How to Handle Customer Complaints: Step-By-Step Guide | ResDiary

How to Handle Customer Complaints: Step-By-Step Guide | ResDiary

Handling customer complaints is important for any business. It's no secret unhappy customers can sometimes lead to uncomfortable situations.

However, knowing exactly what to do when confronted with such a situation can ensure smooth and productive interactions. Our complete guide will help you develop your standard operating procedure for dealing with customer complaints.

Once you and your staff know how best to manage customer complaints, you can be sure you are well-equipped for any situation.

Common customer complaints in restaurants

Before we dive into the best ways to manage customer complaints, it's worth considering which areas of restaurants can lead to the most common customer complaints.

Wait times

When dining in a restaurant, customers can become frustrated with the time it takes to be seated, get the attention of staff and receive their orders. Add in the fact that hospitality customers are usually hungry and eager to eat, and you have a recipe for unhappy diners.

Issues with wait times can be attributed to understaffing, lack of preparedness for foot traffic and other operational issues.

Inaccurate orders

No one likes receiving the wrong order at a restaurant. If a customer does not receive the dish they asked for, you can expect to hear about it.

This can encompass everything from incorrectly cooked meat to receiving the wrong dish entirely.

When this occurs, some form of miscommunication is the culprit. Well-trained, experienced staff are far less likely to lead to issues in this area. Ensure that your front of house and back of house staff have strong skills when it comes to communicating with one another.

You can also make use of restaurant automation tools such as kitchen display systems to streamline communication even further.

Service quality

The level of service can make or break a dining experience. Staff members who are unprofessional, rude and inattentive can lead to negative experiences for customers and thus, customer complaints.

You should have a complete customer service strategy in place to ensure your service quality is consistently excellent. See our full customer service guide for more information.

Lack of cleanliness

Cleanliness is a fundamental necessity of restaurants. When customers step into a dining environment, they anticipate a clean, well-maintained space.

Expectations for cleanliness apply to tables, cutlery and bathroom areas.

To avoid complaints in this area, have a strict cleaning roster and ensure your staff are well-trained. You can also consider hiring professional cleaners to clean your dining area or bathroom after hours. This will help to make these areas more consistently clean.

7 Ways to handle customer complaints in a restaurant

Now that we've established some common causes of customer complaints, it's time to analyse the proper procedure for handling complaints in a restaurant. When customers complain, it's important to make the dissatisfied customer feel heard without escalating the situation.

Follow these steps and you'll be on your way to having happier customers and a smoother restaurant.

1. Listen

The first step in resolving any conflict is to listen. When a customer complains, allow them to share their experience without interruption.

Practise active listening, maintaining eye contact and nodding where appropriate to show engagement.

Effectively listening to your customer's complaint allows them to feel heard, understood and that their negative feedback is valued. This is key to finding a productive solution to the issue.

2. Acknowledge and apologise

When the customer has concluded lodging their complaint, it's important to acknowledge their frustration and disappointment.

In general, it is useful to offer some form of apology, even if only for the way that they are feeling.

Some examples of acknowledgements and apologies you might offer for various complaints include:

  • Long wait time: "I am very sorry about the wait you've experienced today. We understand that your time is valuable and that you are disappointed to be kept waiting this long."
  • Inaccurate order: "I am very sorry that your order was not correct. It's important to us that every dish served is exactly to our guest's liking, and I understand your frustration."
  • Poor service quality: "I am very sorry that your service did not meet our high standards. We understand the importance of excellent service in a great experience in our restaurant."

3. Suggest a resolution

If handled correctly, listening, acknowledging and apologising for the matter that has upset your customer should go a long way to de-escalating a potentially difficult situation.

Now, you can begin to resolve the situation. Firstly, you must address the customer's complaint as directly as possible.

For instance, if you are facing a complaint about wait time or an inaccurate order, let them know you will ensure they receive their meal as quickly as possible.

