Poor Service Tops Diners' Catalogue of Complaints

According to Square Meal’s 2007 survey of restaurant customers

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London may boast world-beating restaurants, but dire service remains a major bugbear, according to Square Meal's 2007 Survey of Customer Complaints.

The survey, which will be published in the forthcoming Square Meal restaurant and bar guide found that poor service topped the catalogue of diner’s grievances over and above bad food and value for money.

Other grievances included service charge automatically added to bill, failure to apologise for mistakes and restaurants believing they can live off their hype.

Below is a summary of Square Meal’s findings:

Never mind poor food and high prices, a staggering 46% of all complaints concerned poor service. With a 7% rise in complaints on this issue, the ‘S’ word has become the fundamental customer concern.

Causes of discontent range from ‘off-hand’ or ‘superior’ staff to diners going ‘completely unnoticed’. One bemused reader had to ‘do a Winner’, being reduced to waving his napkin like a lunatic in order to attract the attention of a waiter because, perhaps surprisingly, he wanted a glass of wine.

While slow service was once a bigger irritant, it seems some restaurants have swung to the other extreme, with a noticeable rise in reports of ‘aggressive’ table-turning and a surge of complaints from diners who feel they’ve been ‘rushed through the meal’, with staff demanding tables back ‘without any warning’. The situation is often compounded by poor language skills, with many front-of-house staff described as having ‘not enough English to take orders properly’.

When it comes to value for money, celebrity haunts draw fierce criticism. The perception is that star-studded hot-spots make their name off the back of VIPs, while everyday customers get a second-class experience with a hefty price-tag. One reader fumes about a smart Italian establishment: ‘This restaurant has two distinct faces. One for celebrities, for whom it is considered fabulous; the other for the rest of us who may justifiably believe it to be an over-rated, absurdly priced load of crap.’ In a similar vein, ‘celebrity chefs’ come under fire, accused of trading off their names and charging exorbitant prices at their supposedly everyday spin-off enterprises.

Food & Drink
On a more positive note, complaints about food and drink have dropped by 11.5%. Comments about ‘formulaic modern eclectic cooking’ & ‘disappointing wine lists’ suggest diners are becoming more knowledgeable, with higher expectations. They also seem increasingly unimpressed by ‘fussy and overcomplicated’ dishes served with ‘tedious pomp and ceremony’. Instead, they are won over by ‘simplicity and well-sourced quality’.

The trend towards informality has widespread appeal, but the downside is a rise in complaints about cramped seating: ‘a bit like being at a dinner party with people we didn’t know’.
So while dining out remains an unrivalled form of entertainment, the big consumer message for 2008 is ‘give us service that is efficient, warm & at a speed that suits us’.


Source : Square Meal Survey 2007

December 18, 2007