How to Handle Restaurant Customer & Staff Incidents

No matter how well you serve customers and anticipate problems, some customers complain. Sometimes, people just have bad days and need some attention. Customers often point out serious problems with food, service or restaurant policies that restaurateurs need to know.

A customer might not always be right, but he or she will always be a customer or potential customer if the restaurant staff handles complaints sensibly.

Another area in restaurants that generates problems and liability expenses is when people get injured on the premises. Restaurants handle customer complaints, lost items and injuries, so creating a comprehensive customer service strategy and procedure for handling accidents and emergencies is important.

Dealing with Complaints

Dealing with complaints can actually be an opportunity for restaurants because satisfied customers will continue to visit. Customers tell their friends about perceived shortcomings and how restaurants respond to complaints. Customers who take time and trouble to complain want satisfaction, or they wouldn’t bother pointing out problems. Key issues to consider about a restaurant’s method of dealing with complaints include:

  • Strategies for dealing with customers and the complaints that they make
  • Deciding whether to authorize any employee to handle complaints or to require them to forward the complaint to a supervisor
  • Creating a positive experience for customers who bother pointing out problems
  • Handling matters sensibly, fairly and equitably for customers, staff and restaurant image

Most people accept poor service or occasional problems with their food without complaining, so customer complaints can provide information for restaurant managers so that they can address unnoticed problems. One common problem in restaurants is that customers often leave items at their tables. Creating a lost-and-found policy is practical and reasonable, and each employee should know how to determine what might be valuable and where to find lost items when customers call or visit.

Sometimes, complaints can potentially spiral out of control into public relations disasters. Customers or staff may become offended for whatever reason or someone might make a very serious accusation about the restaurant. Every restaurant owner should be prepared for this and have a procedure for their staff when a customer service complaint can do public harm to the restaurant’s brand. Like an accident, incident reports (containing only facts) should be filled out in preparation for PR fallout and any future legal proceedings. A manager should be fully trained to recognize these kinds of bigger incidents and handle them immediately and proactively (informing the lead manager being the first step).

Emergency Preparedness and Handling Incidents

Restaurants deal with various accidents, altercations and incidents that include robberies, loud arguments and physical violence. How restaurants respond to ease tensions and handle accidents is critical for a restaurant’s reputation and financial well-being.

Restaurant Accidents

Restaurant kitchens generate many ways for staff to sustain injuries. Although most restaurant kitchen injuries are relatively minor, some can be life-threatening. Customers get injured from hot food, falls and physical barriers, and both restaurant customers and staff could easily have physical ailments that require immediate medical attention. Good customer service, thorough accident investigation, and documentation and responding appropriately help to ensure health, safety and customer and staff satisfaction. Effective incident management procedures include taking the following steps:

  1. Try to remove an injured party (if a minor injury) to a private area to determine the injuries and whether the victim wants to go the emergency room.
  2. If the victim is unconscious or clearly debilitated, call 911.
  3. Inspect the area where the injury happened, and take detailed notes, photos or videos to document conditions.
  4. Never assign or admit liability, but determine the facts and obtain phone numbers and addresses of customers and employees who witnessed the accident.
  5. Have a good first aid kit available to treat minor injuries.
  6. Restaurants that have video surveillance should secure any corroborating video.

Restaurants have a duty to provide a safe dining environment, but never offer to comp a customer’s meal because this action could be interpreted as a sign of liability. Of course, offering a meal is the classic way of handling complaints about food or service; just don’t do so when liability issues are in play. Accidents, complaints, and altercations occur when dealing with the public, but how restaurants handle these problems can minimize consequences. Restaurant owners can create manuals that address these issues. Make learning the information mandatory, and explain that safety and security require that employees handle these issues in certain ways.