How to complain like a decent person

How to complain like a decent person

One of the first things you learn in a job in the tourism and hospitality industry, is that it can be tough to keep everyone happy. Unavoidably, things go wrong or aren’t to someone’s taste. Members of the public respond to these incidents with a variety of reactions, some reasonable and others disturbing.

So as a consumer and member of the public, how can we make these people’s lives better? How can you complain like a decent person?

In a restaurant

We can be quite nervous about complaining in a restaurant. We are at the mercy of our servers and chefs. Horror stories of waiters spitting in your food are probably untrue, but the fear is always there.

First of all, this is what you should not do:

  • Check that you haven’t made the mistake or been unreasonable
  • Complain because the food isn’t to your taste or how you would make it at home.

Have integrity and don’t complain to try and get a second meal or free dessert. As with all the places on this list, don’t be abusive or vengeful towards the staff; petty behaviour can ruin an innocent person’s day.

The best way to complain in a restaurant is to have some basic empathy, stay calm and avoid threatening the staff. If your food is burnt or raw, they have ignored the allergen requests you have made or the service is nonexistent or horrendously rude, then you have a legitimate complaint. This is also true if a restaurant tries to break the law by charging more than they have advertised or not providing the free drinking water and toilet facilities that are mandated by law.

Calmly explain the issue to the staff and encourage them to help. Withholding your tip or removing a service charge is a useful way to indicate displeasure with the service without being overly confrontational.

In a hotel

We have high expectations of our hotel rooms when we stay somewhere for business or pleasure. In most hotels, staff are trained to serve customers with the highest standard of friendly service and when something goes wrong, this is the side you need to approach.

Be considerate about the way you complain. Go to the concierge front desk with a clear photo of your issue and what you want done about it. Ideally, go at a quiet time rather than at peak check-in and check-out times and staff will have more time and patience to help. The best way to get the most out of your hotel is to find out the names of the staff and use them when you interact with them.

Some issues like noise from nearby construction may be unavoidable, but others like dirty rooms or broken showers may be fixed with a simple room switch. An ultra-polite complainer may even get an upgrade as a token of apology and leave a happy customer. Ask for a manager, but only as a last resort if things don’t change after a reasonable amount of time.

Complaining about a company

Complaining about a company is a slightly different challenge, because you have a far less personal relationship and are not in the heat of the moment that you are in a hotel or restaurant.

Whilst following the standard principles of being polite, calm and respectful, you should also be smart on your consumer rights. Put your complaint in writing, probably by email these days. Make sure your records are watertight. For example, if you were complaining to your energy supplier, keep your bills and correspondence.

Use the formal processes if you are dissatisfied with the response from the company, after you have escalated it as far as possible. These include Alternative Dispute Resolution services or the ombudsman for the relevant industry. Small claims court is the final option and this could be used for any of the places on this list. You just have to decide whether it is worth the investment of time and money.

Interestingly, compliments can sometimes work as well as complaints to get excellent customer care. Companies will be bombarded with negative comments so often, that they will set aside some freebies for their loyal fans to keep them sweet. An online blogger documented his success with The Flattery Project, where he complimented his 42 favourite brands with an email and received coupons, samples, handwritten notes and even gifts.

Tourism & Hospitality as an industry is designed to give people the best experience and manage difficult situations when they arise. If you are interested in a career in the field, find out more about studying the subject at CU Coventry, CU London and CU Scarborough.