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How to Complain in a Restaurant

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Going out to a restaurant is an inescapable part of being today’s average millennial. Some enjoy the meal cooked by anybody else rather than themselves, others simply check-in and make Instagram-stories for their followers.

However, spending your precious time in a good restaurant may be ruined by nasty food, a noisy atmosphere, or poor customer service. According to, 38% of people would not complain in a restaurant. Dory Brown, a former restaurant manager for the Chart House Chain says: "A lot of people will just not come back and never say why."

It seems that people are just unaware of how to do it properly, or simply afraid of doing this publicly.

Basically, all restaurant complaints can be divided into three types:

  1. A complaint in person while you are in a restaurant;
  2. An online complaint about a restaurant;
  3. Food problems report to a state or federal agency.

Complaint in person while you are in a restaurant

No matter whether it is hair in your food, or a rude server with a lack of communication, the #1 rule is that complaining in a restaurant should be delicate and polite.

How to complain about food in a restaurant

  • Alert your waiter immediately. Don’t report a meal after you’ve eaten at least half of it. As soon as you are served with a plate of food, take a look, smell it and, if you notice something wrong – call the server straight away and show him/her what is wrong.
  • Be clear and precise. Try to explain the problem without anger and raising your voice. Mistakes happen, give the restaurant another bite at the cherry.
  • Say it now or don’t say anything. Giles Coren, the author of "How to eat out" says "Once you walk out of the door, it's over." Therefore, it is better to report a restaurant failure while you are there rather than making a drama on Twitter, Yelp, or Tripadvisor. Chances are your concerns would be heard and addressed immediately.

How to complain about customer service in a restaurant

"The hardest part of owning a restaurant is dealing with staff", - says Lorri Mealey, a former restaurant owner.

  • Call a manager. If you feel your communication with a server doesn’t bring any positive outcome, ask politely to speak to the manager.
  • Don’t be pushy. Even if your orders were mixed up, or you had to wait 40 min instead of promised 15, please, remain calm and don’t be hungry for freebies. 9 times out of 10 it is up to the restaurant to decide how to make amends for a complaint unless it is raw food or ignoring a food allergy.
  • Avoid threats. Explain the issue honestly without exaggeration. Don't go around throwing your accusations on Yelp unless you feel that you’re really being mistreated. Also, keep in mind that such quirky requests as "Don’t sit me next to anyone who is poorly dressed" won’t be reimbursed.

Online complaint about a restaurant

If you feel that your complaint against the restaurant has not been taken seriously, you may go and start an online battle. Companies who take care of their online reputation already know the power and influence of online reviews. So there is more possibility, you won’t be ignored.

To make your review informative make sure to include the following information:

  1. Company name (in your case Restaurant) where the issue occurred;
  2. Location of this restaurant;
  3. Description of the problem;
  4. Reason of the review (what made you feel unhappy);
  5. The approximate value of your loss;
  6. Preferable compensation etc.

To make your review even more "powerful", do not forget to share it via social networks such as Facebook or Twitter.

According to J.D. Power, 67% of consumers have used a company’s social media channel for customer service. Statistics show that direct questions or comments on the official company page are more likely to generate a response from the staff than any @tagged mentions. Let’s compare two examples of good and bad customer service on Social Media.


While waiting for takeoff in Tampa, Florida, Peter Shankman jokingly asked Morton’s Steakhouse to deliver a porterhouse steak when he landed at Newark airport.

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While departing the Newark airport to meet his driver, he was greeted by a Morton’s server with a 24 oz. Porterhouse steak, shrimp, potatoes, and bread – the works. A full meal and no bill.



Marc Orfaly, the chef of Pigalle in Boston, ignored the fact that social media have a way of going viral very quickly. And never, ever being forgotten. After a customer complained about her Thanksgiving meal on Facebook, the chef responded with a "go f*** yourself".


To make things even worse, Pigalle Boston posted the following status on Facebook. This is actually a good example for companies how not to respond to their consumers’ complaints.


Food problem report to state or federal agency

If you suspect that food was contaminated and now you became ill after eating in a restaurant, it is better to immediately report this.

In order for the USDA to investigate a problem with meat, poultry, or egg products, you must have:

  1. The original container or packaging;
  2. Any foreign object that you might have discovered in the product;
  3. Any uneaten portion of the food (refrigerate or freeze it);

Information you should be ready to tell the Hotline on the phone includes:

  • Name, address, and phone number;
  • Brand name, product name, and manufacturer of the product;
  • The size and package type;
  • Can or package codes (not UPC bar codes) and dates;
  • Establishment number (EST) usually found in the circle or shield near the "USDA passed and inspected" phrase;
  • Name and location of the store, as well as the date that you purchased the product;
  • You can complain to the store or the product's manufacturer if you don't choose to make a formal complaint to the USDA.

If you would like to report a restaurant you should contact the local (county or city) health department. Each particular state organization has its own website and phone number.

Let’s imagine we would like to report a restaurant in Florida. Go directly to the website of the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation and find the object you would like to file your complaint against from the list.

After filing your complaint form, wait until someone from this department reaches out to you. Usually, such organizations have a customer contact center in case you have any questions or need assistance in completing this form.

I hope the tips above will not only help you to complain in a restaurant properly but will teach you how to leave it with free champagne and a dish named after you as an apology.

© 2021 Helen D

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