5 Steps for Dealing with an Unhappy Restaurant Customer

Restaurant complaints seem to come when service is at its busiest, and it is tempting to take only the minimal action necessary to address the complaint. But handling complaints effectively provides as opportunity to strengthen a customer relationship.

From a management perspective, training is key. Train staff members in how to handle complaints so that each employee follows the recommended procedure no matter how swamped the restaurant is at the time.

Many times, handling complaints professionally and promptly turns unhappy diners into long-term repeat customers and effective cheerleaders. People who complain tell others about their problems, and many also tell people when they’ve been treated fairly. The following steps can transform complaints into opportunities for repeat sales, referrals and valuable information about customer attitudes and the restaurant’s service and food.

  1. Acknowledge the Customer’s Complaint
    A manager should always by introducing themselves fully. Along with telling the person what their position is, they should offer their name.

    Listening actively, acknowledging the complaint and apologizing for the diner’s dissatisfaction in a sincere tone of voice help to resolve any problem. Summarize what the customer says so that a manager is sure that he or she understands the issue.

    A complaining customer wants to be heard because he or she likes the restaurant and doesn’t want to experience the problem again. Listen carefully to the customer, and don’t rush to offer a solution without hearing the issue and investigating the problem. The problem might be one of misinterpretation or bad communications, so don’t compound the problem by failing to understand the complaint.

  2. Institute Quick Action
    Try to resolve complaints quickly while customers are still on the premises. If that isn’t possible, get the customer’s contact information while promising to follow-up on the complaint as quickly as possible.

    Empower staff members to resolve complaints by teaching them the process of handling disputes and making amends.

    If the issue be have legal ramifications or may persist, make sure that your staff fills out an incident report immediately. Therefore, you have a written document to refer back to and so that future managers can use.

  3. Monitor the Restaurant’s Online Reputation
    Complaints are often made anonymously through online reviews, surveys, blog posts and other forums. Make sure that the restaurant has tools in place to monitor the social media networks and digital media for complaints and negative information.

    A restaurant’s online reputation can change quickly and affect in-house dining because many people rely on mobile searches for restaurants. Resolving problems online provides the same benefits as handling complaints at brick-and-mortar locations.

  4. Encouraging Customers to Voice Their Opinions
    Most people don’t bother complaining because they don’t want to take the time or fear that their complaints will only reach harried, apathetic employees. Creating an atmosphere where it’s easy to complain includes getting servers, managers and cashiers to ask sincerely about each customer’s dining experience.

    Provide complaint cards or online surveys for people who prefer to remain anonymous or don’t like personal confrontations. By encouraging customers to share their opinions and attitudes, managers get information that helps to resolve problems for those customers who don’t complain.

  5. Resolve Complaints Without Spending Money
    There is a time and a place for financial reimbursement. Normally, customers complain because they want attention and respect more than financial reimbursement. Don’t automatically offer a free meal or financial incentive to placate the customer. In fact, if it does not directly relate to the complaint, customers may be turned off by a discount.

    Of course, if the complaint involves food that the diner couldn’t eat, then removing the item from the bill is appropriate.

    However, overly generous gestures could generate unfounded complaints in the future, nor can they engender good will. Managers can determine what complainers want done by asking how they can resolve issues for the guests’ satisfaction. Provide what the customer asks if reasonable, and exceed the complainer’s expectation by offering more than requested and checking to see if the solution is satisfactory.

Building Customer Relationships

Customers complain because they want satisfaction and plan to return. Most unhappy customers don’t complain and don’t return, so view complaints as opportunities for growth, repeat business and resolving problems in the restaurant. Busy restaurants generate occasional problems, both real and imagined. If customers aren’t complaining, then managers have no way of correcting problems or diners’ misinterpretations, so a restaurant that treats complaints as a way to win over customers is better positioned to earn a reputation for great customer service.