Managing The Diner’s “Complaint”

How restaurant management need to be prepared to effectively resolve customer complaints both in house and online.

It goes without saying that you and your team are always striving to offer the best guest experience, and that is your intention. But let’s face it; during the peak dinner rush on a Saturday night when you have a packed house and busy kitchen, your control over the guest experience becomes vulnerable. This is when the risk of guest disappoint is greatest.

When a guest chooses to dine at your establishment, they come with a set of preconceived expectations of what the experience is going to be like. So when that expectation is not met, or an upsetting event takes place, they are motivated to act. Here is the scary part, only 4% of unhappy guests will actually take the time to complain, because 91% of dissatisfied customers will simply leave your restaurant and never come back. (1st Financial Training Services)  The 4% that do complain will either do so while still in your establishment, or they may take the more damaging approach of writing a negative online review. Both of these scenarios require a pre-planned approach on how to effectively respond and correct the issue in order to salvage your reputation.

Here are some eye-opening statistics that you need to be aware of:
Managing the Customer's "Complaint"

• 67% of consumers search and review restaurants or cafes online (
• 79% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations (searchengineland) 
• 45% share bad customer experiences through social media (zendesk)
• 81% of consumers’ buying decisions are influenced by their friends’ social media posts (shuttlerock)

In-house complaint

First off this is the best-case scenario, as your team has the ability to act immediately to turn the experience around, thus reducing the chances of negative word of mouth and a damaging online review.

Let the manager manage the problem– managers represent an authoritative role who can make decisions, and knowing this automatically puts guests mind at ease. Not to mention it allows the server to get back to focusing on the other patrons experiences.

Apologize, listen and apologize again– begin with a light apology to establish a positive open dialogue. Then actively listen to understand exactly what the guest is upset about so you can formulate an appropriate and effective apology and solution. This approach will increase your chances of understand the customers expectations and meeting them.

Something complimentary – offering dissatisfied guests a dessert, meal or voucher for dining in the future is effective in bringing value back to the guests’ initial expectation if it is aligned with the situation. However don’t let this be the only step in resolving their concern, as may risk upsetting the guest further.

Sincere thank you understand the value these customers have to the success of your business, and sincerely thank them for choosing to dine with you and for bringing the matter to your attention. It is also important to reiterate how your team is dedicated to improving the experience.

Our expert restaurant consultant Karalyn White shares,” we always recommend that the restaurant solve the complaint before the guest leaves the building. All too often guests leave the restaurant with a simple goodnight or thank-you from the door staff; which is the last line of defence before guests post negative experiences. To combat this, we encourage the host team to ask really specific questions about the food and service experiences to solicit a real response from the guest. Any response that does represent an 11 out of 10 guest experience should be addressed by the owner or manager.”

The online complaint

If you aren’t able to catch the complaint before it leaves, then you need to be prepared. The impact a negative online review can have on your business varies but since they can rarely be removed or deleted, your chance at providing a stellar first impression for new guests is now impacted, which will in turn effect foot traffic and sales.

Here are recommendations how to effectively manage the online complaint.

Respond immediately.
It is important to make a public response to all dissatisfied customers within 24 hours of the posting so guests see that you are paying attention and care about customer service. Ensure you thank them for sharing their experience.

Own the blame.
No matter what the situation, there is always room for improvement and a dissatisfied customer is proof of that. Be accountable and express how your team is working towards offering a better customer experience and what sets you apart.

Connect offline.
To resolve the situation directly and not publicly, provide them with a phone number or manager email. The last thing you want is for the world to see that you offer a complimentary dinner for two for every guest that complains.

Update your team.
Ensure to notify your team and hostesses of the dissatisfied guests name, so when they make the next reservation or come in, you ensure to go above and beyond their expectations.

Our team of expert restaurant consultants can assist your team in developing key training processes and procedures for customer service best practices to improve your restaurant brand reputation and increase sales.

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