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Restaurant Staff Poring Serving Red Wine to Customers

I recently visited a deli that I’ve been going to the last for five months. This specific day, there was a large crowd of guests waiting for tables and placing orders. Like them, I placed my deli order (sandwich and coffee) and sat down.

Some time passed, and I hadn’t received my sandwich yet. I noticed people who ordered after me had received their meals. So after some additional time of waiting, I walked up to the register and informed them of the situation. They said that the order must have been forgotten, apologized and said the kitchen would get right to making it.

I walked back to my table but before I even had a chance to sit down, one of the employees was there. She reiterated how sorry they were and handed me a branded wooden coin. On the front, it read: Good for one free coffee.

Not all guests will be as accepting of situations like this, but overall, the employees handled the situation well. They owned the mistake, apologized, corrected it and gave me an incentive of visiting again (that I’ve since done).

Here’s a look at some other ways to correct order errors while instilling a positive experience for your guests.

5 ways to handle restaurant mistakes

The easiest suggestion would be paying very close attention, so the same error isn’t reproduced time and time again. However, that could be an unfair request. Things get hectic in restaurants, and the same scenarios don’t always develop.

1- Always act for the future

An error can put a damper on the present moment for a restaurant and its guests. However, acting for the future can save a relationship with your current guests. As done in the story above, provide the guest with a reason to come back. A gift card or a free menu item is a good idea.

In a lengthy thread on Serious Eats posing the “what would you do” question, one commenter said that if there was an error with her food, she “would tell the server and then expect either a visit from the manager or the item to be comped.” Another, referring to something drastically wrong with his meal said, “I think the right thing for the restaurant to do is to comp the whole meal (when you’ve wronged a customer, it’s better to go too far in correcting it than not far enough). But if I were the customer, the most I’d probably ask for is comping the flawed dish.”

restaurant guests dining

If the error involves overcharging, bringing an incorrect item, or bringing something out much later than the other items, taking the charge off the bill is a good idea for going above and beyond for your guests. You can also provide the guest with an incentive of coming back in the future, like a free drink or appetizer. Remember, Yelp is out there, and it can either make you or destroy you.

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

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Of course, you must be judicious about comps. You cannot comp every meal that gets sent back because sometimes your guests can be overly critical. If the mistakes are significant, however, it may be time to take the item off the bill.

2- Don’t get defensive

It can be difficult to admit fault, and sometimes you might be put in a position of blame for something someone else got wrong. It can be an uncomfortable situation, but remember to stay calm and collected. Getting defensive in this situation will only make things worse.

3- Put thought into the process

Some customers like to know how errors took place. If you can think through the scenario and recap what happened, leading to a clear reason the error took place, this will help you figure out a way to avoid it and it will share a little insight with the guest.

An error can put a damper on the present moment for a restaurant and its guests.

4- If the error is significant, inform the boss as soon as possible

Big errors may lead to bigger blowback. Telling the boss will help necessary preparation take place. The boss will also appreciate the honesty.

5- Discover the error with your entire staff

Not every employee will realize when a mistake is made. To ensure that it doesn’t happen again, address the mistake during a team meeting. The specific person doesn’t have to be blamed or singled out, and the error should be addressed with compassion instead of blame.

server giving guest food

Taking care of errors in-house requires care and attention. You want to correct the error so your guests feel appreciated, but you also don’t want to lose money in the process. One final comment from the thread I wanted to share, is this one, which is how every guest should feel after you make a mistake:

A couple weeks ago my husband and I ordered a pizza which came with a topping on one half that I didn’t order. It wasn’t that big a problem; I didn’t want to wait to have a replacement made; and I simply mentioned it to the server. The restaurant didn’t charge us for that half of the pizza, plus made us an extra pizza to take home. This is an example of good customer service, and I’ve told the story to several people as an actual recommendation for the restaurant.

How do you correct restaurant mistakes and still get your guests to leave satisfied? Please share your experiences with the community.

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