Storm in a (lemon) teacup: The art of complaining

“My fiancé and I requested twin-beds when we booked, but instead we were placed in a room with a king bed. We now hold you responsible and want to be re-reimbursed for the fact that I became pregnant. This would not have happened if you had put us in the room that we booked.”

“No-one told us there would be fish in the water. The children were scared.”

“The beach was too sandy.”

“We went on holiday to Spain and had a problem with the taxi drivers as they were all Spanish.”

“They should not allow topless sunbathing on the beach. It was very distracting for my husband who just wanted to relax.”

…SAY SOME OF the not-so-happy customers of Thomas Cook. If British holidaymakers didn’t have a bad enough reputation abroad already, they certainly do now.

Away from Spanish taxi drivers and overly sandy beaches, earlier this week, a woman called Hannah C from North Yorkshire took to TripAdvisor to let the world know about how outraged she was after being charged £2 for a cup of hot water with a slice of lemon. I assume she was expecting a profuse apology, but instead got served up a lengthy response from the York café’s manager, teaching her a much-needed thing or two about hospitality overheads. Part of Hannah C’s argument was that when she challenged the waiter about the price, he was supposedly rude in return. Part of the manager’s argument was that the £2 goes towards keeping the business going, as well as the work the waiter had to do, including cutting the lemon and walking to the kitchen to fetch a spoon.

Make of it what you will. I struggle to see how a manager can expect his customers to take into account actions such as walking when they’re paying a bill. At the same time I struggle to see why Hannah, who was apparently “on a budget” didn’t just have tap water or even enquire about pricing before ordering. Either way, the manager is well within his rights to charge whatever he wants for a slice of lemon, and Hannah C is well within her rights to complain.

The thing missing in this story, which blew it all out of proportion in the first place, is the silent assassin that is the internet.

Whatever happened to a good letter of complaint? Pure and white as it comes out of its envelope, but unrelentingly acerbic when read. Now it seems the first port of call is Facebook to drag someone’s name through the mud. Bolstered by likes and comments, the apparently ‘brilliant’ response from Bennett’s Café & Bistro gained a lot of support from users, although I’m not sure they’d be quite so happy to fork out £2 for a sliver of citrus if they were footing the bill…

Hannah C probably never thought she’d be making the news when she stared indignantly at her £2 cup of hot water expecting it for free. But I suppose with any sort of online platform, she subconsciously knew the risk. TripAdvisor embodies everything the internet has given us, good and bad. It gives customers carte blanche to get behind a keyboard and give glowing reviews, share experiences and dish out tips. But at the same time, lets them slander away with no holds barred, tarnish, and with a fake sense of power, award a measly one star. Likewise, management can diligently and politely reply to genuine qualms or turn the tables and surreptitiously attack its disgruntled customers. And all of this, like sexy lingerie billowing in the wind, is open for the whole world to see.

Would Hannah C have been so brashly intense as she had, describing her experience as ‘absolutely awful’ and ‘dreadful’, if she’d written a nice (or rather, not-so-nice) letter? Would the manager have taken his chance and confronted his customer with his rambling rant if he’d written one in response? I’m not so sure. People seem to be far more vicious online, well aware of their audience and the lack of face-to-face contact. There’s no grace in complaining online, but a letter gives you the perfect opportunity to really let loose – and with style. I can only suppose the internet put some form of ugly digital courage in these two’s cups of tea, as it seems to do to most people.

If you’re after something to eat or drink in York’s 11th best place to eat (say TripAdvisor reviewers!), at least now you’ll know how much to pay if you’re for some bizarre reason after a cup of hot water and lemon. And also, if you go to Spain, you’ll know what nationality the taxi drivers are likely to be.

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2 thoughts on “Storm in a (lemon) teacup: The art of complaining

  1. Are there actually people who order hot water outside? I agree, it’s a ridiculous amount of money to pay but it’s also a ridiculous order. Boil your own water and buy a lemon if that’s what floats your boat.
    Frankly, buying bottled water is a luxury for me.

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