Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Would you return a cold soup?

I’ve always believed that I am a person avoiding confrontations. I get cold sweat and my heart beats very fast when I feel threatened or about to go into a row. Throughout my school years I only got into a fight once. When I say a fight, I mean the proper ‘let’s meet behind the Main building at the end of the day and I’ll show you’ kind of thing. I’m not even sure how that started. I only remember children cheering and forming a circle for us and a furious ‘Giorgos’ attacking me. At that moment I remember I froze. It took me a while to get my wits back and do something about the situation I was in. There’s no point to tell you how that fight ended.

Anyway, lately I’ve found myself in situations where I received bad service of some kind. The first one was at a hotel and the second in a restaurant. In both situations I did speak my mind.

Some time ago, I went with ‘JJ’ to do a half marathon in Edinburgh, you can read the story here. What I didn’t mention on that post was the very bad hotel we stayed in. Because of the run we knew that we’d spend more time than usual in the hotel room resting, so ‘JJ’ spent something extra to get us an ‘executive room’ in a good hotel. However, the hotel and the room were anything but. To name a few issues there was a huge mould stain on the ceiling, the taps in the bathroom were not working properly, the room was not properly cleaned and breakfast was exceptionally bad. I didn’t want to spoil our stay and the hotel was full, so I didn’t say anything before the check out. While JJ was paying the overpriced bill the manager asked us how our stay was.

At that moment, I couldn’t help myself and I did a very disappointing ‘huh’. When the manager asked me about our problems, I started listing a few. To be honest I had a list in my head already. I was then encouraged by him to send an email about the complaints I had. I did send an email, twice to be honest. A week after our stay I sent an email to the hotel group. A month after not receiving a reply, I sent a second one. Then I got an apology and an offer for a free night’s stay at the hotel. I haven’t replied to that yet, but I will refuse the offer.

In both emails I was very polite, simply stating facts and things that were done wrong. For example I mentioned the collapsed ceiling on the corridor leading to our room (huge black hole on the ceiling). The manager at check out simply said that it had happened a few days ago and there was nothing they could do. However, I suggested in my email that an apologising note mentioned that the problem was looked after would be nice at least. The only personal note was that I felt very disappointed from our stay (which I did) and that I would never recommend them to anyone else I know (which I won’t).

The second occasion was yesterday when I went out for dinner with ‘JJ’ in the city centre. I had picked a Japanese restaurant in Chinatown which online had amazing reviews. The place looked very simple with a bit old decoration that was stretched in small rooms through 3 floors. The menu offered some really interesting Japanese delicacies. The service was fast and the food was nice, even if it was a bit overpriced. I generally believe that the ingredients were of good quality and fresh. However, while finishing dinner ‘JJ’ found a wing in his salad. It was a small insect wing, probably from a butterfly. I wouldn’t like to think what else it could have been.

Even though ‘JJ’ told me not to say anything, once again I simply couldn’t. Like on the occasion with the hotel I didn’t get frustrated or angry at all. I simply showed the discovery to our waitress. She said a quick impersonal ‘sorry’, took the salad bowl and went to the kitchen. We then picked up the bill and went to the till by the exit door to leave. While waiting on the queue to pay, the waitress reappeared, said another ‘sorry’ and started talking in Japanese to the woman in the counter. To cut a story short, they took the salad off the bill and gave us a 20% discount which was of course well received. We did like the way they handled the situation. Although, I’m not sure if we are going back again soon.

In both situations ‘JJ’ wouldn’t have said a word. Most likely he’d write an online review and try to forget the whole thing. He’s closer to having a British culture and tactfulness than me. There’s an anecdote about a British couple receiving the worst service and food ever in a restaurant but when asked by the waiter, they simply said that ‘it was lovely, thank you’. According to stereotypes, British people are very patient and don’t want to cause a stir. In worst case scenarios they write complain letters.

I don’t know if these occasions say something bad about me, that I am too demanding or ill tempered. I don’t want to end up a grumpy old man that everybody avoids. However, I do believe that since I do try to be professional at my job, I’d like to receive the same service by others, especially from places that are expensive and pretend to be good. Is there something wrong with me? Doctor?
What do you normally do in similar occasions?


  1. I say something the moment I discover the "problem," whether it is something wrong with a hotel room, a bad dish in a restaurant, or bad service (anywhere).
    Years ago I took one of those vacation bus tours here in the States; the tour guide and I hit it right off - she was a drag queen trapped in a female body. I digress. When she passed out the trip evaluations at the end of the tour, she asked that everyone be fair by not listing complaints that they did not tell her about. Her comment was "It is not fair to write a negative comment about me or the tour if you did not tell me and give me the opportunity to correct the problem." And she was right. So rather than waiting until you are checking out of the awful hotel room, call the front desk immediately and allow them the chance to correct the problem straight away.

  2. good for you for speaking your mind! as long as you're polite, i think it's right for people to speak up. i can't really do it- i wish i could! i'll bitch to my friends and on my blog, but i HATE to complain to strangers. it's great that you pointed out the wing at the restaurant and got 20% off though!

    not long ago, i went to a restaurant, and the bacon in a pasta dish was a little burned, but i was too stupid/shy to tell the waitress. not a good trait.

  3. I've noticed as I get older, I've started speaking up more and more. In another few years, I'm going to be downright cantankerous.

  4. An ancient joke:

    Customer to waiter: Hey, what's that fly doing in my soup?

    Waiter: I believe it's the backstroke.

  5. I don't like scenes and confrontations either
    I tend to take the 'I am so disappointed' rather than the 'I am angry' approach - the later makes people defensive and the former makes them feel guilty/apologetic - more likely to be heard/get things done.

    In this day and age with on-line reviews, I find bad service etc. doesn't survive long now as bad reps get around fast.

  6. @behrmark You are right about that. I should have probably spoken before the check-out. I'll try to do that from now on. We do try to laugh at these things though. We can't let it ruin our vacation.

    @Luuworld It's like exercising. I believe you get better with practice!

    @Erik_Rubright That's normal I fear. We do get more demanding with years...

  7. @gp nice one. It does fit to the topic discussed...

    @Ur-Spo Yes, using the internet customers found new powers. It's a competitive world after all...

  8. I think the way you handled the salad incident was perfect. Good job with that.