Thursday, January 25, 2007

To Complain, That is the Question

I went out to dinner tonight. It is neighborhood Italian place within walking distance and is a place I have gone for years. I order the most basic Italian meal you can choose. I order spaghetti and meatballs. I was excited at this basic selection and was so hungry I thought I was going to faint.

I took a sip of my water to find the rim was rough on my lip. It was broken. I didn't think twice and simply turned my glass to drink from the other side. It wasn't a crack. The edge was just rough like it was chipped in the dishwasher. The food came out quickly. I picked up my fork to take my first bite. The meatball was wrong. I couldn't place it at first but I realized it tasted burnt. I stayed with the pasta noodles and picked away at the meatball until I finally convinced myself that it was really horrible. There were no redeeming qualities about it. Do I complain? No....No? But-why? Why do I chose not to say anything?

I have eaten at this restaurant many times and have been happily satisfied. Tonight was just not one of those nights. Why is it that we don't want to make waves when our food is bad? Is it the confrontation aspect? Or is there is something so close to home about food being prepared for us it just seems wrong to say thanks but no thanks? I think for me it has to do with not wanting to be placed in the category of people who complain or risk someone perceiving my actions as that category.

I have complained before at other restaurants and been treated horribly by the staff. This makes the complaint even worse! That is just not something I want to face while I am out to dinner relaxing from a stressful day. I find that if it is a place I like, I have a history visiting, and the food is bad, it is a "bad dish". If it is a restaurant I have never been before, I have a hard time going back because that meal lives on with me as that "bad restaurant".

There is another side to the story. Maybe it would serve the restaurant if we do speak up? (Not to mention you might get a new meatball!) If the restaurant is of quality they want to hear from us and make changes that will make our dining experiences better. Instead of causing a scene in the middle of the dining room, we can take the manager aside and explain our complaints. If you aren't at all confrontational you can always write or email the restaurant.

What restaurant complaints have you made? Have you ever gone back to the restaurant where you have made a complaint to find there are improvements? Or is that restaurant ruined for you?



Anonymous Steven said...

I guess the main reason I don't complain at restaurants is I'm afraid some kid in the back will take it personally and do something terrible to the "new" food in retaliation. I'd rather just have bad food than something I'd rather not imagine.

This reminds me of the time I got food poisoning from the steam-line at Whole Foods. I still remember staying up all night crying and throwing up so much that it burst the capillaries around my eyes. I've never been so sick.
We called later to notify the manager - to warn him that the proper food handling procedures weren't being followed. Sadly, the manager's first reaction was to condescend and accuse us of instead having a stomach flu. It was shocking to have the manager take this position. To suggest I didn't know the difference between food poisoning and stomach flu was below insulting. Unfortunately, I have had both a stomach flu and food poisoning. You don't confuse the two. This guy either had never had a stomach flu in his life or he was scared and arrogant.
We didn't get anywhere with the manager, so we called Whole Foods headquarters to complain about the manager and the food handling. We never heard back from headquarters and I've never shopped at Whole Foods since. It's a shame.

1:30 AM  
Blogger Erin S. said...

I'm a wimp and rarely complain (I like to blame it on my Midwestern heritage). I've sent things back once or twice, but rarely speak up. I'm also worried about being one of "those people"--you know, the never satisfied, always complaining, rude, etc. Silly, but the way my brain works.

6:03 PM  
Anonymous wugger said...

I had a very wonderful professor once say that assertiveness is a key form of communication we all must learn - and a restaurant is the best place to practice!

Do it there so when you have to be firm and clear with the hospital or the car dealership or someone in your family, you've had some good practice.

However, the spit in the burger thing is a strong argument from Steven!

8:20 PM  
Blogger matt said...

I have found through extensive research as a burned out high school kid working for less money than I feel I am owed merely for showing up, complaining does little. What will no doubt happen is you will tell either the owner, who has an obvious vested interest in the restaurant, or the manager who wants to keep his job that he may lord his authority over his underlings. The person you will not ever talk to is the offender him (or her)self. All the complaint will do is get the person chewed out by his boss, pissing him off causing him to spit in either your food, if you are unfortunate enough to be the person eating there at the time, or some other poor bastard that doesn't have it coming. Swallow it (literally) and get beyond it. Some things you just can't fight. The Man being one of them.

6:53 PM  

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