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How to Handle Customer Complaints

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No matter how hard you try, things are bound to go wrong once in a while. Food gets burned, orders get forgotten in the middle of a dinner rush, or new servers simply forget all their training. No matter the reason for the complaint, the important thing is to try and please the customer and send them home knowing that, yes there was a problem, but it is not typical of your establishment. Let them know that you, the owner, value their comments and their business.

How you handle customer complaints will determine if the customer comes back to your restaurant. Here are some tips to help you field your next complaint and send your customer home with a smile.

Listen- Listen to what the customer has to say. Even if you can’t solve the problem, you still need to listen. For example, perhaps a customer is displeased because there is waiting line. Well, there isn’t much you can do about it, except let them vent.

Body Language- The way you stand and look at a customer can speak more than words. Maintain eye contact and don’t cross your arms over your chest, if you are feeling defensive. Avoid the urge to roll your eyes, if you are feeling exasperated. Instead, nod and smile, no matter how irritated you may feel. This shows you value their opinion and their business.

Apologize- Remember that customer who was so upset over the long waiting line? Offer an apology. “I understand that you are not happy about the wait, sir, but we are working as fast as we can to get you a table. We really appreciate your patience and willingness to wait. Perhaps you would like to have a drink at the bar until your table is ready.” You demonstrate that you completely understand their frustration and are working diligently on a solution.

Freebies- If a customer has problem that could have been prevented, such as an overcooked steak or a snippy server, then the best route to take is to apologize and an offer them some sort of compensation. Here are some quick freebies that you can give customers that won’t cost you much money, but will go a long way to assure future business:

    • Free round of drinks
    • Free dessert
    • Gift certificate for a future visit
    • Merchandise, such as a beer glass or tee-shirt
    • Take a certain percent off their meal

Occasionally you will have a truly angry customer (perhaps justified, perhaps not) who declares “I’m never coming back!” Well, if that is the case there probably isn’t any freebies you can offer to change their mind. Calmly assure the customer you understand their frustration, and offer an apology (again) and let them know if they change their mind you would love to see them again. By sending them off on a courteous note, there is a very good chance, once their anger has cooled, they will try your restaurant again.

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