How to complain the right way in a restaurant

Writing a scathing review on Google or Yelp after a terrible experience at a restaurant, hotel or retail business makes us feel all warm inside.

We're upset. We want everyone to know we're upset. We want to warn others to stay away.

But what if you like that particular restaurant/hotel/retailer and want to return? If so, a social media complaint is not necessarily going to lead to improvement.

Let me share a couple of recent experiences that demonstrate how complaining the old-fashioned way incentivizes a business to clean up its act so you and their other customers have a better experience.

No breakfast at the breakfast bar

Like many people who travel regularly, I have a hotel brand that I am loyal to. I like the rooms, the service, the free breakfast, the options and, of course, I love the points. One recent stay was far below my expectations.

On that morning, I was the first to come down to breakfast and was appalled at what they had put out. Four out of the five warming dishes were empty, and the eggs were obviously from the day prior. The three pieces of bread were stale. There was cereal but no milk. No coffee, empty juice machines - I could go on.

I like my hotel brand. I want to stay at this location again, but I don't want a repeat of that experience. So I wrote a detailed email to the general manager and copied corporate customer service. I let them know that I was not leaving the brand, but if they wanted me to come back to this property, they needed to make serious and substantial improvements.

Within a few hours I heard back from the general manager. She had taken the time to look at the breakfast, which was provided by an outside company, and was as appalled as I was. She wanted to comp my room, but I told her all I wanted was to see this terrible presentation remedied.

I came back a month later and was happy to see they had made substantial improvements in presentation, food quality and guest service. I followed up with her, letting her know how much I appreciated her successful efforts to change the guest experience.

'Dinner' in the suburbs

I'm calling this experience "Dinner" in the suburbs in hopes that every local restaurant owner thinks this could be them.

On a recent Friday night, my wife and I wanted a late dinner. We chose a restaurant, checked the hours on their website and called to confirm that they were indeed serving until 10 p.m.

We walked in a few minutes after 9 p.m., and the manager informed us that the bar was open, but they weren't serving dinner. I explained I had just called to verify they were serving until 10. He let me know that the person who answered the phone didn't know what they were talking about, and the last call for food was at 9.

A one-star rating on Yelp or Goggle might hurt them, but to what end? I want this restaurant to improve so I can go back.

I got the owner's phone number and email and let him know my experience. Imagine his surprise at learning his restaurant had a last call for dinner an hour before closing. The following Friday, the restaurant was serving dinner to customers who walked in at 10 p.m.

When we talk directly to business owners (especially the small local owners), we can both win. More often than not, they will listen and make the changes that will bring you back to a place you love.

And isn't that really the point of a complaint?

• Izzy Kharasch is president and founder of Hospitality Works, Inc., a bar, restaurant and retail consulting company. Over the last 30 years, Izzy has helped more than 700 food service operations worldwide improve their operations and profits. Izzy is focused on increasing profitability for all of his clients. He can be reached at (224) 688-3512 and

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