Complaints that touch a nerve

Simon Ayres: If it's a valid complaint everyone gets a rollocking
Simon Ayres: If it's a valid complaint everyone gets a rollocking
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In restaurant-land, the customer should always be right... even when he’s not.

But when you get the customer from hell, biting your lip can be hard.

Size matters: Ware and Curran

Size matters: Ware and Curran

So what does get chefs hot under the collar – and what do they take on the chin?

“The vast majority of customers are lovely and appreciative – and really knowledgable about food and wine. But very occasionally, you’ll get someone determined to complain,” says Matt Bigland, co-owner of Sheffield gastro pubs The Milestone and the Wig and Pen.

“Front of house, we deal with it with a smile. But the chefs take it quite emotionally.”

Explains head chef Simon Ayres, the man who helped the Milestone win Gordon Ramsay’s Best British Restaurant title: “Complaints are rare. If we get a valid one, everyone in the kitchen gets a rollocking. But if it’s unjustified, we do take it to heart. Someone is criticising a dish you’ve put your heart and soul into and it’s hard to hear.”

The Campo Lane restaurant prides itself on its service – it will even change a bottle of wine if a customer decides it’s simply not to their liking.

The most common complaint is about meat being over or under-cooked.

“It’s hard because it’s all down to personal preference. What we think is perfect they might not, but we strive to give people exactly what they want,” says Matt.

The most annoying? “That the crusts hadn’t been taken off the bread,” says Simon. “It was freshly-baked and crusty.”

And the worst thing a customer can say to a chef?

“‘Can I give you a bit of constructive criticism?’ When you cook for hundreds of people every week, that always gets your teeth on edge.”

Portion sizes can be high on complaints. They proved tricky when Kelly Ware and partner and chef Charlie Curran took over the Samuel Fox in Bradwell three years ago.

They upped the pub menu to gastro fare. “But some diners were used to steaks hanging off the edge of the plate and chips piled high. It took time for people to see what we were trying to do.

“To us, value meant quality rather than quantity. But we did accept what they were saying and increased the meal sizes,” says Kelly.

The Samuel Fox must be getting it right – it was awarded its second AA rosette last month.

There are times, though, when a customer complaint just cannot be dealt with.

Jamie Ellis, manager at the Wortley Arms, well remembers the winter’s day when one diner decided he was getting rather too warm – and asked him to turn the fire down.

“It was a real log fire – and a beauty at that.”