Why It’s Important to Complain

I recently described my frustration in dealing with a reservationist at a higher-end hotel chain. The reservationist was seemingly incapable of determining the best rate for which I was eligible. Unfortunately, my problems with the reservationist were only the tip of the iceberg of difficulty with the hotel.

Our problems started with inconveniences that we could tolerate. For example, the hotel staff was unable to tell us where we could wait for the tourist trolley that would take us to the dining and entertainment district. We found the trolley station ourselves, after a bit of wandering, and were surprised to learn that it was only about 1,000 feet away from the hotel. We were met with similar ignorance when we asked about nearby restaurants.

For another example, on our second evening at the hotel, my son was hungry after the hotel restaurant had closed. Although we are not advocates of using a hotel mini-bar, we also did not want to listen to a hungry teen for seven hours until the hotel restaurant opened again (and yes, we had brought from home, and he had eaten, snacks to satisfy a small military base). Accordingly, we looked to the mini-bar and decided to buy a bag of pretzels. Somewhat annoyingly, the key to the mini-bar was missing so we had to call down to the lobby and request another key. A missing key is excusable, but what happened next was surprising. The hotel staff suggested that we had lost the key – which we had not. The staff was perturbed that we were even asking for another key, or so it seemed to us, but we got our key in the end.

When we did get into the mini-bar, however, we were dismayed to realize that the pretzels were stale. Indeed, after biting in to a pretzel, my son checked the expiration date and it was more than three months prior. We again called down to the front desk and asked that someone bring up a bag of fresh pretzels. Based on the reaction, one would think that we were primadonnas who could not be satisfied. Nevertheless, we did not complain. Rather, we explained our problem and eventually got a bag of pretzels.

Our real trauma did not begin until our final day at the hotel. I was visiting the hotel on business, but my wife and son were tagging along for some R&R. I knew that I would not be able to check out until 4:30pm on my departure day so I arranged for a 4pm checkout, both when I made the reservations on the phone and when I checked into the hotel. The hotel offers such late checkout options and the woman working the front desk was very happy to give us the ability to keep our room until 4pm. Sadly for us, and for the hotel, there was a different person at the front desk on our final day.

The employee at the front desk on our final day was a nightmare. At 2pm, she appeared at our room, knocked loudly, and demanded that we leave. She would not even identify herself other than to say that she was from the front desk (and it was only later, as you will soon learn, that we were even able to confirm that she was a hotel employee). She even went so far as to tell my wife that my wife was lying about our late check out and continued to badger my wife and son for 15 minutes, demanding that we vacate the room. During the course of those 15 minutes, my wife had to deal with several anonymous calls from “hotel management” – each suggesting that she was lying and demanding that she leave. The behavior of the hotel staff was shocking.

We checked out of the hotel at 4pm, as we had been told we could. The abusive woman was not at the front desk at that time and the staff was very polite and helpful, but we still had very negative feelings for the hotel. Mistakes, we can forgive, but outright rudeness and hostility we cannot.
When I got home, I waited a couple of days for the hotel survey that I knew I would receive by e-mail. When I received it, I sent a scathing report to the hotel’s head office. I expressed my deepest dissatisfaction with the hotel and with the behavior of certain of its employees, especially the abusive woman from our final day. I expected to hear nothing further from the hotel.

I was wrong. The hotel wanted to make things right and a hotel representative called me in less than three hours! The hotel truly wanted to know what had gone wrong with our stay and how they could improve the experience of their guests. The hotel truly cared and I was pleased to learn that due to other problems with the abusive woman at the front desk, she was already a former employee. I talked with the hotel representative for a long time and felt much better after the discussion. Then the real shocker came – the hotel gave me a free night (which can be up to a $400 value) and credited my hotel reward program with 5,000 points – the equivalent of a ten night stay. The hotel wanted me to return and they made it very easy for me to do so. My attitude toward the hotel was quickly improved from very negative to “I’ll give them one more chance!”

If you have a bad experience at a hotel, or a restaurant, or a store, a well-worded and sincere letter of complaint can do wonders to improve your mental health. We all need to get those problems off of our chests. More importantly, a good hotel, restaurant or store will want to hear your complaints so that they can remedy them. Take the time to complain and you will be doing yourself and the store a favor, and there is always a good chance that you will receive some form of compensation in return for the problems about which you are complaining.

