Introduction:

Although knowing the names of different types of dishes, food and styles of cooking is very important when ordering and eating in a restaurant, you also need to know how to complain. Being able to explain what the problem is (with the food or how the restaurant staff/employees have treated you) and complain politely in English will make the experience less frustrating and annoying.

In this first of two online exercises on complaining/problems in a restaurant, we will look at vocabulary and phrases in English that are used for both common problems that customers have in restaurants and for complaining. We will look at phrases used when arriving at a restaurant and when you receive the wrong food. In addition, we will look at some phrases that waiters or waitresses use in these situations.

Click here to go to the second part of this 'Complaining/problems in a restaurant' exercise

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Exercise: Problems in a restaurant

Read the following text where four customers (Julie, Andrew, Sally & Peter) are having problems when eating in a restaurant.

From the context, try to guess what the meaning of the words/phrases in bold are. Then do the quiz at the end to check if you are right.

Waiter:'Good evening Madam, how can I help you?'

Julie:'Good evening. We have a reservation for 9pm in the name of Smith.'

Waiter:'A table for four, isn't it? I'm afraid that the table isn't available yet. If you'd like to wait at the bar, we'll call you over when it's ready.'

30 minutes later

Julie:'Excuse me, we've been waiting for 30 minutes for our table. Will it be much longer?'

Waiter:'Sorry about the delay, we're very busy tonight. I'll just go and check.'

2 minutes later

Waiter:'Your table is ready now. If you would like to come with me, I will show you to your table.'

5 minutes later when the customers are seated at their table

Andrew:'My god, the people at the table next to ours are shouting. I can't hear myself think!'

Julie:'They are talking very loud. I'll take care of it. I will speak to the waiter and see if we can move tables. Excuse me, would it be possible to change tables?'

Waiter:'Is there a problem with the table madam?'

Julie:'Not with the table, but the table next to us are speaking very loudly.'

Waiter:'I will ask them to quieten down, so you can enjoy your meal without the shouting.'

20 minutes later, the waiter is serving them their first course/starter

Andrew:'Excuse me, I didn't order the smoked salmon.'

Waiter:'I have smoked salmon written down here.'

Andrew:'I am afraid you are mistaken. I asked for the tomato and basil soup for my starter.'

Waiter:'I'm terribly sorry sir. I'll replace it straight away.'

Peter:'Excuse me, would it be possible to change my starter?'

Waiter:'Is there anything wrong with your prawn salad sir?'

Peter:'No, there isn't. I wasn't expecting the prawn salad to look like this.'

Waiter:'No problem sir. What would you like instead?'

Peter:'Could I have a caesar salad if it's no trouble?'

Waiter:'I am afraid we are sold out of the caesar salad. We don't have any more tonight. May I recommend the tomato and basil soup. It's very good.'

Peter:'I'll have that then. Thank you.'

Waiter:'I'll bring the soups now.'


 Link to Dictionary


Quiz: Vocabulary for complaining/problems in a restaurant part 1

Below is a definition/description of each of the words in bold from the above text. Now choose the word/phrase from the question's selection box which you believe answers each question. Only use one word/phrase once. Click on the "Check Answers" button at the bottom of the quiz to check your answers.

When the answer is correct, two icons will appear next to the question. The first is an Additional Information Icon "". Click on this for extra information on the word/phrase and for a translation. The second is a Pronunciation Icon "". Click on this to listen to the pronunciation of the word/phrase and to do a pronunciation speaking test.

1. A polite phrase which a customer uses when they want to change something, is
         

Would it be possible to change:
(phrase) This is a formal and very polite request and is a different way of saying 'can you change'. 'would it be possible' is used when you want somebody to do something for you (like change a dish, time of an appointment/meeting etc...). This is then followed by an infinitive ( e.g. 'to change' etc...) and details of what you want changed. For example 'would it be possible to change the flight to next Tuesday?'. 'would you mind changing' can also used with the same meaning as 'would it be possible to change'. 'would it be possible' can also be used when requesting permission to do something yourself, e.g. 'would it be possible to close the window'. In Spanish: "sería posible cambiar".

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Would it be possible to change:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
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2. A different way to say 'I didn't ask for' in a restaurant, is
         

I didn't order:
(verb) The infinitive is 'to order'. This means 'to ask for something'. This verb is used when asking for food to eat in all types of restaurants. If you are given a dish/food that you didn't 'ask for'/'order', you should tell the waiter/waitress 'I didn't order'. You follow this verb with the name of the food/dish they have given you incorrectly. Then 'I ordered', and the name of food/dish you 'asked for'/'ordered'. For example, 'I didn't order salmon. I ordered pork'. In Spanish: "no pedí".

