How to Complain in a Restaurant

An easy to follow guide to complaining in a restaurant that won't leave you blushing or raging. This article describes the correct etiquette involved in making a complaint in a restaurant.


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    Act immediately. The key to successful complaining is to highlight the problem right away, thereby giving the restaurant the opportunity to resolve the problem with minimum fuss.
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    Remain calm and objective. Discreetly call the waiter over, explain the problem, express your disappointment, and ask him or her to resolve the situation. Do not automatically blame the waiter; keep in mind that a long wait for food or a dish that is not cooked to your satisfaction is probably the fault of the chef rather than the server.
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    Suggest a resolution that matches your complaint. Would an apology be enough? Would you like your food replaced? Do you want a discount? Whatever it is, be sure to ask or politely suggest rather than demand.
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    Take it to the next level. If your concerns are not met with an acceptable resolution, ask politely to speak to the manager. Explain the problem to him or her, and state why you are not satisfied with how it has been resolved.
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    Reduce the tip. If other options proved fruitless, reducing the tip (or not leaving one at all) is a powerful way of expressing your displeasure.
    • Remember to differentiate between a problem with the waiter and the restaurant. If the food was of a low standard but the waiter did a good job of addressing your complaint, then a tip is still appropriate.
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    Seek outside help. If after complaining to the waiter and the manager you are still dissatisfied, it's time to take your complaints to a higher authority. Contact your local consumer standards body for advice. In the UK, for example, you can try the Citizen's Advice Bureau or the Office of Fair Trading. In the US, contact your local Better Business Bureau office.
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    Immediately report any illness. If, once you've left a restaurant, you become ill from food poisoning that you believe can be traced back to the restaurant, you should immediately report it to the restaurant. If you do not believe that the restaurant is responding to your complaint, you can then report it to the local health department or food standards agency.


  • Tell your friends! This will prevent others from making the same mistake and might indirectly affect how the establishment is run when they lose business.
  • If you've had a bad trip to the restaurant before, do not complain to your new waiter about prior service.
  • Keep your complaints discreet. Your issue is with the restaurant, not the other patrons.
  • Know the temperatures for the varying degrees of "doneness" in meat. For example, well done is 160 °F (71 °C) or above—not always enough to cook all the pink out of a piece of meat.
  • Complain to the manager and not the server if you want faster results.


  • If the waiter was horrible, it is most effective to leave a very very small tip rather than none at all. This proves that you didn't forget, you simply don't believe he or she deserves a tip.
  • Alert the waiter to allergies and dislikes. If any of the stated ingredients are then present in your meal, you should complain and send it back immediately.

Sources and Citations

  • Videojug. Film of making a complaint in a restaurant. Shared with permission.

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