How to complain in restaurants

Last updated: Nov 19th, 2012
Feature by Cathy Adams

When you've shelled out for an expensive meal, you don't expect the customer service to let you down – but if you're unhappy with it, it's often easier to sit tight, shut up and pay up.

But rather than paying the bill without a second thought, why not follow our guide to make sure you get the service you pay for?

Speak up

When you eat out, you're entering into a contract with the restaurant and should expect a good level of service in return for your hard-earned cash.

Alert the waiter or waitress to your complaint, and ask to speak to the manager. Restaurant staff welcome feedback, and they will be happy to listen to any comments you have.

Be specific

Make sure your complaint is specific. If there was something wrong with the taste, or if your food was hours late, say so. You'll be taken seriously if you stand your ground and give reasons why you're unhappy with the service.

Ask for your money back

While there's more chance you'll be offered a free bottle of wine or dessert, if you want your money back or a reduction on the bill, ask for it. After all, you're more likely to return to a restaurant if your complaint was dealt with efficiently – which means more business for them.

Don't flee without paying

It might seem tempting, but don't do a runner from the restaurant even if the service was appalling. According to myvouchercodes.co.uk, 11% of people have done this – but they risk never being able to go back again, and in the worst case scenario, could face prosecution.

Take your complaint further

If your complaint isn't resolved then and there, write a formal letter to the general manager. You'll most likely get a grovelling apology and compensation – as, after all, complaining customers are bad for business.

Read Cathy Adams' blog: Complaining in restaurants gets results

Your Comments

I visited a Harvester Restaurant last summer in Eton and also in another viilage which I cannot recall the name and both places were disgusting. The restaurant in Eton produced a steak which was 50% fat and on complaining to the staff was awarded a free dessert even though my partner had finished her main course ages ago.

The second place gave me a hamburger meal which totally burnt to a crisp (maybe this had something to do with the fact that the kitchen was bellowing vast plumes of smoke ) and I received no offer of compensation whatever.

I subsequently wrote to Harvester and guess what, nobody had the courtesy to reply. Needless to say i will do all I can to not recommend them as a place to eat in future. They used to be reasonable value but something has gone wrong

Its amazing what a bad review online can do to a companys business . Restaurants and critics should be aware of this as comments both negative and positive are viewed by thousands these days . I eat with 3 friends regularly at a Harvester Restaurant and to date not one of us has had anything but great food and we will continue to carry on eating there .
On the other side of the coin I have also eaten many times at a famous TV chefs restaurant and 3 times I have had cause for complaint , I expected better yet not received it. If it wasnt for apeasing a friends love of the place I wouldnt ever eat there again, oh and they charge 3 times Harvester prices!!

My work colleagues and I went for our Christmas lunch to D'yoga which is an Indian restaurant in Falkirk. The meal and our order was pre-booked several weeks in advance. despite this each course took around one hour to arrive! The total meal lasted about 3 hours!

Although the food was nice we were disgusted at the service. We complained but their excuse was "it's cooked" fresh. We explained that this freshly cooked ingredients isn't a bonus and this should be standard. We also also went on to complain that knowing our order several weeks in advance should have sped up the process but they just gave us the disinterested look.

I felt so strongly about this that I wrote to the managed Mr Tony Dhillon but I received no reply.

Needles to say our party of over 30 people will not be going there again. Their loss!!!

There is one other option if a restaurant meal is truly horrendous, and you never intend to go there again. If you've already complained to the manager and got nowhere, and there appears to be no possibility of sorting things out (try very hard to do this), then call the manager (if he's not already there), show him enough cash to pay the bill, and tell him "I have enough money to pay your bill but do not intend to as [whatever went wrong] happened. I intend to leave without paying you as I do not believe you have given me proper value. If you are going to call the police do so now".

Expect to get shouted at, know you will never be welcome there again, but if he does call the police they will not arrest you (if you're at all polite to them) as they've seen it all before and it's a civil matter between you and the restaurant. Stay calm, stay focused and don't pay.

(Don't try this in a rough area though as you might get your teeth served to you, raw).

