Following an experience recently where the meal I ordered was less than satisfactory, I’ve been thinking about the difficulties around dealing with such situations.
In any other situation, if I paid for a product or service and it was faulty or did not live up to expectations, I would complain or return the item for a refund or exchange. So why is it that when it comes to ordering a meal in a restaurant that is less than satisfactory, we often find it so difficult to say anything?
My recent experience went a little like this…
Friendly owner of a lovely little independent restaurant took my order along with the rest of my table. We ordered 4 pizzas which were all hand-made and arrived in good time. My pizza looked delicious but unfortunately it was burnt on the bottom. Everyone else’s was fine but mine tasted like burnt toast. I whinged and moaned to my friends but when the waiter came over to ask how our meal was, I smiled sweetly and told him it was lovely!
A brief round of questioning on Twitter revealed that I’m not alone here, many of you find it difficult to speak up if there is a problem with your food. So what stops us from complaining? After all, it is a product we have paid for and so it should meet expectations.
A difficulty for me is that it’s often the disruption to the meal that sending it back will cause. It means that you don’t get to eat with the rest of your party. Either their food goes cold while they wait for your replacement or they have finished by the time yours has arrived. Is it just better to grim and bear it?
The issue of whether a restaurant is an impersonal chain or a little independent restaurant where you are served by the owner has also been highlighted as a factor by my Twitter followers. This is certainly an issue for me although it really shouldn’t make a difference. I personally find it harder to complain to someone who is passionate about their food and has personally cooked it than to a waiter or waitress in a busy chain who is removed from the preparation of the meal.
But I guess it boils down to HOW unsatisfactory your meal is. If I didn’t enjoy a meal but there wasn’t really anything wrong with it, I definitely wouldn’t speak up. It is really a matter of opinion in this case and I would most likely eat up and not return. We’ve already established that I wouldn’t complain about something like my burnt pizza which I still ate but didn’t enjoy as much as I would have had it been cooked properly.
On the other end of the scale, I was once happily munching away on a Sunday roast in a restaurant when I came across a giant grub which had been boiled to death with the vegetables! Now this I did complain about. My fellow diners were put off their food after this and we all got our money refunded and we were offered replacements.
Interestingly, when discussing this on Twitter, it was the chefs among you that said they would complain and they would appreciate the feedback so that they could improve on their dishes. This makes sense and has made me rethink this whole issue. I don’t like to hurt people’s feelings so complaining is still tricky for me but there is no harm in offering some constructive feedback now is there?
I’m interested to know your opinion on this. How bad does a meal need to be for you to complain? You can enter your bad meal threshold on my poll below.