How to complain in restaurants: There’s a right way and a wrong way

On the continent it is a universally acknowledged fact that the British cannot complain. We grumble, and sometimes we harrumph. Or else we talk of the weather and hope for the best. What we never do is spring forth with a red-blooded, teeth-bared chandelier-shaker.

I share a flat with two French people, and they explain this often; nearly as often as they say things like “you are not cutting that cheese properly” and once again explain the notion of the cheese coeur to me, like primary school teachers explaining that crayons aren’t to be used on walls. They do not wear berets, but they care about food, and in that at least, they are fully paid-up French stereotypes.

Their own Gallic-born British stereotype, it must be said, is miles off target. The British often complain. It is just we do it very badly. And no more so than when it comes to complaining in restaurants. We are the poor relations of Europe when it comes to explaining what we want to happen to this here slice of lasagne with its crown of hair. It is a terrible failing.

Complaining in restaurants is a delicate and important business. You have to have a just and righteous cause before you set off on a tableside crusade. To complain simply to try to get a freebie is indefensible. As bad, in fact, as not complaining when you really ought to. Complaints serve a vital purpose, after all. They expose faults and graft and overweening staff, often to managers and owners who wouldn’t otherwise know. We’d still be suffering under the yoke of the Lyons teashop if it wasn’t for a collective groaning voice. Moaning, done properly, leads to improvement.

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