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A lesson in complaining

Burger badness (Photo:

Burger badness (Photo:

I got a right telling off from an irate waitress recently.

You know when you’re really looking forward to a big juicy burger? I ordered one, with chips, from a very popular restaurant in Dublin city. But the meal was profoundly disappointing. The patty was remarkably dry, and was served with only a smidgen of very bland home-made ketchup that tasted more of tomato puree. The chips were warm, not hot, and they were pretty soggy. It was so unappetising that I promptly lost my appetite.

My dining companion, a chef, listened to my gripes and suggested I send it back. But when the waitress came and asked if everything was okay, I bottled it. In my limited defence, I had the odd idea that the food might start tasting nicer if I only gave it more time. I spent the next 20 minutes pushing the food from one side of the plate to the other.

When the waitress returned for our plates, she asked if everything was alright. My complaints all spilled out. Instead of an apology, I got an exasperated sigh. She reminded me that she had asked if all was okay, that I had said it was, and that the time to speak up had been earlier. “If you’d complained, I could have sent it back,” she said. “I could have brought you a new dish, but now there’s nothing I can do. Next time, you should speak up.” Then she walked out of my life.

I was about to get all indignant when my fellow diner, who is a chef, told me that I was indeed in the wrong. And he was right. I normally am the complainer, but this time my critical faculties failed me. I told him about a family member who is terrified of complaining because she thinks the chefs will spit or snot in her food. He assured me this would never happen in a kitchen, and that if it ever did, the chef wouldn’t just be fired – the Gardaí would be called. The most annoying thing for chefs and waiting staff, he said, is when customers eat most of a meal and then complain, or when they wait until the very end of a meal to air their grievance.

That was me told. I’m not naming the restaurant because I don’t think it would be fair; I should have complained at the time. I’ve learned a valuable lesson. Do you complain in restaurants? Are you too scared? And have you ever had post-dinner regrets?


  1. Yes, I’m the guy who is complaining when something is wrong, of course.
    Back in 2007 in Bucharest/Romania, when I was a restaurant critic, I found a little piece of glass in my salad. I was shocked, but I made a complain.
    The staff from the restaurant said that is not their fault :), and later, when I wrote about it on my blog, they even started to suggest that I’ve personally added the glass in my salad :).
    Three months later, the restaurant was shut down, due to decreasing number of clients, after the incident.

    Sorry for their business, but when you have glass in your food, which is a potential dead trap, you have to close it down.

  2. It’s an Irish thing…we may give out yards about the food but God forbid we’d actually *tell* the person who cooked it. That’d be impolite.

    As a fellow Irish-reticent-complainer, but also as a waitress, I appreciate how hard it is to give out face to face about grievances concerning your dinner.

    But it’s worth it. There’s shag-all a restaurant can do if you’ve eaten most of it but complained after…constructive criticism is the way forward.

    The thing we, as Irish complainers, need to do is not to regard it as a personal matter…it’s just the way it is. No need to get uppity, or dispairing, it’s only food, but here are the facts….”my steak tastes like shite,” etc.

    We need to embrace the dispassionate complaining.

  3. I remember many years ago eating Sunday Lunch with friends where every dish was faulty – overcooked, dried out, tasteless mush that we all agreed was inedible. Then the waitress came to the table to ask if everything was OK – ‘yes, lovely thanks’ we chorused….

  4. I know someone who asked for no cheese on her cheese burger. It arrived with cheese. “Is everything ok?” – “Yeah, lovely”. We’re terrible for complaining.

  5. No cheese on her cheese burger?!