Rude or hapless service continues to be the major bugbear of the restaurant industry, according to this year's annual report by London-based guide Square Meal.
Diners were also left fuming by table-turning, rushed meals, cramped surroundings and overpriced food.
This year's survey of 8,000 diners, mainly in London, found that the number of grievances relating to poor service outstripped the second-largest area of complaint, food and drink, by a large margin (40% versus 24%).
Objections to rushed service and cramped surroundings almost doubled this year (rising from 5% of complaints in 2002 and 2003 to 9%) with diners saying that "crazy table-turning policies" left them feeling like they were "on a production line".
Customers also still felt that the quality of food could be improved, with the number of grievances increasing significantly over the past two years. In 2004, some 19% of diners found cause to complain about the quality or the temperature of their meals.
Other gripes included decor and ambience (18%) and high prices (also 18%). Overpricing was the most frequent specific complaint, with one in five respondents grumbling about food or wine failing to live up to its price tag.
Newer complaints, which are expected to gain prominence, include the increasing use of automated telephone reservation systems, the practice of taking a credit card number as a form of deposit to secure a booking, and expensive bottled waters.
On the plus side, fewer complaints were heard about smoky restaurants, and fewer diners reported the value on credit card slips being left open, despite a service charge being added.
What the punters said
While most diners liked the food, service was not up to scratch.
- "Bad service: get drink orders wrong; are rushed; and serve average food that does not justify the high prices. Have tried it twice for dinner - both times disappointing."
- "Great atmosphere, but shockingly snotty service."
Yauatcha People liked the food but not the table-turning.
- "The atmosphere could be great, if you could have the table for more than one-and-a-half hours, and if the waiting staff did not remind you every five minutes - at least - that you only have the table for 90 minutes. Towards the end of the 90 minutes, with 14 minutes still to spare, half-empty wine glasses were taken away from the table, encouraging us to leave."
Chez Bruce - "Simply brilliant."
Hakkasan - "Exquisite cuisine and ambience. A taste sensation in its own league; they have left behind other Chinese cuisine in London."
For better or worse…
The most talked-about restaurants in London in 2004 1 The Wolseley
2 Smiths of Smithfield
4 Bleeding Heart
5 Coq d'Argent
6 Chez Bruce
8 The Don
9 Club Gascon
Source: Caterer & Hotelkeeper magazine, 16 December 2004