Restaurant manager talking to customers at their table

No one sets out at the beginning of a shift to receive a complaint from a guest. At the end of the day though, they happen. You can plan the perfect menu, your inventory can be right on the money, but sometimes none of that matters… you still end up with an unhappy diner.

The good news is this: handling complaints effectively is an opportunity to build customer loyalty.

Of course, training is essential for this. As a restaurant owner, you must ensure that your staff members know how to handle complaints – with a process in place and training tips for effective responses – you can turn any frown upside down 🙂

To get you started on handling guest complaints (and training your staff to do the same) start with the ABCs.

A: Always Respond

Given the power of social media and the “always on” aspect of our generation, the most important part of the ABCs is A – always respond. Acknowledging a guest complaint is half the battle.

As a manager or restaurant employee, always start by introducing yourself and doing less talking and more listening. You want the guest to know that you hear them, their feelings are important to you, and you are here to help.

More often than not, a customer complaint is a symptom of a guest who cares a whole bunch and wants to help… the more you frame it that way in your mind, the easier it is to help.

A note about online reviews: while it’s important to always introduce yourself to the guest IN the restaurant, it’s equally as important to make a point to always respond online, too. Upserve can actually help you monitor reviews (the good and the bad) in real time. Learn more about Upserve Reputation here.

Close up of waiter hand noting down menu on tablet. Young woman ordering for food to a waiter at restaurant. Young beautiful woman thinking of food to order in front of a waiter holding tablet.

B: Be Quick

If listening is half the battle, action is the other half. Inside the restaurant, it’s important to respond to guest complaints while the guest is still there.

You can empower your staff to handle complaints and deal with them quickly with some training tips…

  • “We’re sorry.” It’s important to apologize and avoid placing any blame. No mater what, you’re sorry the guest did not get the experience she wanted. Your goal is to make the guest understand that their happiness comes first.
  • Actions speak louder than words. Sorry is good, solving the problem is better. Act quickly to resolve the issue. For example, the food was not cooking to the guest’s liking? Send it back or offer a different dish.
  • “Thank you.” You should always remind your guests that you are greatful for their honest feedback. Taking the time to point out the problem to you ensures it won’t happen again. A good way to seek this kind of communication out is through manager “table touches”. If you ask about a problem before it escalates, you can act faster.
  • “We care.” Of course, it’s important to empower your staff to offer something extra to mend that relationship. Perhaps it’s a free dessert, or a glass of wine or 10% off the check. Be sure to determine what level of complaint warrants what solution beyond just fixing the problem for your restaurant.

Finally, remind your staff that sharing guest complaints with the whole team is the key to your success. The more the entire staff knows about complaints, the faster your restaurant can learn.

C: Communicate Frequently

It would always be better to know about a guest complaint before they have to voice it. To attempt this, train your servers to check back in at key points: after the appetizer, once the main dish has arrived, and during dessert.

As a manager, table touches once the main entree comes are essential to this. The more you weave in communication to your routine, the happier your guests will be.

Many times, handling complaints professionally and quickly turns unhappy diners into long-term repeat guests and loyal brand advocates.

Tips From Upserve Customers On How To Build Great Communication

“Strive to greet guests with a friendly greeting immediately upon entering the restaurant. If no hostess is on duty, servers need to be extra vigilant in watching the front door. This impacts guests’ first impression and you know what they say about those.”upserve guest communication for restaurants

“Make sure your guests’ last experience is a good one. Your hostess should be trained to always say goodbye and ask how the evening went. This opens the line for open, honest communication and leave sa good lasting impression.”

Tell Me More!

This is an excerpt from Upserve’s guide Restaurant Customer Service: The Restaurant Owner’s Guest Communication Kit. Get your copy today to get more insight like this. 

You can control the conversation and change the way guest communication is handled with proper staff training.

Download the Guide
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In a perfect world, Theresa would spend her days reading good books and writing all the time... and she'd own all the shoes her heart desired. When she's not on the hunt for shoes, you can find this Rhode Island transplant on the hunt for food that comes close to "Long Island". Her favorite? Caffe Dolce Vita in Providence's historic Federal Hill.