10 Common Restaurant Complaints and How to Handle Them
By Sarah Al-Waleed
Everywhere in the world, restaurants are vulnerable to an unwavering reality: customer complaints. Whether it's making a fuss on social media or asking to see a manager in person, diners nowadays have many outlets to voice their complaints.
As a result, your restaurant is likely to receive negative feedback from time to time. And when that happens, how you choose to handle customer complaints will be what sets you apart from the competition.
So, before looking at how you can handle specific complaints, here are some general guidelines you should follow.
General tips on how to handle complaints
A. Listen to your customers
Many customer complaints can be quickly resolved when people feel they've been heard and understood. So, when a customer complains, proactively listen. Focus your undivided attention on them, make eye contact, and keep an open mind.
If possible, take notes during the conversation. In doing so, you'll be able to retain this information for future reference and let the customer know that their complaint is being taken seriously.
B. Stay calm
"The customer is always right." This is the number one rule of customer service, and it's crucial to keep it in mind, especially when a customer is being unreasonable or downright pushy.
Try to keep your voice calm and steady, and never argue back. Matching the customer's emotion is a recipe for an argument, and the goal here remains to defuse the situation and resolve the problem.
C. Show empathy
Acknowledge your customers' concerns and try to look at things from their perspective. This will help you adopt your customer's viewpoint, better understand the situation, and overcome your biases toward the quality of your products or services.
People are emotional beings, and many, if not most of us, are led by emotion. Showing empathy can help you gain your customers' trust and make them see that you're on their side.
D. Present a solution
Every complaint requires a different solution. And this is where efficient customer service skills and emotional intelligence come in. Attempt to assess the situation and find a suitable solution for the customer's problem. It could be as simple as an apology, a comped meal, or a discount on a future visit.
Make your customers a part of the solution-finding process by inviting them to make suggestions or provide feedback on the solutions you offer. If customers feel like they're part of this process, they'll likely be happier with the outcome.
E. Follow up
So, you've successfully provided a solution that your customers are happy with and de-escalated the situation. Next, make sure to follow up with your customers in a few days or weeks to confirm that they're entirely satisfied with how you addressed their concerns.
In doing so, you will demonstrate to your customers that you value them and appreciate their business, increasing the likelihood of them coming back.
F. Keep a record of customer complaints
This one requires some effort, but it can significantly benefit your business. Recording and tracking customer complaints can help you recognize ongoing patterns and measure the number of customers who are bringing up identical issues.
By doing this, you'll be able to pinpoint the root cause of some customer complaints, improve your process, and avoid future problems.
G. Train your employees
It's essential that you create practical guidelines on how to handle customer complaints and that you train your employees to implement them effectively. That way, you'll empower them to find solutions to issues when they arise without having to get your go-ahead on every little thing.
Common Restaurant Complaints and How to Address Them
Having gone over the above tips, we are now ready to dive into specific complaints and address them:
2. Order mix-up
3. Slow service
10. Food poisoning
1. Low-quality food or drink
Food quality can make or break a restaurant. It's the reason why diners walk through your doors. And If the food is subpar (say the chicken is cold or the bread is stale), complaints are sure to follow.
Locate the source of the problem and address it. Why did the food arrive cold to the customer? Was the food sitting out too long before being served? Talk to your waitstaff and hold them accountable.
Is the kitchen backed up, and food is not coming out? Look for bottlenecks on the line, and try to eliminate them. Perhaps the problem is equipment malfunction. Are the appliances you're using to cook the food working properly? They might need a tune-up.
Asking the right questions is the first step in understanding the problem and improving your performance.
2. Order mix-up
Order mix-ups are one of the most frustrating problems for customers. Imagine sitting there with your stomach rumbling, watching the clock, waiting for your order, only to receive the wrong one. Or, worse, imagine receiving an order that was prepared incorrectly or one that's missing something. How forgiving do you think you will be?
Replacing a missing condiment or firing up a simple appetizer is easy enough, but remaking a dish? Oh boy! That will take some time. If your guest has to wait for their dish while the rest of the table is eating, you can bring a comped soup, salad, or side dish. And you can even go so far as to remove that dish from the check.
Next, be sure to find out exactly what went wrong so that you can fix it in the future. During peak rush, slip-ups are bound to happen. Are your employees juggling too many things? If the workload is too much for them, talk to them openly and ask if they need help and on which stations they need it.
3. Slow service
When you're hungry, the last thing you want is to wait a long time for your food to arrive. Customers expect their food to be ready in a specific amount of time; failing that can cause frustration.
Your chefs and waitstaff should be trained to estimate the time it takes for different dishes to be prepared and served. Relaying that estimate to your customers can put their minds at ease. Of course, your team members should do everything in their power to abide by that time limit.
You might also consider adding an element of entertainment to your restaurant to make the wait more tolerable. It could be a TV, free WiFi, or even a sketch artist to draw your guests. That way, customers will be distracted while they wait.
In the middle of a busy service, unexpected things can happen. You could run out of ice for drinks or clean dinnerware to plate your dishes, or someone can call in sick. And when service slows down, you should always be ready to talk to your guests and offer them the occasional free drink or dish when necessary.
4. Poor customer service
Customer service complaints in restaurants are relatively common. A few of these complaints include the server being rude, having a bad attitude, ignoring guests, rushing customers through their meals, or being unable to answer simple questions.
