What do you do when you have a bad restaurant experience?

I may either have a short memory, or have been lucky, but I can count the number of bad experiences I’ve had at restaurants, and still remember, on one hand. Unless the offense has been quite obvious - say, a big green caterpillar in my salad (happened once!), or a hair in my soup - I’ve never felt like lodging a direct complaint. The most I do is to call it a ‘three-time experience’ (an in-house joke) - the first, last and only time I’ll go there.

I do wonder though if complaining would have done anything. I tend to shy away from confrontation, but eating out, especially at a high end restaurant, is a very special, not to mention expensive, occasion. When such an experience is screwed up, as it was for this commenter, it can be very frustrating to say the least.

What do you do when you have a bad restaurant experience? In this case I’m not talking about merely mediocre or bad food, but something really off-putting in some way, such as exceptionally bad service, or something amiss with the food, or anything that really makes you angry. Do you simply go away or complain about it, and if you have complained, has it made any difference?

This post has been closed to comments, due to some people mistaking it for a version of Yelp! or something.

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If it’s something serious,

If it’s something serious, I will complain. A boyfriend and I were once seated at a table surrounded by several other groups of diners. The other groups were all shouting to each other at truly earsplitting levels. We couldn’t hear the waiter unless he bellowed. I complained and asked for a quieter seat (and got it, there were plenty of unused tables).

I’ve also been in the position of being unable to complain. Completely empty restaurant aside from a raucous group having after work drinks in the bar. We were seated right next to the bar, and had the most inattentive service I’ve ever experienced. We could have walked out without paying at any time because there was so little staff presence. We did finally manage to catch someone to get the check, and I just didn’t bother to complain because it was so clear that the person had More Important Things To Do. Instead, no tip for them.

Emily | 10 July, 2007 - 14:22

I’ve only been angry

I’ve only been angry enough to walk out of a restaurant once, when I found multiple hairs in my food. While the server was generous and brought another dish (in which we found MORE hairs), the manager accused us of putting our own hairs in our dishes to get a free meal (never mind that we hadn’t eaten any of it). Our server ended up telling the manager off, got him to back down, and got a tip from us, even though we were too disgusted to eat there again. It’s the only time I’ve seen or heard of the server being more gracious than the manager!

I tend to grin and bear it in less disgusting situations, and it often pays off. My fiance took a friend and me out to dinner a few months back to a very delicious, tiny, understaffed restaurant, in which there was a party going on… the poor waitstaff (one of whom owned the restaurant!) were overwhelmed, and it took us half an hour to get a menu, let alone a wine list. Well, the owner apologized and came back with a huge platter of delicious food, all on the house. We ended up having a great night.

I tend to be nonconfrontational too, so I’m more likely to just never come back than to actually make a complaint unless I literally cannot eat the food.

Nico | 10 July, 2007 - 16:21

I only really recall 2

I only really recall 2 instances of bad experiences, both involving chain restaurants. One was with a large group of college-age friends— our order was at least an hour late, and was cold by the time we got it. The place was busy, since it was on a weekend, in the middle of a college area, but we were so disgusted— we couldn’t even find someone to complain to. So we didn’t pay the bill.

The second instance, I had asked for a meal to be made vegetarian, as I wasn’t eating meat at the time. When I was served the plate, not only was there meat in the dish, there was a strand of hair in it. My colleagues complained for me, but I didn’t have the wherewithal to order another dish at the time (I don’t know why). I didn’t get a replacement dish, but I think it was subtracted from the bill.

Mostly, I don’t complain if the food isn’t exactly to my liking. I’ll put up with bad service if the food is good, and vice versa, but I won’t necessarily return to the restaurant. I used to date a guy who would complain to the management for the slightest wrong— that was embarrassing, and made for a bad food experience in itself.

yoko | 10 July, 2007 - 17:04

will do the same three-time

will do the same three-time experience like you. then post up the bad experience in influential local food forums :p

babe_kl | 11 July, 2007 - 04:22

gokiburi in the parmesan

My worst restaurant experience was actually in Japan. We were in Nara, visiting a friend, and went to one of those cafe lunch type places on the top floor of a shopping mall (Isetan???). I ordered rice pilaf. All was going well, and the food came to our table, and looked just like shrimp rice pilaf should look. I took the container of kraft parmesan cheese and shook it over my pilaf- the lid popped off, and the fattest cockroach I’d ever seen fell out and literally ran across my plate and off the table, and he was out the door. I swear to you this is a true story. The other diners saw it too, and the restaurant brought me a new plate of food but alas, still made me pay for it. I’m not that squeamish, and I wasn’t upset exactly- but I think the restaurant staff should have been more apologetic about it.

