Operations – Handling Customer Complaints

Everyone has had customers that completely destroy the natural framework of a working restaurant. They consume servers’ time by constantly having problems and asking for more and more. Despite how rude a customer might or how much they complain it is important to remember, that in today’s age of social media, to always be the bigger man/woman. It would be great to be able to kick out rude customer, tell them to never come back and never think of the incident again. Unfortunately, life isn’t fair, and the restaurant industry is in the service business after all. Below we have some simple but effective tips on how to deal with unhappy customers while keeping sanity in the workplace.

The first tip is by far the most important, and is typically the moment when confrontational situations melt into a flaming ball of yelling and anger. Don’t get defensive. When a customer complains about your restaurant, the food, the service, whatever it may be, the hardest part is to not get angry. You have put your life into this establishment and pride yourself on the food you serve to your customers. But it is not worth it to get defensive or angry at the customer. The same loud customer that is loud in complaints is also the same customer that would be telling friends/family/Facebook/Twitter etc about their negative experience in your restaurant.

After you have swallowed your desire to refuse service to the customer, listen to them. Most of the time customers merely want to have a chance to explain why they are upset. If you feel that you have a just rational explanation for the situation, tell them but also try to fix the problem they described. “We are having a really busy night tonight, and 3 of our servers called in sick, BUT we will make sure to get your food out as soon as possible”.

Next, actually do fix the problem. Often problems go unfixed because a simple gesture of apology (free dessert, comp the meal, gift certificate etc.) is the easiest way to fix the situation. Make sure that a staff member or server that has training and authorization to fix the conflict situations is always duty during service hours.

Lastly, follow up. When the customer is finishing up, check back in with the customer if at all possible. You could even get the customers e-mail address so you can follow up with them at a later time. It might seem like a lot of work to keep one customer happy, but in general when people feel valued they are 1, more likely to return and 2, more willing to talk about their positive experience to others.

While conflict is inevitable, having an action plan and enough will power to make calm rash decisions is the best course of action. Acknowledge the problem, try fix it, and then make sure what you did to fix it has eased the tension. With a well laid plan you are much less likely to find yourself the victim of a bad review or online complaint.

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