Waiter, there’s a fly in my soup! Norwich people reveal their worst restaurant experiences
PUBLISHED: 16:30 17 February 2015
A study has revealed that the way people describe negative restaurant experiences often uses the same language as people describing incidents of serious trauma. Farfetched you may think, but how bad have people’s restaurant experiences been? Amy Fancourt took to the streets of Norwich to find out.
Poor food and rude waiters can create a restaurant experience that is literally traumatic, scientists have discovered.
A US study of almost a million restaurant ratings by diners found that the language of “bad” reviews was strikingly similar to that used by people recalling terrorist attacks or horrific accidents.
In fact, survivors of awful restaurant visits appeared to be mildly traumatised.
Professor Dan Jurafsky, language and computer scientist from Stanford University, who led the research based on downloads from the Yelp review website, said: “We found that the language of one-star reviews was very specific language. It was in the past tense rather than the present, it was a lot of pronouns and mentions of other people, a lot of negative words like ‘terrible and awful’, and, unusually, a lot of first-person plural pronouns, words like ‘we’, ‘us’ and ‘our’.
“It turns out that there’s previous scientific literature showing exactly that characteristic constellation of linguistic features characterising a particular genre, and that genre is the genre of people writing after they’ve been traumatised.”
Miriam Jones and her husband told quite a few stories of their “not so desirable” meals in and around the Norwich area. Since they were both vegetarians, they claim it was often difficult to find anywhere that didn’t just serve ratatouille or mushroom risotto. She said: “We usually end up going to pubs (even though neither of us drink) because they tend to have more extensive menus.”
Recently, however, they visited a pub and ordered what was supposed to be a ‘Seasonal Vegetable Pie’, when it arrived it consisted of soggy carrot and cauliflower in a basic tomato sauce, mixed into a small bowl and with a layer of puff pastry on top.
“It was disgusting!” she said.
Lisa Rolfe, 47, also described an experience at a popular food chain. Her and her two children, three and six, were seated upstairs upon arrival. They were then completely forgotten about for nearly two hours despite her frequent trips downstairs to remind the staff that they were there.
“Having two hungry kids and attempting to keep them occupied during this time was what made the experience so stressful, by the time they served us it was already way past their dinnertime!” she said. She did file a complaint to the branch, but did not receive any kind of compensation, or acknowledgement.
Michael Green, 70, a retired proof-reader, often grabs quick lunches in department store cafes. These however had mixed reviews. He described an experience at one of the UK’s largest department stores, saying; “they had exceptionally bad catering – there was limited selection and they were unable to give us anything that we wanted.” The queue to even get your food, despite it being self service, required an extremely long waiting time, he added. Despite his negative experience, Mr Green also recalled many good experiences of eating in Norwich, and he maintained that, food, atmosphere and the service were all of equal importance in making a good restaurant dining experience.
Molly Baldry, 18, told of when her and her mum visited another successful food chain in Norwich. When they arrived the restaurant was relatively empty but they still waited for a long time to be seated. When they received their food, her mother’s food was “really bad”, and “not at all as expected”. Trying to be polite she did not say anything until the waiter asked them why she had not eaten her meal, to which she responded “it was not really to my taste and I was disappointed.” The waiter then apologised and went away. When they went to pay, she decided to mention it one more time, “she apologised as she said she didn’t like the food, and all they did was tell her not to worry about it.” They never filed a formal complaint, but guaranteed that they would never return to this particular restaurant.
20-year-old Remi King, an actor based in Norwich, recalled a late-night kebab shop incident, where his chicken burger had a bone in it. When he mentioned it to the store owner, he received an abrupt explanation that “chickens have bones” and that he therefore wasn’t entitled to another burger.