-Sea

anon. | 18 July, 2007 - 07:08

omg gokiburi

Wow, gokiburi in the cheese - they should have indeed apologized! I did once have a bright green insect of some sort in my salad at a restaurant in Zürich, but I didn’t think it was toxic (we have insects like that in our garden)…so though it did creep me out I was okay with them changing the salad. But cockroaches….inexcusable!

That does remind me of one incident that happened in a tiny hole in the wall Japanese restaurant on the UES in NY (no longer in operation…) it was a sort of hangout for local Japanese residents, with only a sprilnking of non-Japanese folks venturing in. One day I was there with my mother and stepfather, and a HUGE waterbug scuttled across the counter. The regular Japanese folks laughed and one of them smashed it with his fist, and the obasan who ran the place cleared it off with a paper towel. The two tables of non-Japanese folks cleared out of there fast, but the Japanese people stayed… though I wanted to throw up! I don’t remember what I ate that day but I refused to go back there again, even though the obasan-owner was a friend of my mother’s…

maki | 18 July, 2007 - 18:27

Eww...

Yeah, i get those bright green bugs sometimes. They’re like fluorescent green oversized beetle-like……..things.
They buzz around and knock into stuff. They’re mainly annoying, and not (to my knowledge) toxic.

Beef Sushi o.O | 26 August, 2007 - 07:38

It really depends on how bad

It really depends on how bad the service is. Sometimes my order will be completely messed up and I won’t say anything about it. I don’t like confrontation.

But the other day I was out to eat with my girlfriend and the waiter came only once, to take our orders, one of which he messed up. At this point, we had not been given untensils or a napkin or anything. Some other waitress brought us our food, and we asked her for utensils. She said, “Sure thing!”. After ten minutes or so we realized we weren’t going to get any utensils so my girlfriend got up and acquired some for us. Then I was finally able to eat.

After we were done eating, we watched our waiter attend to all the tables on either side of us while we waited over ten minutes for him to bring the check. When it became clear we weren’t going to receive it, my girlfriend complained to the manager, who gave us the bill.

We paid in exact change and left no tip.

Dani | 18 July, 2007 - 17:20

Complain for bad service

Once my party and I had been seated for over 20 minutes without being recognized by any server, and this included the person who brought the water. I tried repeatedly to get a server, any server’s attention but failed so I did the only thing I could, I called the front desk on my cell phone. I got service pretty promptly after that. I suppose I could have walked to the front desk but this seemed easier and more obnoxious.

Usually for bad food, I ignore it but bad service drives me nuts.

Megan | 24 July, 2007 - 07:39

Complain for problem with the food

I know this is a late comment, but just last night I was out to dinner with friends and had steamed mussels. As I ate them, I found three with broken shells. I put them aside and when the server brought the check, I pointed them out to him and said I thought the chef ought to know that mussels with broken shells had been served. I didn’t expect anything to come of it, but the server came back a few minutes later with a new bill - they weren’t charging me for the mussels.

So I think it’s worthwhile to let the staff know when there’s a problem, especially in a situation like this one when I usually have a good experience. I’ve been to this place several times before and never had a problem.

It reminds me of a job I once had when the president asked me why some task had not been done; caught off guard, I said the truth - that I was waiting for information from someone else. I felt like I was tattling on him (how childish ;-) but when I discussed it with someone else, she said the president wouldn’t be able to fix a problem if he didn’t know about it. Same with a chef or manager of a restaurant.

Kim | 23 August, 2007 - 19:42

Re: What do you do when you have a bad restaurant ...

We had this restaurant which was good in the beginning. Good food, good service.

But over the year it got bad. The service was not so bad...but the food was a different story.

Done with less love so to speak, smaller portions, less flavour. Once i found a snail in my salad but i got pancakes instead...which were halfbaked..and then i got a different serving for the underbaked one.

Food got less and less tasty. Not only from my point of view but also my friends complained about that.

Now we go somewhere else because everything went so bad. Not that you could not eat it but..why eat something there when you can get it elsewhere better for the same price or less?

In an other restaurant i got salad with parmesan, without pine nuts...but i had ordered it the other way round so i told the waitress and got an other salad.

I think when you stay friendly than you have the right to complain about the service or the food.

Not just because you pay for it, also because if the service it bad for you, it might be bad for other costumers and it may cause the restaurant to loose costumers if nobody says something and never visits again instead

cyrell | 3 February, 2010 - 21:07

Re: What do you do when you have a bad restaurant ...

