Social Experiment: How Much Stuff Can Erin Get For Free By Writing Letters Of Complaint?

So. I have this incredibly wonderful new experiment going on, and I need your HELP!

Background: I was the unlucky recipient of some crap service at my local Starbucks a week or three back. It’s not worth rehashing, really, but basically, the girl behind the counter offered me a free sample of the chain’s new instant coffee, subjected me to a lengthy harangue on the many pluses of keeping instant coffee around (“You can serve it to unexpected guests!” As if anyone ever comes to St. Helens to visit anyway, and as if I would subject them to a cup of crappy coffee crystals if they did.)  Then she tried to make me feel guilty when I didn’t want to purchase any. But It was gross and expensive!!

I was rather taken aback, and annoyed that I had to feel guilty for saying “No” because I’d accepted the sample. It was entrapment!

Starbucks has always struck me as a low-pressure kind of place. The chill-to-the-point-of-coma-inducing vibe is a big part of the reason why I go there instead of supporting some smaller local joints. Yeah, it’s Big, Bad Corporate America. And yeah, the coffee tastes the way burnt things smell. But as any ad exec will tell you, consumer purchases are guided largely by emotion, not reason, and I have been endlessly amazed by the fact that I can go into any Starbucks, anywhere in the world, and things will look and feel and even SMELL almost exactly the same. This is enormously comforting, as anyone who has logged time in foreign countries can tell you. Add to this the fact that the service is consistently friendly, and, best of all, little sample trays of new drinks and snacks are frequently on hand, and no one usually says anything if you pocket a few extras for the road. Throughout my years frequenting Starbucks, I’ve always gobbled down these samples with a serene sense of impunity, knowing that the chain eschews the Hard Sell in favor of lo-pressure tactics. I even broke a really expensive teapot in a Starbucks in Eugene once and they didn’t make me pay for it or clean up the ceramic shards! It was great!

Anyway. I was worked up about the sub-par experience I’d had and so I decided to write a letter of complaint. I penned a quick note to Starbucks outlining my dismay and within days—DAYS, I tell you—Starbucks had written me a personal letter of apology and tossed two free drink coupons my way! I was elated!

But the elation was short-lived. Because THEN I started thinking about all the other times I’ve gotten atrocious service and I started getting angry all over again.

For example: My grandma and I were at Subway about 6 months ago, where we each purchased a footlong $5 sandwich. Imagine my revulsion when I discovered—halfway through the first six inches—that there was a LONG HAIR in my sandwich! I was completely disgusted and immediately took the rest of the sandwich up to the counter to complain. I was very polite about the whole thing, considering how DEEESGUSTING it was, but to no avail. The nasty woman, excuse me, SANDWICH ARTIST, behind the counter, who was clearly the owner of the long, gross strand of hair, was totally rude about the whole thing, never verbally apologized, and then only remade HALF of the SANDWICH!! I was so shocked and outraged that I couldn’t even reprimand her. I felt helpless, unheard, and completely devoid of recourse…. Until now!

Which reminds me! Once when I was 10 I was drinking a bottle of Kundsen’s apple juice and I found a larvae on the mouth of the bottle! That was disgusting, too!

I could go on indefinitely. And I will, but not here.

Point is, I have decided to start writing letters of complaint every single time service in a public establishment isn’t up to my (arguably low anyway) standards. The purpose of the experiment is twofold: first, it’s an experiment to see how much free stuff I can get. Second, I think it would be interesting to document the correspondences here on my blog.

For those who would protest that such behavior is akin to a racket, let me add that during the course of the experiment, I will not lie, act rudely in the hopes of receiving bad service that I might later be able to wrangle free items out of, or try to get anyone in any undue trouble. I will simply be taking careful record of the unpleasant experiences I have when I’m wearing my Consumer Hat.

Another qualifier: the experiment will also be retroactive, meaning that any negative shopping/dining experience I’ve ever had in my life is fair game for recourse. But I hold many grudges. Many, many more than I could ever hope to keep track of, and this is where you, my friends, come in:

If you were ever with me when I received bad service anywhere in the world about which I later complained, please advise me of the date, location and nature of the mistreatment so that I can set about seeking amends. You will be rewarded.


Erin J. Bernard


2 thoughts on “Social Experiment: How Much Stuff Can Erin Get For Free By Writing Letters Of Complaint?

  1. Alyah Khan says:

    Forgive me if I’m remembering this wrong. But, I think it was you that got the burned tofu at Bangkok Gardens in Columbia and the waitress was totally shitty about it. I don’t think she even offered to bring you a new plate. Lame-O.
    Your comment about the Subway woman being a “sandwich artist” almost made me pee my pants laughing. Nice touch, Miss B.

  2. Lisa says:

    Good plan! I too have had many bad experiences at Subway and not many at Starbucks. Latest example of bad service at Subway…well, it wasn’t so much a service complaint as a health inspection complaint- at a place where you eat with your hands, you would think they would have plenty of hand soap on location (I almost said “on hand”- LOL) for their restrooms. But this Subway had ZERO hand soap. I was totally grossed out and wanted to complain, but I could tell the high school girls working there wouldn’t care what I had to say anyway…so, it’s kind of funny you are doing this because I was planning on writing my own letter of complaint!

    I will have to sit down and think about any bad service we’ve had together…I know it’s happened before, but I just can’t remember right now. 🙂

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