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How To Deal With Unhappy Customers.

Unfortunately dealing with unhappy customers is a fact of restaurant life.

No matter how hard you try some people are just never happy, although the percentage of 'fake' complainers compared to 'real' ones is relatively low, it is still handy to know how to deal with them. First of all let us define the types of complainers you will get. 

A 'real' complainer is somebody who has a genuine issue with your product and or service and feels they need to resolve this.
A 'fake' complainer is somebody who has no real issue with your product or service and just wants to moan because they are after something for free or in a bad mood. To be honest in our opinion these people should not be allowed to leave their houses, and certainly not be allowed out in public! Yes these people really do exist.

Where 'real' complaints are concerned prevention is the best cure so to speak, seeing as though the complaint will be due to your own products/service not being up to standard then usually you are to blame. So, the best way to prevent real complaints from happening is to:

Ensure your service is always top notch.

Always have all your products available and cooked to perfection!

Have unbelievably helpful and friendly staff.

Never get a bill wrong.

Never double book a reservation.

Right? Well maybe in a perfect world, but unfortunately we do not live in a perfect world and things can and will go wrong. This is because we rely on people for our industry to function and people are unpredictable at the best of times. Things will go wrong, equipment will break, staff will let you down, as will suppliers.

This is unfortunately inevitable I'm afraid, so you will just have to bite the bullet and deal with these real complaints as and when the need arises.

How to deal with genuine complaints

LAST, HEARD, and LEAP are three different techniques that can be used to handle customer complaints. These techniques are designed to help you listen actively to your customers, understand their concerns, and respond appropriately.

So, one of your staff tells you that the man on table 21 wants to complain about his meal, What should your approach be?

Ask your staff what the problem is. Arm yourself with as much information as possible, you need to know what has been said and why your customer is unhappy, then you can have an idea about what to do when you go over to the table.

In this example the man is complaining about his meal being cooked wrong, and your waiter had not returned to the table in good time to resolve the situation effectively. So you head to the man's table and introduce yourself, be friendly and understanding as this will keep the situation amicable.

Ask the man what the problem is and let him explain, do not interrupt. Once you have the man's complaint you can assess what to do about it. In this case your waiter was at fault for neglecting to check in good time if the customer was enjoying their meal, so you are at fault. Now apologise, take ownership of the problem, and offer what you think is fair compensation.

I would suggest that the offending item be removed from the bill and a glass of wine be offered as an apology. 

You want the customer to return, but you do not want it to be because you ripped up the bill and gave them a bottle of champagne for free, you want it to be because you are honest and genuine.

If you give lots of freebies away just because people are complaining then you will be inundated with 'fake' complainers and you will lose a lot of money. You must assess each complaint on it's seriousness and the impact it could have on your reputation and resolve it accordingly. But remember to:

Be friendly & understanding.

Do not interrupt your customer.


Resolve the issue.

If you stick to these then 99% of complainers will return to give you another try.

Now, how to deal with fake complainers. This is a tough one due to the nature of the customer. They just want to be awkward for the sake of being awkward and expect a lot in return. How can you spot them? Well, think back to the last time you had somebody really loud in your restaurant who was hard work from the word go!

They made little comments about the decoration, they didn't like the table you gave them, recognise this? These are the type of things fake complainers say when they arrive.

What can you do to prevent this?

Well not much because these people are up for a battle and will pick faults with almost every effort you make for them. My advice to you is just do what you always do, serve them! The problem will arise when they are either finished or asked to pay.

What these wonderful people will do is call you over after they have devoured their main course, leaving just a tiny bit on their plate, and say it was disgusting, inedible rubbish. It's true, they will. Just stay calm and let them finish and merely point out that it can't be that bad seeing as though they ate it all. Apologise by saying sorry it isn't up to their standard.

When they ask what you are going to do about it just inform them that you will make sure it won't happen again, do not offer any compensation to them as they have no valid complaint. If they refuse to pay their bill inform them calmly that the police will be called. (This is why it is always handy to take a deposit for reservations, or a telephone number).

If the customer persists in saying they won't pay their bill, then you can either give in and drop it, or let them go and call the police, who will find them and charge them. If you have taken a credit card deposit then let the matter drop, as you can always take the remainder of the balance they owe from this. If you have an address or telephone number you can contact the people directly for payment.

Unfortunately if they do not pay then chances are you have lost your money, so just make sure that you never serve them again if they return, because some do!

In conclusion, dealing with unhappy customers is an inevitable part of running a restaurant. However, by using techniques like LAST, HEARD, and LEAP, as well as taking steps to prevent complaints and handling them appropriately, you can maintain a positive reputation and keep customers coming back.

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