I am sure you complain to your family and friends when you have a bad experience. That is human nature, but your family and friends can’t fix the problems that you experience when you are out spending money at a merchant’s place of business. Take your complaint to the person who can remedy your problems – the business owner who ultimately received your money.

How do you handle problems at hotels, restaurants and stores? Do you complain? Do you take the time to put your complaints in writing? What kind of responses do you typically receive? What is the best response that you have received?

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23 Responses to Why It’s Important to Complain

  1. Jay Gatsby says:

    Well said. The key to getting satisfaction for poor service is to keep your cool. Do not get upset at the way you were treated. Make your complaint, and if you feel that you should receive some sort of recompense, insist that the manager (who you should always ask for) rectify the situation then and there. Do not wait a few days to call and complain. Service providers do not want their other customers to see an upset one and wonder about the quality of service they might receive. Also, service providers have very short memories and will conveniently forget the poor service you endured if you don’t complain immediately. They might even accuse of you of making it up in order to get free services.

  2. Ann says:

    LOL Doesn’t sound like you had much fun that trip!

    You got me thinking and I have to admit that I can’t remember an instance where something was so bad that it ranked anywhere near your experience. 🙂 Oh, there’s been the occasional restaurant glitch where the bill needs to be adjusted but, overall, things tend to go pretty smoothly for me. I don’t know why but will admit that I’m glad!

  3. Lou Russo says:

    Absolutely I complain. One example happened about 18 months ago. I purchased a piece of computer software which stated on its cover that it was compatible with Windows Vista. The receipt clearly stated that opened software was only able to be exchanged for the same item. When I tried to install the software, I could not. Vista would not recognize the software. First, I contacted the software company, but they were unable to help me. I then went back to the store, who would not do anything, claiming store policy. I got the name and number of a national service rep. When he could not help me, I asked for his superior. When I finally talked to him (the head of the customer service department), he gave me his name, phone number and address. He asked me to send him the software (a $50.00 value) and he would send me a $50.00 gift card to the store. I sent it, and five days later had my reimbursement. Persistence pays.

  4. baselle says:

    I’ve had the best luck with complaints if I also mention the great things that happened, if there were any.

    Fingers crossed for me that I never had anything as horrible as your experience. Well done for keeping your cool during the whole thing.

  5. Lukas Lazor says:

    Complaints that seem perfectly reasonable to the complainer may seem petty to the person receiving them. Calling for a mini bar key after the hotel restaurant was closed (meaning a late hour) seems a bit much. Calling down about an expired, stale bag of pretzels is absolutely DIVA behavior. Get real. It reminds me of the business column writer Jeffrey Gitomer, who complained (publicly) about every little part of his travels on US Airways. After a few years they realized they’d never make him happy so an Exec VP banned him.


    He was shocked, but after reflecting on his behavior over the next year he realized he’d become petty and bitter. He sent them a letter apologizing and asking for another chance. Everyone has been happy since. My rule of thumb is to complain about what matters, you know the big stuff, and let the little stuff slide. You (and everyone around you) will be much a happier.

  6. Tom says:

    Word of advice: never complain to your waiter/waitress about him/her before your food arrives. Seriously. I’ve worked at all kinds of restaurants–chains, mom & pop shops, and high-end places–and I’ve seen some of the more sensitive wait staff tamper with a diner’s food in reaction to a perceived insult. If the service is a little slow, or if the food’s undercooked or not prepared to satisfaction, say something like, “Listen, I’m not trying to complain or anything, I can see that you’re super busy, but is it going to be much longer? We have a movie to catch.” Or “Listen, I know you’re super busy, but I ordered the mashed potatoes, not the french fries. Is there any way I could exchange this when you get a chance?” This polite approach seems to me to be just common sense , but I’ve seen many many diners berate and badger the wait staff. Unless the waiter/waitress is downright surly and inept, go easy. Your stomach will thank you.

    Oh, and one time I called the customer service department when I found a bug in my Juicy Juice. The representative asked me for the code on the bottom of the can. When I read it she started laughing and said, “Was the bug doing the back stroke? That juice was canned last week.” Though it was a funny line, I’d expected more of a mea culpa, and said as much. She said, “Well what do you want from me?” I said a free can of Juicy Juice. She said no. I sent a letter of complaint to the parent company and never recieved a response. And I never bought Juicy Juice again.

  7. spicoli says:

    I don’t think most problems matter enough to complain about them. If I get bad service or bad food at a restaurant, I just don’t go back.

