Restaurant Complaints: Are the Customers Always Right?

We've all been told that the customer is always right, but "always" is a strong word. Customers should feel like they're right most of the time. After all, the ability to conjure up a concept, secure funding, and make a hospitality establishment happen takes a lot of work, stress, and thought. When guests offer restaurant complaints that are less than constructive or self-serving, it might make you want to 86 them forever. Luckily, there are other options that can help minimize the fallout of their complaints and, in many instances, retain them as return customers.

Meeting Impossible Demands

Restaurant complaints will always be a thing. Often, they are situations that you want to hear about in order to improve or become aware of your business's weaknesses. However, it's impossible to please everyone, and you have to know this going into the industry. Controlling and minimizing complaints is the strategy that should be used when dealing with customers. And you should know that restaurant complaints vary and range from being realistic and understandable, to bizarre and unreasonable. For instance, imagine hearing, "Your frozen drinks are too cold." Some guests are impossible to please, and you can't let this criticism bog you down.

Preparing Your Team for Complaints

Servers and managers should be aware of unreasonable complaints from guests and understand the proper course of action to take. Having policies and procedures for complaints up-front is essential to eventual prosperity, and will set your entire staff up for success. While some preparation can help you deal with complaints, it's impossible to know exactly what slightly irrational complaint you'll hear next. Start a list of common complaints and document how you dealt with them. Just remember that when you think you've heard it all, you'll hear someone from table 37 saying, "I only eat Heinz ketchup, and this is clearly not Heinz."

Pleasing Everyone

Decide if you want to be the establishment that pleases everyone. If that's not your goal, your strategy will need to be tweaked a bit. There are plenty of amazing establishments that are clearly not for everyone, whether it's a vegan restaurant or a bar atmosphere with a great menu. Staying true to your concept is important, and this can intimidate new restaurateurs. Often, new owners and managers feel as though they have failed when a complaint rolls in, even if it's about something that's been executed exactly as planned. That means it's time to quickly defuse the situation. Thank the guests for their support of your establishment and explain what your concept is all about in a friendly, informative way.

Offering Too Much

Take it easy on the handouts when customers are complaining about things that are truly beyond your control or represent a core part of your concept. Listen to the customer and process the information without letting your emotions get in the way. Put yourself in their shoes and try to understand how they're feeling. Most of the time, you'll understand and you can then attempt to solve the problem creatively without having to give away freebies. It takes real creativity to spin some complaints into a positive, but simply letting the guest know you're thankful for their feedback and that you'll look into the situation is usually enough to leave them feeling satisfied.

Customer complaints can be a headache, but they can also offer you a glimpse of what the guest experience is like through a variety of lenses. Use caution when venting about your frustrations to your employees because this behavior is contagious and could lead to your staff disregarding valid complaints. Instead, use the feedback you're given to make more informed decisions, and continue to be as positive as possible.