A friend of mine has an Italian restaurant and he told me that as long as no more than half of the meal is eaten you can refuse to pay, although personally if the meal is that bad I wouldn't even eat half.

Hi, thought I'd place a statement to balance things abit after reading some of the other statements present.

In my experience, you must NEVER refuse to pay a bill at a cafe restaurant for food/drink which you've consumed and which you know was alright even if another dish wasn't.

It doesn't matter how much we may not have liked the food or service, simply ask for what is reasonable e.g. if the food is too raw, ask for a replacement to be cooked better...again if it's overcooked ask them for a replacement etc.

And if it's truly still not upto scratch (i.e. not humanly edible) then return it and ask for it to be cancelled off your bill and state clearly why.

Most eateries will be happy to do this as they would like you to come back/the chef was having a bad day etc.

The police CAN arrest you for Fraud/dishonestly obtaining services:
But should you go and downright refuse to pay for the items (like drinks) which you have consumed entirely - the police can arrest you and all who ate (for Fraud) and who refused to pay (I've heard it from the lips of several police constables as a staff member speaking to several clients who loved the food, ate it all then refused to pay at the end by saying it and the service was cr*p as the bill came..)

It's no different than getting on a train that was 2 hours late but got you where you wanted to go- as the conductors say "It's not the time the train arrives at that you pay for, it's the product and service."

You can of course always complain - but you can't just skip out and not pay for example if you've consumed most or all of it, you cant then turn around and say "it was cr*p I'm not paying or you shoudl compensate me for my displeasure (many do and have done) - the restauranteur has little incentive to compensate you if you're comingacross as a petty/greedy/aggressive client - as they often say whether it's worth serving you again anyway (epsecially if the staff were nice to you, but you decided to start a fight and be rude).

Another less serious but maybe unhelpful avenue of behaviour is if you or your fellow diner-friends start demanding expensive "free stuff" or otherwis emouthing off publically about what you find disagreeable so that the other guests can hear (aside from replacements), is that you could find yourself on a one way ticket to "banned-ville" .

It's only the large restaurant chains that will put up with this level of behaviour (and Greed?) whereas many smaller or medium solo businesses won't.

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Accept that:
Even the best restaurants from Gordon Ramsays and Jamie Olivers make mistakes sometimes...the key is to be reasonable and courteous.

The worst case scenario if your at a very bad eaterie and you make a big fuss and the staff happen to take a personal disliking to you - you could find any "Free stuff" they may offer could be tainted etc.

I've worked as staff in several restaurants for several years and the Chefs in particular of all nationalaties can be greviously offended (their touchy creatures) if food is returned, though most will grudgingly respect the clients preference - the exception being if a client becomes haughty,. arrogant and rude - then some less scrupulous ones might spit in the food or worse etc.

I'm also a great fan of visiting restaurants too (more than wprking in them anyway!) from Italian to Chinese places alike - if you treat others with courtesy and respect you ten dmore often than not to receive more or less of the same in return.

Once as a customer abroad, I saw staff having little consideration for health/hygiene at a cafeteria, where the waiter sneezed into his hand, then proceeded to dip his fingernails which were full of grime) into the drinks of two glasses of coke we had ordered!

Ask for a replacement;
If the food item isn't upto scratch, most will happilly ask the reason then agree to do so...many will also sample the replacement dish before it's served again to you just to make sure it's acceptable to their standards (at least the manager did in the places I've worked at) and to ensure there are no further problems with the same item.

Still problems with the replacement:
Then ask the manager/waiter oover and gently explain why the replacement is still not good enough.

At this point, it's well worth asking ourselves if it's worth staying for a 3rd attempt (the answer is often a resounding "no") - if they get the replacement wrong the place is either very chaotic or simply "it's the way they cook the food" i.e. not in a way you would like.

So just ask if they can cancel off the bill what was returned (asuming you haven't all of it or left a tiny scrap (assuming there were no hairs or contaminents in etc) then pay for the rest of the stuff that was acceptable and go.

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(and if you believe that theyre a harm to the public - then place a report to the local Health protection/food standards agency office..

