Restaurant Servers: Top Tips for Handling Customer Complaints
Every restaurant server has to cope with customer complaints. Whether the gripes are major or trivial, they can slow down your workflow and make your job more challenging.
What should you do when a customer complains?
Here’s a refresher of the main steps to follow (of course, always adhere to your employer’s policies if they differ from these guidelines):
Your go-to response to customer complaints should be to apologize. That can be tough when customers complain about stuff that wasn’t your fault, or when they criticize the food and you know the chef actually did an awesome job. But defending yourself or your restaurant is probably going to lead to an argument with the customer, which you definitely don’t want. Instead, always start off by saying you’re sorry.
Keep in mind that everyone has different tastes when it comes to food, as well as different expectations for the restaurant experience. A customer whose demands seem off-base may just be approaching things from a different perspective.
Acknowledge the customer’s feelings
Sympathize with the customer and validate what they’re experiencing. Say something like, “I can understand why you’re disappointed with the undercooked steak” or, “That long wait must have been an inconvenience.” This can go a long way toward calming down an irate customer. If you’re lucky, the customer may accept the sympathetic apology and continue with their meal.
Try to give customers what they want
If a customer is asking for something to be done differently or requesting something extra, try to give them what they want if it’s reasonably possible. That can be annoying if the request means more work for you, but it is worth it to do a little more work to get the complaint resolved. If you don’t have exactly what they’re asking for, try to offer alternatives. For example, if a customer asks for chocolate habanero sauce and it’s not available, offer the hot sauces that you do have on hand.
If it’s not possible to fulfill a request or to fix a dish that wasn’t up to par, offer the customer something for free. This may mean not charging them for an item they weren’t satisfied with or giving them a free dessert. You could also offer a voucher they can apply toward their next meal. Check with your manager on duty about what you can offer.
When to call a manager
You don’t want to get drawn into a long back-and-forth discussion with a customer about everything your restaurant is doing wrong. And, you don’t want a customer to make a scene and disrupt other customers’ meals. So if you’ve apologized, tried to give the customer what they want, offered alternatives, and offered a comp, and the customer is still dissatisfied, then it’s time to bring in your manager to resolve the situation. You should also ask for a manager’s help if a customer seems to be becoming agitated, is becoming aggressive, or is asking for something unusual that you don’t know how to handle. If you’re not confident that you can deal with a customer solo, ask your manager to step in.
In some cases, you may need to call security to escort the customer out. This is necessary if the customer is threatening you or disturbing others. You’ll also need to call security if a customer is causing damage to restaurant property or preventing you from doing your job. But ideally, you should get a manager on the scene before the situation gets out of hand.