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Handling a Restaurant Guest Complaint

“There is a restaurant guest complaint on table 24.” Those simple words can absolutely ruin a perfect night, it could snowball into an impossible situation, it could even cost the restaurant thousands of dollars. It doesn’t have to go down like that however; it needs to be acted on quickly, and in the proper manor. Do this, and you can not only save a bad experience for the guest, put a halt to the spread of negative comments on the street, and walk away from the table with valuable information.

Prompt Action is a Must

Whatever you are doing at the time is not near as important as a disgruntled restaurant guest. The only thing delaying your response to a guest complaint does is compound the situation. Do not give them a second more than you have to. They will be brewing and making more and more of a situation out of the problem bringing more and more attention to their guest complaint. You will also be surprised at how a quick manager response will start defusing the situation by just that.

Some guest complaints are quite simply “the customer who is always right” trying to impress others at his or her table and they simply need a little coddling. Other problems could be simple food preparation problems that you need to address immediately so you can fix it and limit the damage. Nonetheless, a quick response is essential to correcting the guest complaint.

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Get Your Facts

Before you approach the table get a quick run down from the server or other restaurant personnel involved in the restaurant guest complaint. I emphasize quick here as like I said above getting to the guest promptly is a must, but you don’t want to enter the situation blind either. A little knowledge beforehand will give you not only the information you need so you are not left shocked at the table, but it also gives you a few moments as you approach the table to think about possible corrective measures.

Approaching the Table

When you approach the table politely and authoritatively say some thing to the effect of “Hello, my name is “ Joe Manager” I am the manager. I heard that there is something derailing your perfect evening with us, I am here to fix that for you. What may I ask is the problem?” Yes, even though you’ve had a little briefing ask them again what the problem is. For one you may find that it was more serious than you thought initially, two; it opens the dialog in a positive and corrective manor, and three it lets the guest get it off his chest knowing that they have told someone in authority.

Assessing the Damage

Once you have heard the guests assessment of the situation you need to make a not only a decision of how to take care of the guests, but how to make sure the problem is never repeated again. First the guest; according to the National Retail Merchants Association some 14% of the people that stop patronizing an establishment do so because a complaint was not handled to their satisfaction. Well, we are going to go beyond their satisfaction.

The difference between okay restaurants, and great ones is that the great ones never let a dissatisfied guest out the door. Let me say this again, never let them out the door! Is it going to cost the restaurant? Quite frankly, yes, of course it is. But remember, the restaurant made the mistake. Is it going to be expensive? Possibly, depending on the situation, but it will nonetheless be less expensive than if that guest left unhappy.

Keep in mind it is just not just this particular guests experience at risk here. A guest that has a great experience at your restaurant will on average tell two other people. A guest that has a bad experience tells ten! Make it your goal to do “whatever it takes” to assure the guests leave happy.

Corrective Measures

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As I said above you need to go above and beyond what the average diner would expect. Also keep in mind the profitability of the restaurant so you will have to balance the two in your mind while you contemplate what you can do for the guest. I for one have never much liked taking things off the check for people and opt to do things such as buy the guest a dessert for some trivial complaints, but what I have always told my managers, “do what you need to do.” If I have to buy them desert fine, a bottle of wine fine, a round of drinks fine.

We try to buy for the table first because for one the table feels like they were given something extra, and the restaurant didn’t take things away that were already sold to the guest. Don’t, however, think taking things off isn’t a reasonable option either.

If giving extras to a table doesn’t seem appropriate or still hasn’t satisfied the guests you’ll need to take things off their check or may even have to do both. I would rather buy a guests meal, or even the whole tables meal, even give them a gift certificate to come back to boot before I would let a unhappy guest out my door. Since you haven’t wowed them with the dining experience make sure you wow them with handling the complaint.

Use Your Restaurant Guest Complaints

We all hate restaurant guest complaints but unfortunately they are part of the business. Now that the issue with the guest has been corrected so that they are once again happy and loyal customers it’s time to deal with the other side. How did that happen! Whatever the problem was, you need to realize one thing right off; for every person that complains about something there are 20 more guests that have had the same experience, they just haven’t said anything.

Although you may feel that the complaining guest was a pain, they just did you a huge favor! You need to now correct the problem, immediately if it is an operational issue and even quicker if it is a safety or health issue. You see much to your disbelief, most guest complaints do not come from those who are looking to get something free, but from people that care.

Make sure you care too. Correcting the problem promptly and professionally will show them that their concern was not unfounded and they will become loyal guests and you can save many more guests dining experiences.

From Guest Complaint to Labor Cost

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