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What Type Of Complainer Are You?

This article was penned by a restaurant owner and regular reader of my posts. He has asked that he remain anonymous and I will certainly respect this. I shall Refer to him as Mr A although his real name is… Arthur Jackson, 32a Milton Avenue, Hounslow, Middlesex. (Don’t bother looking it up, it is straight out of a Monty Python skit)

What Kind Of Complainer Are You?

As a restaurateur we are confronted with numerous and various types of complaints. We soon get to sum up who means business and who doesn’t. We immediately get a feel for the nature of the complaint and thereby the personality of the complainant. In this blog I have read about ways that customers prejudge their waiters, and I have read about how waiters sum up their customers. Both have been incredibly close to the truth. I would like to give a little insight into the different ways that customers complain.

Maybe you can identify with one or more methods that you or your “embarrassing to go out with in-laws” try and impart your vast knowledge and experience on an unsuspecting amateur restaurateur. Before I do, let me explain to you my maxim about the customer…

“the customer is NOT always right, but he/she is always the customer, and the customer has the right to be WRONG”

I will list the complaints in order of increasing annoyance.

1. The “I was in last night” phone the next day customer

Often this customer is genuinely complaining for the right reason. They did not want to kick up a fuss at the time. They may have had guests that they did not want to embarrass. They may be genuine fans of your establishment, and they have taken time out from their busy schedule to let you know of their experience. I will always appreciate this type of complainer, and make good.

2. The “I never ever complain but” customer

The moment that a customer starts their sentence with the above, you can know for sure that they are serial complainers. If they really never complained, they would not be embarrassed enough to feel the need to explain themselves to you. A good tell tale sign is often a quick glance around at the rest of the table. You will definitely see someone in the party avoiding eye contact, or rolling their eyes as if to say “not again”

3. The “I have been in this game “customer

The moment that someone has the audacity to call the restaurant industry a “game”, you can know for sure that they have never played it. Anyway if they were so good at it, why are they not in it still (and making money out of it)? I always marvel at the number of professional restaurateurs that are not practicing.

4. The “this is ICE cold” customer (also –“it took hours” and, ”it is inedible”)

A simple “please could you warm this up / won’t you please see why the food is taking longer than it should or, this is a little tough” would suffice. The massive over exaggerations are irritating in the extreme. Do people know how cold ice is? Is it possible to eat 80% of something inedible? Thank goodness the order slips have a time on them; it is useful to show some customers the difference between 15 minutes and “an hour”

5. The “this place has gone to the dogs” customer

The saddest truth in our industry is that we are only as good as a customer’s last meal. Mistakes can happen, and problems do occur. It is heartbreaking however, when a customer who has eaten in your establishment for years, one who we have bent over backwards for to get them their favourite table at short notice, we have manipulated the menu for them and generally sweated to make them feel good, has one bad meal and says “this place has gone downhill, and I will tell everyone I know not to come here. I put you on the map, and I can ruin you”

6. The “this place is never the same when so and so is not here” customer

We tend to feed people’s egos more than their tummies. Often customers feel uneasy when their favourite manager or the owner is not on duty to pamper them. They will be looking for problems from arrival. It makes no difference if that manager has never put foot in the kitchen or does not know a fillet from a rump. They will always say that so and so usually picks their steak for them and it is just not the same without them. These customers are the insecure type who need extra attention.

7. The “I am doing this for your own good” customer

Nobody likes to be criticized. Even when they say thanks for the criticism, nobody likes to be criticized. We will nod and smile and pretend to appreciate what you have so kindly pointed out. Instead we would love to explain some of the reasons as to why things are done the way they are, but we know that you feel you know better than us, and if we defend ourselves we are on a hiding to nothing. Rumours of our arrogance will spread like wild fire. So we smile, nod and thank, but inside think to ourselves “they must be a little slow to complain about the same thing for the tenth time, yet still come back for it”

8. The “We’ll never be back” serial regular

I wish we could just say “then don’t”. in fact I have once before, and got a sheepish smile the next week when they came with a group for a friends birthday. I don’t mean to sound arrogant, but if a customer really will never come back, they usually just leave without saying so.

9. The “I am not asking for anything for free / it’s not about the money” customer

There is no doubt that when anyone says that it is not about the money, then that is exactly what it is about. We tell the customer straight away that we know that they are not doing it to get a free drink or coffee, but we would love to buy them one any way. Nobody declines. The cardinal sin however for a restaurateur, is to promote the entire bill. You may think you are going to really knock their socks off. This will backfire as the customer will immediately tell everyone they know about the fact that the experience was so diabolical that the restaurant did not charge for anything. It is the biggest admission of guilt ever.

There is however only one customer more dangerous to our business then the complaining customer. That is the one who does not complain. The one who really did not enjoy themselves, and just leaves without saying a word. Never to return. I am not asking you as a customer to stop complaining. It is your right. By complaining you are actually giving me a second chance to make good. You are giving me the opportunity to turn a negative situation into a positive one. I have made some life long customers out of disasters. The trick is all in the way the complaint is dealt with.

What I am asking though, is to think about how you complain. Let the severity of the complaint equal the level of unhappiness. Try and put things in perspective and complain maturely and responsibly. I for one will take it more seriously.


Mr A left out the most dangerous of all complainers ‘The keep your mouth shut, smile at everyone and then trash them on Hello Peter’ type. Let me remind you all quickly before you trash someone on Hello Peter as to how it works… You get to say anything you like, no one vets it, no one checks up on it, authenticates it or contacts the offending company before posting it. The company is notified AFTER the posting appears and is offered a chance to respond. Only problem is… they have to PAY for the privilege of responding to a complaint that anyone can post for free!

Once again thanks to our first guest blogger, watch this space for many more! If you feel there is a budding blogger or closet writer hiding deep in your psyche please feel free to email it to me, it will certainly be considered for publication by our expert panel comprising of myself, my wife and the kids. Who could refuse such an offer?

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