You know the feeling: your food has arrived at the table and try as you might, it’s just not up to scratch. You don’t like the way the veg is cooked or maybe those prawns are looking a bit suspiciously at you. Perhaps the camembert’s not been cooked enough or the chicken has been overcooked. Whatever the problem is doesn’t matter; the fact that there is a problem at all is what’s the issue.
But here’s the thing: you don’t want to make a fuss. Maybe you’ve got all the family together for the first time and you don’t want to ruin it by sending your food back. Perhaps you’ve been raving about this place to the friends you’ve brought and you don’t want to lose face in front of them. Sometimes you just don’t want to cause trouble, or have to wait any longer for a replacement or a rectification. Or perhaps it’s just that good old British gene we all have of not wanting to draw attention to ourselves, or upset the staff, or get told off.
There are myriad reasons why we put up with substandard service or food and honestly, I get it. The whole idea of pointing out a problem is kind of icky and embarrassing. It’s much easier just to soldier on through and live with the bitter aftertaste of disappointment.
Well, except that none of us come to work in the hospitality industry hoping that we slip up and ruin someone’s meal. None of us want to make our customers disappointed or force them to eat something they’re not happy with. Personally, our motto has always been that we want every customer to feel ready to return as soon as they leave. How can we do that if we don’t know that they weren’t happy in the first place?
We can’t fix a problem if we don’t know that it exists.
I had two emails in one week to tell me about negative experiences of two separate customers. Both of them outlined (in great detail) all of our shortcomings and where we had missed the mark during their visit. Their feelings were entirely valid and there’s nothing more gutting than reading about what a bad time a customer feels they’ve had.
But here’s the rub: emailing several days after the event, both correspondents admitted they had said and done absolutely nothing about it at the time “because I didn’t feel it appropriate to make a fuss.”
Now I’m the first to tell you that I don’t like confrontation, so no one is asking for a table-flipping tirade. That’s not the kind of fuss we’re talking about. Those people (and they do exist, believe me) will get a short response. But we’re all grown-ups here and if your chips are burnt to crisps then tell me, I’m a big girl and I can handle it; and I can also get you some fresh chips in under three minutes to solve the problem.
Telling me about your chips three days later, however, leaves me with very little I can do about it.
Not only can I not actually see the problem for myself and therefore get to the root cause of it (does the fryer oil need changing? Were they left on the pass for too long? Did chef accidentally leave the basket in longer than need be?) but I also can’t mitigate the damage that has, by that point, already been done. Perhaps you might say you don’t want anymore chips because they’ve put you off and that’s perfectly fine too. But then what I can do is make sure we buy you dessert by way of apology and to make sure you won’t go home hungry. Maybe you don’t want pudding because the rest of the meal was filling enough and that’s good news, but let me comp your glass of wine or take a couple of quid off the bill so that you know that we heard your complaint, we took it seriously, and we want to make amends.
Every time you walk out of a restaurant or a pub or a café or wherever having let your complaints bubble up inside you and never telling us about them, we feel like we’ve lost the opportunity to let you know that we care. By all means email me after the event or, if you feel really vitriolic about it, leave us a review online somewhere, but know that by doing that you have consciously decided not to let us try and fix the problem and backed us into the corner.
For us, we’ll always try to provide an explanation of our faults if you send us feedback of your visit along with the most sincere of apologies. We’re a small business and we believe in letting you know that real people are impacted by the consequences of whatever actions have caused you to write to us in the first place. There’s no big branded corporate response that we give – just a heartfelt apology and, if we can, the offer of something nice next time you visit.
But you know what? That completely sucks compared to being able to talk with you face-to-face about the problem at the time, to try and win you back around and to let you see that we’re all just human and doing our best, even when we clearly need to do better.
So here’s my plea to you, the Great British people: please don’t worry about making a fuss if you need to complain about your meal. Please always just bite the bullet and tell us what makes you sad so that we can fix it. Because if we don’t know, we can’t fix it, and if we can’t fix it we will never get better.
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Slowly but surely you helped to breathe life back into the place. You filled it up with love and laughter. You have dragged it back from obscurity to place it back into the heart of the community.
Like so many others, we got into this trade because we love sharing these little boltholes with others and watching you enjoy them and make memories to cherish between these walls. We do it because we like a bit of banter whilst pouring a beer. We’ve always believed in doing the best we can with the circumstances we’ve got.
Time to whip up a quick homemade soup with whatever veggies you’ve got in your fridge.