  8. Anne says:

    I complain if warranted. I’ve learned that it not only is good for my mental health, but also may net me some free stuff. Usually it will result in a positive reaction, improvement in the product, etc.

    But there was one hotel stay where our room was never cleaned for the four days we were there, in spite of daily notice to the front desk that it had never been cleaned. When we went to check out, we were told (basically) that we were liars and there was no documentation that we had called down. We got a small consolation refund from the parent organization, but were told that further making us ‘whole’ was up to the manager of the hotel.

  9. Persephone says:

    I read a comment that described complaining about stale pretzels from the mini bar as “Diva” behavior. The pretzels probably cost $2.00. Why should David have absorbed that cost? I just don’t get it? I’m really interested to know why you think David should have paid for stale pretzels. Also, the comment about the mini bar key. It is usually after the restaurant closes that one uses the mini bar. Why did you think David’s request for a key was “a bit much”?

  10. Lukas Lazor says:


    It’s a little thing. A $2.00 bag a pretzels in the context of a $400 a night hotel. Not that I think David paid that much. I’m sure the actual room rate he paid was much less than the posted rack rate. I would be hard pressed to complain about such a trivial matter at midnight or so (seven hours before the restaurant opens) to a thin staff who’s working graveyard. Plumbing, AC, noise, smell problem? You bet. A stale bag of pretzels? Not me.

    It’s easy to find reasons to be disappointed. Many people make a career out of complaining. That said, he had a very compelling reason to complain about the attempted “eviction” even though he had arranged for a late check out. I would have immediately asked for the General Manager. The staff behavior described is over the top. Just my two cents.

  11. Persephone says:

    Lukas: While I respect your opinion, I just don’t agree with you. Hotels are supposed to cater to the comfort of their guests. Two dollars may not be a lot relative to what David paid for his room night, but if he wanted pretzels, and he paid for pretzels, he should have been able to enjoy them. Would it have made a difference to you if he had purchased them at a grocery store and went back to complain at the grocery store? How about stale pretzels or chips at a sub shop?

  12. Lukas Lazor says:

    I appreciate your perspective as well and we may just see it differently. That’s OK. In my view it’s just not that important in the context of the business transaction. I choose to be very selective when complaining. If I bought a sandwich and chips at Subway and they were stale, I’d just walk back to the counter and ask (nicely) to switch them for a fresh bag. No harm, no foul.

    David’s situation is different I think. I would never call down to the front desk for such a minor thing. To me it just seems petty. Should the pretzels have been fresh? Of course. But being right doesn’t always get you the service you desire. Think the night person told the morning crew about the key and pretzel scenarios? Perhaps. Could be unrelated to the checkout problem but I wouldn’t be surprised.

    Oh and one final thought: Whenever I’m encountering someone who is getting steamy, rude, or pushy, I take a deep breath and say, “You know, if we could have this conversation with a level of mutual respect and courtesy, I think it will go really well”. It reminds me to be nice and gives them a heads up that they may have without intention become snippy or rude. Really works.

  13. David G. Mitchell says:

    Lukas and Persephone: You are both right, to a degree. Under certain circumstances I might have tossed the pretzels and ignored the charge. The greater part of my problem is that the person eating the pretzels was unable to get anything else out of the mini-bar because he is allergic to peanuts and the pretzels were the only option available to him.

    I was left with the choice of telling my son to go hungry (not easy with a teen) or walking about a mile to get to the nearest store so that I could by pretzels there.

    I chose not to walk the mile but I was not rude or demanding. I explained the situation and asked that the hotel bring us some pretzels that were not stale. I also tipped the person who brought them.

    Would I have written a letter about the pretzels? Clearly, no. Indeed, I did not report the stale pretzels when I did complain in writing. That said, I also felt that the pretzel situation added to our inconvenience and it did give me more reason to complain about the true problem — the rudeness of the front desk attendant on our check out day.

  14. Persephone says:


    I always try to be polite and understanding as well. I agree that not ever problem requires that we find someone to be at fault.

    Nevertheless, I also truly believe that if we point out these types of problems, it helps everyone. The hotel needs to know if it is offering stale products or it is going to lose business — even if it is just mini-bar business.

  15. Ann says:

    Lukas and Persephone, I’ve got to side with Persephone on this one. LOL

    Particularly at a hotel that costs $400 a night you expect service and consideration. The hotel staff was flat out wrong from the point where they suggested that David’s family had lost the key on forward! David wasn’t being rude and inconsiderate; the staff was. Something is wrong with a hotel’s staff training, when things like that happen, let alone what happened with the late checkout.