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I didn't order:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
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3. When a restaurant has 'no more' of a dish or drink, it is
         

Sold out:
(phrasal verb) The infinitive is 'to sell out'. This means that a shop or restaurant has sold all of a product or dish that it had (they have all been bought), so there are no more available. In restaurants, it is normal that dishes become 'sold out' near the end of the night, e.g. 'I'd like the roast chicken, please' 'I'm afraid the roast chicken is sold out'. It is a common reason waiters gave why a customer can't have a dish. This phrasal verb is normally used in the passive, i.e. 'is sold out'. The phrasal verb often follows 'I'm afraid' then the name of the dish that isn't available (e.g. 'roast chicken'). If the restaurant no longer sells/serves a dish, but it is still written on the menu, then they will say it is 'off the menu', e.g. 'the salmon is off the menu'. In Spanish: "está agotado".

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Sold out:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
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4. A phrase which means 'how much more time do we have to wait?', is
         

Will it be much longer:
(phrase) This is a commonly used phrase that people ask somebody responsible (a waiter, receptionist etc...) when they are waiting for something. 'will it be much longer?' is a shorter way of saying 'how much more time do I have to wait until it arrives/is ready/ finishes?'. For example, 'my appointment was for 3.15pm, and now it's 3.35pm. Will it be much longer?' This phrase can be used in any situation where you are waiting for something, e.g. waiting for a table, bus, taxi, room etc... In Spanish: "tardará mucho más".

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Will it be much longer:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
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5. A phrasal verb which means to 'speak more quietly', is
         

Quieten down:
(phrasal verb) The infinitive is 'to quieten down'. This is a commonly used phrasal verb which basically means to 'speak more quietly'. It is often used as an order and is a politer way of saying 'shut up'. When you are complaining to a waiter that a table near you are speaking very loudly, you say to the waiter/waitress 'could you ask them to quieten down?'. When a waiter/waitress speaks to the people speaking loudly, they will make it politer by using 'please can you' in front of the verb, e.g. 'please can you quieten down'. A more formal way to say the same thing is 'keep your voice down', e.g 'could you please keep your voices down'. You may hear this in expensive restaurants. In Spanish: "acallar".

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Quieten down:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
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6. A phrase a waiter says when they need to speak to somebody else to answer a customer's question, is
         

I'll just go and check:
(phrase) This is a phrase that is used by a waiter/shop assistant when a customer asks them about something they don't know or are unsure about. It basically means 'I need to speak to somebody who does' or 'I need to find out'. It is very commonly used in shops, airports, restaurants etc... when a customer asks if they have a certain product, dish or information about something. This phrase sometimes follows 'I don't know', e.g. 'when will the new iPad be on sale?' 'I don't know, I'll just go and check'. It is also common to hear, 'let me just find out', which has the same meaning. In Spanish: "voy a comprobar/ver".

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I'll just go and check:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
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7. A phrase that means that 'I will resolve a problem', is
         

I'll take care of it:
(phrasal verb) The infinitive is 'to take care of something'. In this context, this phrasal verb is used when a person takes charge/responsibility for resolving a problem or doing something (like talking to somebody about a problem). It basically means 'I'll do it' or 'I'll resolve this problem'. For example, 'the food was terrible, but I hate complaining' 'don't worry, I'll take care of it. I'll complain to the waitress'. In Spanish: "me encargo de ello".

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I'll take care of it:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
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8. A polite way to say 'you are wrong', is
         

I am afraid you are mistaken:
(phrase) This is a very formal and polite way to say 'you are wrong'. When you are in a situation where you have to tell somebody that what they've told you is incorrect, it is best to be as polite as possible (so you don't upset them or make them angry). It is normal to follow this phrase with an explanation of why they are wrong, e.g. 'I am afraid you are mistaken. I asked for a bottle of white wine, not red'. 'you are mistaken' is a politer way of saying 'you are wrong'. By using 'I am afraid' in front of it, makes it very polite. In Spanish: "siento decir que usted está equivocado".

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I am afraid you are mistaken:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
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9. A phrase that is used by a customer to say what time they arranged earlier to start to eat in the restaurant, is
         

We have a reservation for 9pm:
(phrase) This phrase is normally one of the first things that a customer says when they arrive at a restaurant. It tells the waiter/manager that they 'reserved/booked' a table in the restaurant before. It is normally followed by 'in the name of' and the surname of the person who made the 'reservation/booking', e.g. 'we have a reservation for 9pm in the name of Smith'. Normally, the waiter/manager will check if they have their reservation and then confirm with the customer for how many people by saying 'yes. A table for 4?' In Spanish: "tenemos una reserva a las 9".

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We have a reservation for 9pm:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
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10. A different way to say 'if it's not a problem', is
         

If it's no trouble:
(phrase) This is a very polite phrase that is used after you have asked somebody to do something for you (e.g. call somebody, change a dish, bring you a drink etc...). It always follows after the request for something, e.g. 'could we another bottle of wine, if it's no trouble?'. This phrase is only used for politeness and you can request/ask for something without it, e.g. 'could we have another bottle of wine, please?'. Another polite way to say this phrase is 'if you don't mind'. In Spanish: "si no es molestia".

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If it's no trouble:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
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Practice

Now that you understand the new vocabulary, practice them by creating your own sentences with the new words/phrases.