Why and how you really should complain about that bad meal

Just remember that a waiter is also a human being so be courteous when complaining.

Just remember that a waiter is also a human being so be courteous when complaining. Photo: Getty

I’m at a café for lunch to celebrate a friend’s birthday. I am very much looking forward to my meal given the reviews and reputation of our zhoozhy location. And because I am starving.

What lands in front of me, with all the grace and charm of Mr Bumble from Oliver Twist’s workhouse, is an unappetising bowl of … stuff.

The wild rice is uncooked, the avocado is brown, the salad limp and the dressing tasteless.

When the waitress asks, ‘is everything okay?’ I smile weakly because I don’t want to spoil the vibe at the table and I am at my friend’s favourite café. And really, it is just my opinion that the meal is average. And overpriced.

So, I eat it, grateful it is a small bowl.

Date night, a week later. The glass of champagne I ordered is warm (I do send that back as I am only having one glass), the entrée arrives after the main course and the dessert is overcooked.

Again, I don’t say anything and instead leave feeling ripped off, financially and gastronomically.

Should I have complained? And what are the how, what and when rules around complaining? The New Daily asked a restaurateur, a food reviewer and an etiquette expert for some advice.

Kate Stevenson, restaurant reviewer, and co-host of 3AW’s A Moveable Feast and Channel 7’s program of the same name believes that Australians don’t like complaining because “we don’t want to look like whingers”.

“If I am asked how the meal was and I feel the staff care about the answer I love the old compliment sandwich’ as a failsafe passive-aggressive manoeuvre!” she says.

“Those chips were amazing, the steak probably a little over-cooked for me, but I loved the carrot,” Ms Stevenson says.

Anna Musson, etiquette expert from The Good Manners Company, believes that the best time to complain about your food is the moment you consider it to be below standard.

“That might be as it is being placed, or five bites in – but once you have completed the meal, there’s no replacing it.”

“Be calm and quiet. State the problem and the desired solution. Consider what kind of response or compensation you would be happy with before you complain – would you like your steak cooked longer or would you like a whole new meal?

“Also consider the impact this will have on the tone and flow of the evening. If it’s not worth sending back a $10 salad and spoiling the evening, then just push on,” she says.

Thierry Cornevin, a restaurateur of more than 18 years and owner of French restaurant, Bistro Thierry, in Malvern Road, Toorak, says that people do have a right to complain because ‘the customer pays our wages.’

“We have a plaque in the kitchen which says, ‘Yes, is the answer. What is your question?’ because we want to see 120 people walk out of the restaurant every night with a smile,” he says.

how to complain about a bad meal

A chef at Bistro Thierry where boss Thierry Cornevin says the customer should always be king. Photo: Instagram

Mr Cornevin believes that complaints are often a case of misunderstanding.

“A customer’s interpretation of medium rare [steak] might be different to ours, but we would always fix it.”

Mr Cornevin’s best advice when complaining is to remember that waiters are human beings.

He said that courtesy is the most important thing.

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