Unhappy Restaurant Customers: How to Handle it

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unhappy customersRestaurants are the type of business where word-of-mouth can be the most crucial form of advertising. There are so many restaurants to choose from that customers don’t have to bother trying a place if someone told them the food is horrible and the service sucks.

Unsatisfied customers are inevitable, but how you handle them can be vital to your restaurant’s reputation. Just be careful not to turn into “that place” that comps people free meals for every minor complaint. Whether the customer is right or wrong, there is a dignified 3-step way to deescalate the situation, make the customer happy, and maintain your dignity.

Be on the customer’s side. Even if they are completely wrong or irrational, you should approach them as though you want to bring resolution to the situation immediately. If you bring a defensive energy to the table, it will only make them more offensive and the situation will get worse. Don’t cower, sulk, or huff. Stand confidently, speak professionally, and appear in charge of the situation.

Actively listen to their complaint. By nodding your head and repeating back to them their complaints, it shows that you are actually hearing them and taking what they say into consideration. Many times, customers aren’t even looking for compensation and merely want their complaint to be heard.

Offer a solution. It is always a good idea to ask the customer what you can do to make them happy, rather than automatically providing a solution that you think is best. If they don’t know a resolution, or if the one they request is not manageable, then you can provide your suggestion.

In my experience, if people have a bad experience at a restaurant their first time there, they usually never return. You may want to keep this in mind when deciding how to comp people. You might want to print free entrée vouchers in order to encourage them to return. Vouchers are especially useful in situations where the customer has eaten the entire meal before complaining about it.

Last modified: March 15, 2013
Sasha Smith

This story is part of our Small Business Corner, a peek into the life and trials of small business owners.

Category: Insider's perspective, MPR Authored, Restaurants, sales, Small Business, Small Business Corner, Tips

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