James Walker: It’s worth making a meal of poor service

Bad food can be a health hazard
Bad food can be a health hazard
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In the past three years I have received 20,000 complaints about takeaways and a remarkable 35,300 about restaurants, placing them in our top ten of most complained about products or services.

I’ve dealt with complaints that have involved top end restaurants, food poisoning and projectile vomiting, unpleasant things in fried chicken and other stomach turners. But I’ve also dealt with some more surreal cases, like the woman who was furious that there was no pizza option between 6”and 12” at her local takeout – so she was either too full or not full enough. Or the gentleman who was offended by the shape of his pepperoni.

There’s no ombudsman for dining – fine or otherwise. But there are a number of rules that places that serve food have to follow. And you can report things like poor hygiene, food poisoning and other health-related issues.

The Food Standards Agency is an independent government department that deals with all things concerning food. But if you have a problem with a restaurant or takeaway, you can complain through Resolver, and also report them to your local authority if you’ve encountered:

◆ Poor food hygiene.

◆ A foreign object in your food (surprisingly common in the complaints I see).

◆ A lack of cleanliness of facilities.

Food poisoning comes on quite quickly – and you’ll feel awful. But make sure you let the place where you have eaten know asap. Problems occur in clusters, so if there is an issue, it will have hit someone else too.

Councils often publish “lists of shame” of offending restaurants in your local area, so if you’re worried about hygiene, check online. Don’t forget to look for the hygiene certifications in each venue too. It’s also a good idea to have a look at some online reviews. But bear in mind that the internet is a funny old place and some people have impossibly high standards. So look for a balanced review with no OTT language or exclamation marks.

When it comes to takeaways, it’s the big fast food places that we get the most complaints about. The most frequently complained about issue I see is poor quality food (15 per cent), everything from soggy burger buns to chicken so raw you’re afraid it might jump off your plate and start clucking around the living room. Rude staff is another common takeaway complaint, followed by people receiving an incorrect order.

Here are a few tips to help you avoid a nightmare if you’re eating out:

◆ Book online. It doesn’t guarantee good service or 
a decent meal, but there’s 
an email to back you up if need be.

◆ Drink tap water. Places selling alcohol have to offer this to you, so don’t feel pressured into buying the bottled stuff. And remember that wine costs can double your bill.

◆ There are loads of discount cards that you can pick up, like Tastecard. You can often get the money it costs back from the discount on the first few meals.

◆ If you get a duff meal, then snap a picture and don’t eat it all. Lots of people only complain after polishing off the main course, which makes it harder to say the food wasn’t good enough. Tell the waiter that you’re unhappy and don’t worry about making a scene. Decide what you’d like as a compromise, like a reduced bill or a replacement meal.