My worst experience eating in a restaurant was in Singapore, I and my indian gf tried this turkish restaurant at robertson walk name is like Capridocia, I wonder what kind of meat they served us its like an expired meat cooked in a different way, taste was really disgusting, the service is quite good but the food really sucks!!!!!

elegy | 27 February, 2010 - 19:39

Re: What do you do when you have a bad restaurant ...

To me, good service is vital to a quality restaurant experience. I've come across great service and I've come across some not so great service. Some restaurants have great food, but horrible service. Other are the other way around.

There is one restaurant in my town that I've never really liked much because their food and service seem to be good sometimes and horrible other times. The waitresses at this restaurant are between the ages of 18-29. Some of them have attitudes. Tonight, I could have sworn that a couple of them were spying us. I turned around to look towards the other side of the restaurant to see one standing by the doorway that by the desert area and bathrooms. It seemed as if she was just watching us intently. Then again, I've never really been a fan of this particular restaurant. I'm also not a very big fan that age group for waitresses because most of the ones I've encountered weren't that great.

We have a Durango's in our town. The service and food are great. We went there for my brother's 16th birthday last weekend and the waitress was good. She was nice to my brother and gave him free Mexican ice cream. The girl was in her 20's, but she was a good waitress.

My favorite restaurant experience of all time was at a restaurant that was in a town south of the town I live in. It was roughly 45 minutes away. We had a particular waiter that we always asked for because he was a great waiter. This waiter was also the school security guard at my school. This man was an older man, 57 years of age. This waiter was the best server we ever had. He always keep the garlic knots coming. He always made sure we had plenty to drink and he always remembered what kind of wine my mom liked. She liked Merlot. This waiter knew all of our names and had no trouble remembering names. In fact he was the only person in the world that didn't have any trouble with my name. My real name is Valentina. People seem to have the hardest time with my name for some reason. This waiter was just perfect. He was funny and had great people skills. He did chat with us when he could and he touched mine and my mother's shoulders. I loved that. It showed that he wanted his customers to feel special and that he appreciated them. When we went there for my birthday the waiter gave me a free slice of cheese cake. This waiter, like I said before was the best waiter of all time. The sad part is that he is not working at the restaurant anymore. He quit in late January because he wanted some time off. I miss seeing him at the restaurant. That restaurant just isn't as good as it was when this waiter was there. I guess I should be lucky that he still works at my school.

Andrea Rose | 7 March, 2010 - 07:19

Re: What do you do when you have a very bad restaurant ...

My family, my Boyfriend and I decided to re-visit a rustic style restaurant after a few years for my fathers birthday. We ordered the starters.
Firstly my Boyfriends starter - cajun chicken skewers -was unbelieveably small. There were two skewers and two pieces of (no joking) 50p sized chicken pieces on them.

Ok, so we got the main meals. At this point the 5 extra wine glasses hadn't been taken away by the waitress and were cluttering up the table. We ended up placing them all on a nearby windowsill ourselves. And not to mention the wait between getting the starters then getting the main meal was far too long.

For my main i ordered steak - cooked rare. The steak turned up well done. So i sent it back. Second try - the steak was brown on the outside but ice cold !? on the inside so i sent it back again. Third steak was OK but there was no blood what so ever which i found odd and the meat was VERY dark red which i also found strange. And the fries i had with it were seasoned to death so much so that i could not eat them because there was so much salt on it. AND the onion rings that came with my meal were burnt to a crisp, they were charcoaled.

We had also ordered cauliflower cheese on the side because we all LOVE IT. It turned up and it looked as if some processed cheese had been placed ontop of the cauliflower cheese and melted since there was a yellow cheese square on top and the cauliflower was white.

DESSERT.
Another amazingly long wait until it arrived.
My Brownie was lovely. Warm and soft.
My Boyfriends was uncooked and very hard. Almost in-edible.

The toilets were also very messy. In the first toilet there was toilet paper piled all over the floor for some reason. The first and second toilets were blocked and the third had only a small amount of toilet paper left.

And I still cannot believe we payed for this dinner. They had taken off some cauliflower cheese and the hard brownie but that was it. We spoke to the manager who insisted that nothing was wrong which only made things more frustrating, especiall since it was quite an expesive meal. It spoilt my fathers birthday partially as well. I will NEVER be going back to that particular 'Fox and Raven' restaurant in chelmer village.

Emma | 31 August, 2010 - 02:16

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