Many people don't like to say anything when service or goods are sub-standard, but actually you can be doing the vendor (and yourself) a favour by pointing out shortcomings.
Make a fuss, make a friend: why it pays to complain
I never used to complain. Truly. Apart from, of course, general whingeing to my parents and friends, or the typically British moan about the weather.
And when it came to a restaurant or hotel, I would rather have lied and said everything was fine with my underdone chicken or my room with the questionable odour than kick up a fuss.
It was about a decade ago that I had a revelation. Eating Sunday lunch at an upmarket restaurant in Glasgow's West End, I was rigorously questioned over why I had hardly touched my shin of beef. You see, I'd already munched on bread, amuse bouche and a starter, and by the time my main turned up I was rather full. But this was one waitress who was not going to accept my stock "it's fine" reply. Reluctantly, I admitted it was quite fatty and gristly, and with that my plate was whisked away.
The waitress returned a minute or two later to tell me the head chef and his staff had fully investigated the beef and concluded that indeed, it was terribly fatty and gristly and not fit for human consumption. She then proceeded to apologise profusely for the offending main course, much to my embarrassment. The waitress then informed me that my entire set-price meal would be removed from the bill. My sister-in-law next to me, who had ordered the same main course, quickly chipped in that hers had also been fatty and gristly, but was rewarded only with a questioning look from the waitress - probably because there was not a speck of food left on her plate.
This was a life-changing moment for me. I saw that complaining in these situations is an opportunity for constructive criticism, which any restaurant/hotel/shop worth its salt should appreciate and learn from.
I don't sit in my house till the small hours banging out angry letters about late trains and neighbours not putting away their wheelie bins. And I certainly don't complain in order to get "free stuff". I give praise (and tips) where they are due, obviously.
But learn from my experience: the next time you're shown to a smoking room when you booked a non-smoking one, or are served a steak the texture of cardboard, politely mention it to the staff. Usually they want to make sure their customers are happy and will do whatever is in their power to make sure you are. In the past few weeks alone, I have received hotel upgrades, an offer of a night in a five-star hotel, free lunch and cake.
Never underestimate the power of complaining. No one can do anything about the weather, but someone can always do something about your soup - and the fly in it.