It's important that any resolution you suggest is agreed to you by the customer. If they would rather leave your restaurant than wait for their food to arrive, there isn't much point in accelerating their order.

4. Enact your resolution

Once you and the customer have agreed upon a resolution, you should enact that resolution as swiftly as possible. It is important to show that you have taken the customer's feedback seriously and are committed to fixing the problem they have identified.

Communication is key to effectively enacting your resolution. Let them know exactly what you are doing and give them a clear time frame for when the issue will be resolved.

Whether it's preparing a new meal or cleaning up the bathroom, you should resolve customer complaints promptly and effectively to communicate their importance to your business.

5. Offer restitution

In some instances, it may be appropriate to offer some form of compensation to your customer. Depending on the extent of the issue, different forms of compensation might be appropriate.

For instance, a minor delay in service might necessitate a small discount or a free drink. For more serious issues, such as undercooked meat, you might go as far as to offer your customer a full refund.

When going through this process with the customer, ensure your restitution does not give the appearance of "paying them off" to make the issue go away. You should show genuine concern for their disappointing dining experience, and offer something tangible to make up for it.

6. Follow up

Once you have addressed the issue with your customer, you should check back in with them. This enables you to ensure that the complaint has been dealt with to their satisfaction.

This approach means that if the customer continues to be unsatisfied, you will not have to go through the entire complaint process again. You can find out more quickly if they are having another issue (for example with a replacement meal) and address it as quickly as possible.

The follow-up process should continue beyond the restaurant, too. If the customer is open to providing their contact details to you, note them down.

Then, reach out to them in the next couple of days after their visit to your restaurant. Ask them if they feel satisfied with how their complaint was handled, and if they have any feedback on your process.

This allows you to pay further attention to your customer and address their issues even more. Any feedback they provide can also be extremely useful when refining your customer complaint processes.

You can even use the opportunity to offer a voucher or discount for their next visit. If you do an excellent job of handling customer complaints, it may even be an opportunity to gain more repeat customers.

7. Learn from the situation

As unpleasant as restaurant customer complaints can be, they are also an excellent learning opportunity for you and your staff. They can highlight weak points in your restaurant and ways for you to improve and become a superior hospitality venue.

At the next available opportunity, have a meeting which includes the staff members involved in the issue. Have an open, non-judgmental discussion about what went wrong and how customer satisfaction can be improved.

Discuss ways on how the issues can be avoided in the future. Some examples might include better quality control in the kitchen or establishing a better cleaning schedule.

Institute further staff training if required. Closely monitor any future customer complaints, aiming to identify any recurring patterns.

Tips for handling customer complaints in a restaurant

Here are a few more tips to keep in mind when dealing with customer service complaints in your restaurant:

  • Keep your head: Being aggressively spoken to in your workplace is never pleasant. Ensure that you maintain a calm composure as much as possible and don't contribute to escalating the situation. Use whatever calming techniques work for you and simply address the issue without getting emotional.
  • Act quickly: Throughout all stages of the customer complaint and resolution process, it's crucial that you move fast. This will help to resolve the situation as quickly as possible. If customers feel their complaint is not being handled swiftly, they are likely to get even more frustrated.
  • Staff training: The more well-trained your staff, the easier it will be for them to handle complaints themselves. This is another way to speed up the complaint resolution process, as there will not be a delay as staff have to locate you and have you attend to the issue.

Improve your customer service with ResDiary

Customer service is the culmination of many different facets of your restaurant. When your front of house and back of house are operating at their best, your customers will have a great experience.

ResDiary helps to ensure that your operations are running smoothly throughout your entire restaurant. Its restaurant online booking system makes it easy to accept and manage bookings.

You can also take advantage of W8list, a digital queue that means you'll never have to turn a customer away again. ResDiary also offers over 60 integrations from EPOS software to property management.

These functions and many more simplify the day-to-day tasks of running a restaurant, allowing your staff to focus on delivering exemplary service. 

Book a demo today and find out how to make your customers happier than ever with ResDiary.