Consumer rights are important of course, we're all consumers from time to time in one form or another ...

But try and consider this for a moment from the cafeteria or restauranteurs perspective for a moment when a client simply says "I didn't like the food at the end of the meal when teh bill came - but they downed it all and left clean plates along with the 1987 Mateus Rose leaving a £280 bill but refusing to pay".

There are often SO many fraudsters out there looking for free rides - so you must understand if the manager is initially hesistant about your complaint - but stand your ground courteously if you believe the food was awful (just dont be a snooty self righteous jerk about it : )!

I've personally witnessed millionaire types doing this and trying to impress their chums as well as yobbish types e.g. saying a delivery had a piece of cat hair in it when the eaterie/takeaway had no pets around full stop nor could any pets have gotten in...but then when you check, the client actually has 3 cats roaming around their house - but they claim the hairs not from their cats etc.

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One afternoon in end of April ... lovely sunny day, my family (3 adults and a young child) went to Westminister to walk about. Not far from the tube station on the main road there was a Chinese restaurant ( not far from a fringe theatre). We decided to have a meal so my son noticed a big advert stating that the cost of a meal (daily) was £6 plus pence . So we went inside ..very pleasant place and were to a table. We were given menus (but noticed that the costs of some individual items were somewhat high. We began to order and then my son asked 'what is involved in the meal as advertised for under £7? To our surprise the waitress said "Oh no, that price is not for Today only during the week "... but today is Saturday and there was no sign stating what days! She simply repeated "Not today! We had really settled and the young child was pretending to order! Well my son said let us order a few items.as we are already here! He ordered two pieces of fried chicken (less than a quarter chicken when it arrived on the table) plus fried rice (for three) with tiny bits of shrimp or chicken ..not sure!) and 3 glasses of Water plus one sprite). The bill (not including the tip) came up to $54 plus pence (near £55.) We were caught god and proper ..by the wrongly advertised board! Once bitten twice shy ..for me never a chinese rastaurant again because of the 'dishonesty'!

Speaking of reviews...the Taste Card (offers discounts in restaurants), however their website is a phoney.

I had a particularly bad experience in a restaurant in Clapham called the Abbeyville, so I posted an honest review on the Taste London site. TWO days later it was REMOVED and replaced with a really positive ONE! => I suspect it was a fake!

My review was not rude or offensive in any way - in fact I actually praised the staff for compensating me for the poor service. I wrote to Taste and asked why they removed my review?...they DIDN'T reply.

My advice, becareful of any restaurant site that ONLY has good reviews.

Speaking of reviews...the Taste Card (offers discounts in restaurants), however their website is a phoney.

I had a particularly bad experience in a restaurant in Clapham called the Abbeyville, so I posted an honest review on the Taste London site. TWO days later it was REMOVED and replaced with a really positive ONE! => I suspect it was a fake!

My review was not rude or offensive in any way - in fact I actually praised the staff for compensating me for the poor service. I wrote to Taste and asked why they removed my review?...they DIDN'T reply.

My advice, becareful of any restaurant site that ONLY has good reviews.

After working in several restaurants beware of asking for another portion . I have known chefs to spit and cough on the complainers food and thats the only things I will tell you about publicly . If people complained of cold food we would reheat it up to the extreme and steam cups of tea so hot you could,nt drink them for about 10 mins .Most customers were great but in any establishment people will complain and often come back again and complain = free food .. maybe. Advice to vote with your feet and never go back . Complain to friends , family and post on websites

I admire and appreciate the stand on honesty and fair play. However, I would never send anything back and asked for it to be replaced or cooked differently - why? - well I know some of the things that these highly strung 'so called chefs do to returned food and believe me you wouldn't want it anywhere near you, never mind on a plate to be eaten!

I agree not all or even the majority stoop this low, but, how do we know who, where, when or why? - As for the 'what' wiping bread rolls around the toilet basin has been mentioned - You have been warned!!

Last September my husband and I visited Pizza Express, in Worcester. Our usual restaurant had closed down and, as my husband is diabetic, we had to eat there and then.
 
