How to successfully complain for poor restaurant service

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Are you a complainer or silent grumbler? When it comes to poor restaurant service we tend to fall into one of these two camps.

I admit I fall into the latter and am always annoyed at myself for handing over hard-earned cash when I'm not entirely happy with a meal. So how should we complain with success?


Speak to the manager
Whether it's a cheap and cheerful café or high-end gourmet restaurant, wherever you dine out you're entering into a contract with the establishment. This means you should expect a good level of service in return for your money – but of course bear in mind that the level will generally depend of the quality of joint itself.

Inform the waiter or waitress of your complaint, and ask to speak to the manager. Good restaurants welcome feedback and should be concerned with any grumbles you have.

Identify the problem
Make sure your complaint is specific. If there was something wrong with the taste, temperature or quality of the food, or it is different from what was stated on the menu – explain this. You'll be taken more seriously if you make your point clear and give reasons why you're unhappy.

Ask for your money back
Restaurants tend to offer complimentary sweeteners to make up for bad service, such as free bottle of wine or voucher for a return visit – but it's always worth asking for money back if you feel should you not pay at all, or at least receive a reduction on the bill.

Don't do a runner
We've all been tempted to do this if we've been ignored by service staff all night, but don't leave a restaurant without paying even if the service was truly awful. While you probably wouldn't want to go back anyway, you could also face prosecution.

Take your complaint further
If your complaint isn't resolved at the time of your visit, write a formal letter to the manager of the restaurant, or head office if it is part of chain. This route often leads to an apology and compensation, usually in the form of vouchers for a return meal.

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