    There’s a reason it’s called the “hospitality” industry and the employees of this establishment certainly weren’t living up to the moniker.

  16. jj says:

    I think the late check-out definitely warranted a complaint but the pretzels do not. Would it kill your son to eat stale pretzels if he was hungry? I am someone who gets agitated over a small rebate claim but now I’ve learned to pick bigger battles and am happier for it.

  17. Jackie says:

    While the freshness of the pretzels is small in the larger scheme of things, it’s still important. If I were the hotel manager I would absolutely want to know that the pretzels were stale and 3 months past their freshness date. Stale pretzels mean that whoever is responsible for keeping the minibar stocked with fresh product is not doing their job properly.

    As for the late hour – it’s a hotel and a high-end one at that. Staff are employed to meet guests’ needs, both big and small. *shrug* It’s all part of the business.

    I totally agree with the gist of the article – legitimate business owners want to know where they can improve with legitimate, civilly worded complaints and sometimes you’ll even get compensation from it. All around winner. 🙂

  18. greyroma says:

    I work at a national chain daycare and we just had a meeting about “customer service” and how we should be treating our customers i.e. our children and parents. Something that most business should be doing in these troubled times. People sometimes forget that without those “customers” the business would close. If I get bad service or product in a restaurant, hotel or any other I will write a letter to the home office which rarely fails to get people excited, since the “big boss” got involved it makes the local manager get involved. It is not just to get something free but a company deserves to know why it’s business isn’t doing well and if you don’t tell them who will.

  19. Steven says:

    I read Mr. Mitchell’s post twice. I have a question: Why didn’t you complain to the hotel management at the time these issues were happening? I have never stayed in an upscale hotel that didn’t have a manager on duty 24/7.

    We have expectations when we stay in nice hotels. When these expectations aren’t met, for whatever reason, some guests try to find fault with anything and

    Had you given the hotel management an opportunity to correct the issues at the time they occurred, I can assure you your stay would have been much more pleasant.

  20. David G. Mitchell says:

    Steven — You raise a good point. We felt that we had raised the issue with hotel management when we called down to the front desk. Also, with respect to the employee on our final day, we just wanted to finish our stay and leave — not create a disturbance that would occupy our final hours at the hotel. I also point you to Tom’s comment (#6), which is always a concern when we are out.

  21. Steven says:

    @David G. Mitchell

    I can appreciate #6’s point of view. It is always best to handle service issues with a polite approach. I know service employees can only work with the resources management will provide for them. Sometimes those resources aren’t enough to satisfy the guests. Experienced and responcible employees can usually handle a problem. However, if the employee can’t handle the situation for whatever reason, as a consumer, it is up to me to take it to the next level. Hopefully, if the employee is trained properly, he or she will bring it to management’s attention.

    As a guest in a hotel or restaurant, I will never be held hostage by a disgruntled employee.

  22. crazyliblady says:

    About a year ago, I went to a branch of my bank to cash in some coins because I was going on a trip and needed cash for the trip. I approached the teller window with my bag full of coins. Now, I know that most banks want coins rolled, but I had done this exact thing at another branch on the other side of town with no problem. Both branches were under the same management. The teller looked at my coins and then at me, as if she had just seen a snake. Another teller walked past and said she could take care of cashing in my coins, but she refused. I wrote a letter to the branch manager, noting the date, time, name of the teller, and what happened. The manager was so impressed she actually called me on the phone at work to talk to me about it. She told me that if I had any further problems, to give her a call.

    Last fall, I went to a conference in a nearby city. Towards the end of the conference, there was a lunch event and I took off my coat and put it on the chair. Apparently, I got distracted when leaving and forgot it. I spoke to practically ever employee in the hotel, but all claimed no one had seen it. It was October in the midwest and I had to leave the event without my coat. I even had a later phone conversation with other hotel staff, but it could not be located. I couldn’t believe someone had stolen my coat. It wasn’t even a nice coat. It was over 15 years old!

  23. Amata says:

    I think it’s very important to complain, but the truth is a real angry/upset complain is the one which is going to make a difference. The “soft” complain is not going to make things move forward, my experience is each time i complain very seriously and loudly, the services took really attention to me, and each time i was too soft, they just find excuses. SAD

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