No thick pizzas were available so we ordered  the basic pizza. When it arrived it looked like a poppadum with a thin cover of tomato sauce. : no cheese. 
 
We "had" to eat these but I complained to the waiter who was polite and pleasant, but, being foreign, didn't seem to understand!
 
I e-mailed the company who "investigated" and I received a basic message of apology from the customer service person. Nothing else, though, to be honest, even the offer of a free meal at Pizza Express would not have induced me  to return to the place.
 
I have eaten on many occasions with my children at Pizza Hut and never had a reason to complain.
 
I hope this was a one-off and that others will review Pizza Express in a positive light.

Some great points you have shared here. I'm really delighted through knowing these valuable info about how to complain in restaurants. Thanks dude. :) Felix Investments

I have only found them to be universally bad and extremely bad value for the processed c**p served up

My partner is a twin and we went up from London to Winchmore where I had booked a table for 4 at Wesley House for 4 at 19:00 on the 3rd May.  This was the twins' birthdays.
I rang the restaurant and told them I was a gourmet member and I am looking forward to eat at their restaurant as Gourmet ocity recommended them.  She assured me that the food would be good.
We arrived a bit early and was told that we could order drinks which we did and a bowl of nibble arrived.  Not exciting Wassabi nuts.
We were led to our table in the garden room.  The view was good but three of the plates were very damaged (cannot see the beautiful large silver border that existed once.  
We were given a mousse bouche (light bean puree) then we ordered our food.  I ordered Confit of Cod, my partner ordered lamb.   We were both very disappointed with the food.  The Confit of Cod was bland (without any taste - salt or seasoning) and the lamb was so tough and fat that my partner could not eat, he gave it to me and I ate it but complained afterwards - the waiter pretended he did not hear.
Fortunately we were all satisfied with out choice of desserts but the bill arrived with no deduction  nor apologies for the 'most disgusting food' we ate.   I am a French speaker and to think Wesley House put their prices up just because they list the menu with some French words is appalling.
 It was a very expensive meal and I regretted to have chosen that particular restaurant. 
I would not recomend this restaurant to anyone and I am letting Gourmet society know of our experience.
 

I bought two cocktails each for my Mums Birthday at Browns in Liverpool 1 43a Paradise Street on the 12th July , Saturday Evening around 10-10.30pm. I complained due to being overcharged, this was dealt with. Then the bar person responsible verbally attacked me and my mother while sitting peacefully having a drink at a table, he informed us he was graduating this week with a 2:1 which gave him the right to abuse me, I was shocked by his behaviour. I have been to university myself and have graduated with flying colors, got great results !!! I believe in equality and to be fair his background, what education he had in the past was irrelevant. He was a bar person, that was the role he was employed to do whether he had a degree or not, We need not know any details of his personal life to be fair. We just wanted to be treated well as paying customers and not talked down to. This bartender had a bee in his bonnet and verbally abused us both for no reason, as a customer I have a right to make a complaint if I believe the service has not met a required standard, and not be attacked for it, this shows a serious lack of professionalism. It was my Mums Birthday celebration, I always try to make it special for her, My Mothers partner also my father had only died four years before, my Mum still misses him. She was very upset following this incident. This bartender was not dealt with by the manager in any way, we were not reimbursed and we were both asked to leave by security, though all I had done was complain about the service in a diplomatic manner. Me and my mother were both sitting peacefully, we were both attacked verbally by a member of staff and now believe we were overcharged due to the reaction from the bartender, this was dealt with terribly by management, who did not seem to pay any attention to the reality of the situation. I was tempted to call the police in regards to this bullying situation. I am also registered disabled and was accused of being drunk, I suffer from hypoglycemic attacks which can be brought on by stress, you can seem drunk when not. my Mother became very upset at this accusation, we had both been drinking tea all day and had only bought four alcoholic drinks in Brown's. Employing people like this as staff is desperate, especially as so many people with better manners and hospitality are looking for work. This was very disappointing, make a complaint and you will be attacked for it, I am thinking of taking legal action, any advice would be most appreciated