We’re All Critics

By Alpana Singh |

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Welcome to the launch of Season 19! We have an exciting lineup of restaurants, and as always, a diverse group of Chicagoans who have recommended and reviewed them with passion and honesty. As I reflect back on this and previous seasons, I realize there are common expectations we have of the restaurants that we love and tend to frequent the most: we want good food at a fair price with hospitable service and a comfortable ambience. But what should we do when we have a bad experience?

Some of us are reluctant to complain and simply don’t go back, or share our displeasure online. Confrontation is never easy, but offering critical and legitimate feedback to a business will help them improve their offerings, and give them a chance to make amends when things go awry. Most restaurants want to make sure you have a great time. Here are some tips on handling situations when you don’t:

Speak to the manager: If you’re not getting what you want, ask to speak to the supervisor. Most businesses want to be able to resolve the situation while you are there, so you can leave happy and satisfied. If you don’t want to ruin the mood at the table, step away and ask the host for the manager.

Criticism versus criticizing: Mistakes happen and humans are prone to error, but nobody likes an angry customer. Point out the error without personalizing it. For example, “I wanted a rare steak and this is medium well” is far preferable to “You messed up my steak – how dare you!” You have every right to be upset, but you’re more likely to get what you want by remaining cool, calm, and collected.

Be open to a resolution: As a restaurateur who has handled my fair share of unhappy guests, my go-to question is, “What can I do to make you happy in this moment?” If the customer says, “Nothing! I’m never coming back!” there is not much I can do at that point. Offer a solution that you feel is fair, or negotiate and consider a reasonable resolution that is being offered.

Email versus online reviews: You’re more likely to get a response by emailing the restaurant directly and stating your dissatisfaction versus posting it on an online review platform. Many restaurants monitor their online reviews, but many don’t. It isn’t that they don’t care, but they may not have the time or the manpower for it. Keep your feedback critical and factual, and offer a solution that will give you closure and satisfaction. You’d be surprised by how many businesses will respond in a positive way.

Become a return customer: Some of my favorite regular customers didn’t start off that way. I have had guests who got off to a rocky start with us, but they allowed us to correct an error and came back. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate their trust and loyalty. It has also made us better at serving them, as we are now more aware of their expectations.

You don’t get a response: It happens. The good news is that there are plenty of other wonderful restaurants who would be happy to have your business.

Restaurants don’t always get it right, but in most cases it’s never intentional, and there is nothing wrong with complaining or offering legitimate feedback. I’m hopeful these suggestions will help you to work effectively with a restaurant toward a successful resolution when things don’t go as planned.