe the correct response to an employee of a restaurant asking "How was everything?" is:
                                                        "It's none of my business." meant literally and "It's none of your business." meant figuratively.

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: ilikefood

                                                          I haven't come to this conclusion. I'm curious as to what thought process enabled you to come to this generalization. LOL!!!

                                                        2. Question for the folks here who insist that complaining about a bad experience to the restaurant staff is the right thing to do:

                                                          Why not give one of the myriads of other restaurants your hard earned dollar? Surely there are many that will deliver a much better time for you, and make this discussion moot...

                                                          7 Replies
                                                          1. re: menton1

                                                            Ah, loyalty? Ever heard of it?

                                                            1. re: monavano

                                                              Why would anyone be loyal to a restaurant that they're visiting for the first tme, where the food is all around mediocre ?

                                                              1. re: dump123456789

                                                                what if the restaurant is brand new, and around the corner from the person's home, and shows potential with some need for improvement, and their tween kids will need a part-time job in a couple of years? :)

                                                                this is a very strange thread, indeed. i don't know if i want anything to do with it.

                                                              2. re: monavano

                                                                Interesting idea, but at what point does such a duty of loyalty arise? When one sits down? Orders? On the third or fourth visit?

                                                                1. re: monavano

                                                                  Thankfully there is more than one restaurant that I have access to, so I make choices based on how good they are. LOL!

                                                                  1. re: tommy

                                                                    What do you do when one of the "good" ones has an off night?

                                                                2. re: menton1

                                                                  In certain cases, it is the right thing to do, if you believe there is a chance for getting things corrected to your liking. In cases where you have a strong sense that things will not be corrected, it comes down to whether you personally feel the need to vent to the staff. Some do, some don't. In either case, it's your choice.

                                                                3. It seems like everything there is to be said on this subject has already been said, and now the conversation is just going in circles, and growing increasingly unfriendly. We're going to lock it now.

                                                                  1. I totally agree with you. It's a business problem, and I'm not in the business of solving business problems. I just pay to have a nice meal, and when that doesn't happen, I'll pay someone else.