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'Sorry sir, but we need the table back'

The waiter hovered at our table for a few moments before finally speaking. "I'm sorry, but the manager needs that table back. She says you've been here for nearly two hours." He was adamant -- his boss required us to leave right away.

My wife and I were so shocked we could barely respond. Here we were in a well-known café near Grafton Street and we were being told to leave, despite the fact that we'd each had two coffees and a dessert. Yes, we had lingered over our drinks but both of us still had coffee left in our cups and we hadn't intended departing quite so soon.

However as a handful of customers were waiting to be seated, the manager clearly thought she would put pressure on us to go and she got one of her staff to do the dirty work. And go we did, but not before we had extracted from the manager the name and email address of the café owner.

That evening I wrote a lengthy email to the owner, itemising everything that had happened earlier. I made note of how much we'd spent -- roughly €15 -- and mentioned how annoyed we had been to be treated so contemptuously. There was no note in the café about minimum spend or anything about having to vacate tables after a specific time.

The owner phoned me two hours later. He was hugely apologetic about the way we had been treated, promised to have a word with the manager about her "unacceptable behaviour" and insisted on having a box of complimentary cakes couriered to us the following day.

"We're going through tough times," he said, "and I'm shocked that customers would be treated this way. I can assure you, it will never happen again."

This incident happened two years ago and since then I have been unfailingly persistent in following up consumer grievances. And there have been many.

From undercooked food in restaurants to downright rude shop assistants to consumables that malfunction within days, I always write exacting letters of complaint to the manager in question. Almost without fail, I have received a sincere apology and an offer to put things right, whether it's a complimentary meal, a store voucher or straight swap for the faulty product.

The secret -- if there is one -- is to have something genuine to complain about, and to direct the complaint to someone within the company who has the power to do something about it. I find it best to put my complaint in writing and to make sure to offer as much detail as possible.

There's no point in being rude or offensive, irrespective of how aggrieved you feel. Issuing threats is a foolhardy occupation. It's best to remain polite and to put your points across with conviction. It's reasonable to expect a response within a couple of days. Most small-to-medium companies welcome constructive feedback and will want to retain your business.

Incidentally, my wife and I have been back to that café several times. There has been no pressure to vacate our table.

-- John Meagher

Irish Independent