Training, training, and more training. You can resolve most complaints in your restaurant through proper training. Teach your employees about your restaurant, their responsibilities, and customer expectations. Your employees are the face of your restaurant; therefore, you must spend time and effort training them.
Observe your employees in their training sessions and look out for warning signs you might need to nip in the bud. In doing so, you can avoid future complaints regarding your employees.
And since there are two sides to every story, make time to sit down with your employees and hear their side. The problem could be a misunderstanding or an extreme circumstance. Supporting your staff and listening to their concerns can make them feel heard. And happy employees make for a successful business.
Eating in a clean, sanitary environment is of the utmost importance to customers. That's why a large majority of restaurant complaints are related to dirty bathrooms, soiled utensils, or poor server hygiene. This is not to mention that with COVID-19 still out there, sensitivities regarding health hazards are at an all-time high.
First, you must keep track of everything that needs cleaning. Therefore, it's vital that you make a checklist, so the minor details don't get overlooked. Customer-facing items should always be a priority on your list. For example, condiment bottles, utensils, reusable menus, seating, and guest bathrooms should be consistently cleaned.
Your staff is a reflection of your restaurant, so it's essential that you make them aware of all your health and safety regulations. For example, you need to emphasize how they need to come to work shaved and showered, how they need to wash their hands regularly, and how your kitchen staff needs to wear hair nets while handling food.
Lastly, you must stay updated on the latest Covid-19 safety measures, such as using QR menus, regularly disinfecting surfaces, and having staff members wear masks.
6. Overpriced menu items
Customers consider eating out at a restaurant a financial investment, and they want to ensure they're getting a good return on that investment. If an expensive meal doesn't deliver on its promise of exceptional quality, customers will often feel like they've been cheated.
If you've tried your best to deliver outstanding food quality and customers are still complaining, you need to move on to doing pricing research. This research will help you conduct a thorough market analysis and ensure your menu pricing is on point.
It would also help if you tried to create value for your customers beyond meal price. After all, value isn't purely driven by price; value can also be created when you deliver on things that aren't as quantifiable, such as excellent service and a great atmosphere.
7. General atmosphere
The atmosphere is any part of your restaurant that influences the feel of it, and it's a big part of the reason why people go out to eat. So it's no wonder that it made our list. Atmosphere complaints can include poor positioning of the tables, crowded areas, near-kitchen seating, loud music, bright lights, or wobbly tables.
When designing the layout of your tables, think of the best possible use of your restaurant's space. Make enough room for your customers and staff to move around comfortably. And if possible, consider installing a few booths or more secluded areas for private parties or families with small children, so they do not disturb your other guests.
The music you choose to play should adequately reflect the type of food you serve and the atmosphere you wish to create. For example, If your restaurant serves ethnic food, you could play music from that ethnicity to create an authentic atmosphere. Just make sure the music is not so loud that guests have to shout over it for conversation.
And when choosing the correct lighting, think about the overall restaurant aesthetic you wish to convey. Are you running a romantic Italian restaurant? Then bright, white, industrial-style lighting might not be ideal. Are you running a breakfast place? Then, dark restaurant lighting might not set the right tone.
8. Unavailable products or services
Suppose a customer sat down at your restaurant to order his favorite menu item, only to discover that some ingredients are unavailable. Or, imagine another customer who wanted to pay for his meal using his credit card, only to be told that it is not possible and that he has to run to an ATM to settle his check.
Monitor your inventory closely and restock items before they run out. You can even consider installing an inventory management system to keep tabs on your inventory and warn you when you're running low on any ingredient.
Also, if you're using QR menus, you can hide those items from the menu just until you restock them. This way, you can curb any complaints about missing menu items and stop them in their tracks.
And in this digital age, especially after COVID, cash is no longer king. Try taking advantage of online payment solutions and card transactions.
9. Delivery arrived late or cold
When customers order delivery, they're probably already hungry. That means that every minute counts — and, my friend, they ARE counting every minute. If a delivery order arrives late, cold, or unappealing in any way, the customer is likely to complain.
Take control of your ordering and delivery process. Start by hiring and training your own delivery drivers. Next, make sure that the kitchen staff can correctly estimate how long a food order will take to prepare—and then factor in drive times and traffic before giving your customers an estimate.
You can also equip your drivers with insulated food delivery bags to keep the food warm during transport.
10. Food poisoning
A customer experiencing food poisoning is the type of complaint a restaurant owner never wants to see plastered all over social media.
It's a serious concern, and the way owners handle this accusation is vital for the future of their business and the safety of their customers.
Since this type of complaint is likely to arise after customers leave the restaurant, they'll probably write a negative review online or post about it on your social media.
Two words. Damage control. The first and most important thing is to move the conversation from social media to email or phone. Be empathetic and understanding with the customer. And show them that you're taking the complaint seriously and investigating thoroughly.
Identifying the source of food poisoning can be very difficult. And there is always a good chance that the customer became ill from something else. Begin by gathering relevant information and speaking to the employees who prepared, cooked, and served the food.
It might also be a good idea to tell your suppliers about the complaint and ask whether or not they may have received similar ones.
Customer complaints can be hard to hear, but as long as you treat each one as a learning opportunity, your business will continuously improve. Complaints, especially when warranted, can give you first-hand feedback about your products and services. They can also create a line of honest communication with your customers and help you understand their needs better.
And it's important to remember that when customers complain, they give your business a chance to rectify the situation. So, always be willing to admit your shortcomings and take the proper corrective action.