How to Handle Customer Complaints at Your Restaurant

how to handle customer complaints

There is no need to feel overly discouraged with customer complaints – one complaint does not mean you’ve automatically lost a customer. However, the way you handle the complaint will be the determining factor. 

Customers need to feel valued, if they voice a complaint and feel as though their issue was not resolved, they will probably not return. On the other hand, if someone voices a complaint and feels like their problem was properly managed, they will feel valued.  

Generally, a good rule of thumb is to start the conversation by thanking your customer for choosing to dine with you, and telling them that you are happy to resolve any issues they are having. This creates the tone that you are here for them, and will take the matter seriously. 

Now, let’s get into specific situations so you can be prepared for any complaints that come your way. 

 

Complaints About Food and Beverage Temperature

The temperature that food or beverages are served at, will have an impact on the customer’s experience. 

Let’s say it’s a cold winter day and your customer orders a soup to warm up, chances are they are expecting that soup to be hot. Or, if they are ordering an iced coffee in the summer, they will want their drink to cool them down. If the customer’s soup is served cold, they will not get that warm pleasant feeling from a hot soup on a cold day. Or, if the iced coffee is room temperature with all the ice melted, they won’t get the refreshing sensation of a cold drink on a hot day. 

The unfortunate reality is that as soon as the food or beverage is prepared and ready to serve, it will begin to change temperatures. And in some cases, the temperature can change drastically within a matter of minutes. 

How to handle the complaint

If a customer is complaining about their meal being too cold, simply offer to warm it up for them. Make sure to apologize for the extra time they need to spend waiting for the food to be warmed up. 

Colder food might be tricker to deal with since it’s not as easy to re-chill cold items – like in the iced coffee example, it wouldn’t be possible to just add more ice to the coffee as this would give the customer a very watery drink. In this scenario, your best option is to offer to re-make the item free of charge.

How to avoid the problem 

The best way to avoid a temperature complaint would be to ensure your staff is serving food or drinks within 1 minute after it is prepared. The less time the food sits around in the kitchen, the less likely the customer will complain about its temperature. 

Additionally, if the item you are serving is very hot, always make sure to warn the customer so they don’t accidentally burn themselves. 

 

Incorrect Order 

An incorrect order can happen when a restaurant is operating during peak hours and there are a lot of customers ordering food at the same time. Chefs are preparing a lot of dishes, and in this chaotic situation, they may forget that a customer ordered no cheese with their burger, or forget that they wanted extra fries on the side. 

Additionally, a server may get confused with all the food coming out of the kitchen, and in this rush, they could accidentally grab a random food order and give it to the wrong person. 

How to handle the complaint

In this case, you can make a judgment call on how unsatisfied the customer is. Sometimes a customer will say something like “this is not what I ordered, but I already started eating the meal and it tastes great”. In this scenario, you can apologize to the customer by saying you’re sorry that they didn’t receive the food they ordered, and offer them a discount on their current meal or on a future meal. 

In another scenario, a customer may be very disgruntled about receiving the wrong order and could say something like “ this is not what I ordered and I am very dissatisfied with what I got”. Here, you would apologize for the mix-up and promptly offer to re-make the customer’s meal, ensuring they will receive what they ordered. In this case, you should offer to re-make this meal free of charge, and possibly offer a discount on the bill.  

How to avoid the problem

In order to avoid this problem from occurring again, ensure your staff is properly trained on how to read food orders. Different restaurants might use abbreviations to signify different things. For example, if a customer doesn’t want pickles on their burger, the server or cashier might type in “no pkls”. As these abbreviations can get confusing, make sure your staff is familiar with your restaurant’s methods. 

Another way to avoid this situation is by implementing a policy where the cashier or server repeats the order back to the customer. This means as soon as the customer has placed their order with the server, the server will repeat everything that customer said to ensure they have the correct items. 

 

Incorrect Pricing

Incorrect pricing occurs when a cashier or server makes a mistake by adding an additional item to a customer’s bill. This could be anything from adding extra cheese when the customer did not order it, or something bigger like adding an appetizer to a receipt when the customer never ordered it. 

How to handle the complaint

If the incorrect charge was spotted before the customer sees it, then you can quickly take that item off the bill. 

However, if the customer spots the incorrect charge on their bill before you or the server sees it, you must reassure them that it was an honest mistake and offer to remove the item right away.  

How to avoid the problem

Ensuring that your staff is properly trained on how to use your restaurant’s ordering system will help minimize this problem in the future. 

 

Poor Service

When a customer complains about poor service they can be referring to anything from long wait times, rude servers, or unkempt appearances. Even if they enjoyed the food, poor service will have a negative impact on your guests’ experience, and this could mean they will be less likely to return to your restaurant. 

How to handle the complaint

If your customer is making a complaint about a rude staff member, your first step would be to apologize on that staff member’s behalf and thank them for letting you know about the issue. Ask the customer for specific details on what went wrong with the service and how they would like to see it improve. Then, let them know you will speak with the staff member personally and assure them that they will get quality service from now on. 

After this is done, speak with the staff member who the customer complained about and let them know about the conversation you had with the customer. Ensure that the staff member makes the necessary changes in their behavior so that the customer feels satisfied with the service. 

In another example, let’s say the customer is complaining about long wait times – this could be in terms of waiting for their food or waiting to be seated at a table. In this case, you could politely say that your restaurant is currently very busy, but you apologize for the long wait times. And tell them that you will do everything you can to seat them or to bring them their food as soon as possible.

How to avoid the problem

Train your staff on your restaurant’s policy for how to treat guests. You can have a script posted in the office or staff room that breaks down how you want your staff members to speak to the guests. 

Also, ensure that hosts always let the customers know how long the expected wait times are. This way guests will not be surprised when they end up waiting longer than they thought. 

 

Cleanliness

When guests arrive at your restaurant, one of the most basic expectations they have is that everything is clean and sanitary. Cleanliness is not only important when it comes to keeping your customers happy, but it is a crucial part of passing a restaurant health inspection. 

How to handle the complaint

When your customer is making a complaint about your restaurant’s cleanliness, thank them for bringing the complaint to your attention. Ensure them that you or one of your staff members will clean up the mess right away, and apologize for any inconvenience that the mess may have caused. 

How to avoid the problem 

Train your staff on the importance of keeping a clean and sanitary restaurant. Ensure that everyone knows the proper protocols around hand washing, where to put dirty plates, where to put garbage etc. You can also post signage around the restaurant to serve as a reminder. 

Maintaining these cleaning best practices every day will help make sure that no customer complains about your restaurant’s cleanliness. 

If you’ve been thinking about opening your own restaurant, consider franchising with Mary Brown’s. Our team of experienced professionals will help guide you through the process to ensure your success.

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