I’m a big believer in speaking up when I find myself at a disappointing restaurant or hotel, but my boyfriend craves the quiet life, and would prefer we kept quiet and pretended everything was perfect, thanks. Is there a way of complaining about poor service that doesn’t make the rest of a hotel stay awkward?
This was a question a friend posed to me recently and it set me thinking.
I’ve yet to meet anyone who genuinely relishes complaining. Sure, it can be perversely pleasurable to unpick the naff decor in a hotel, or joke under your breath about that snooty waiter. But when it comes to complaining to an actual human about a genuinely unacceptable aspect of a hotel stay, most of us balk. After all, complaining isn’t nice! And holidays are meant to be nice. Surely by saying that things aren’t nice, we only make this supposedly nice thing less nice, even though admittedly it wasn’t proving quite as nice as it should be. And if there’s one thing we all need more of in the world, it’s niceness.
So I have some sympathy for those who prefer to grit their teeth and grimace at hotel staff, stew in impotent rage over a continental breakfast, and then unleash their discontentment upon woefully unprepared friends and loved-ones the very second they’re churned out of the revolving doors in reception. The world is a veritable buffet of distressing details at present, so perhaps a faulty boiler, for example, just isn’t worth wasting words on.
What is a problem is smiling at staff during the stay and then venting one’s fury on TripAdvisor from the safe distance of one’s living room sofa. It’s simply not fair to post a damning review without having given the hotel staff the chance to fix things. Every month, some 456 million people — around one in every 16 people on earth — visit the site to write or read reviews. There are currently some 661 million reviews on the site, and they can make or break a business.
Plus, now that the spectre of TripAdvisor lurks behind every aspect of the hospitality industry, a good old-fashioned offline, face-to-face complaint seems classy, quaint and almost debonair. Like something James Bond would do in a casino hotel.
The trick to complaining, I find, is to invite the individual you’re complaining to into the complaint. Make them complicit, a fellow concerned party, never the guilty party. So replace “You didn’t make up our room today” with “I’m sure you’d like to be made aware that our room wasn’t cleaned this morning.”
If you really want to go to town, throw in, “You’re obviously passionate about this hotel, so I felt you’d want to know.”
Voice your complaint as mutual concern over an external problem. Because no, we’re not angry! We’re concerned, that’s all. A little bit surprised that such a thing could happen.
“Our breakfast arrived cold, and we know that your kitchen has an excellent reputation, so something must have gone wrong. You just might want to check up on everybody.”
See? It’s still possible to be nice while ensuring that no sucker ever, ever crosses you again.
The Sunday Telegraph