Consumers want licensees to handle complaints promptly, according to a survey by The Mystery Dining Company (TMDC).
The majority of the 500 respondents (84%) said the acknowledgement of negative feedback by senior management is their preferred response.
However, around 66% of consumers felt their feedback only reached the correct person "sometimes".
Eighty-four per cent expected that a bad experience should attract some degree of compensation, while seven out of 10 would be happy with on-site goodwill gestures, such as complimentary food or drink.
Money off the bill was more popular than receiving a voucher to eat at the site another time.
"Customers don't relish the thought of making a complaint, but if they do it's actually to the operator's benefit as they have the opportunity to change the customers' perceptions by handling any issue competently while they are on-site," said TMDC director Sally Whelan.
More than half (55%) of respondents were equally likely to offer good comments as bad and only 22% spoke up after a negative experience.
Food was the most common cause for complaint, followed by service and seven out of 10 respondents would rather give negative feedback via an electronic format.