FOH employees at a coffee shop standing around the bar

“Customers don’t expect you to be perfect, but they do expect you to fix things when they go wrong”

– Donald Porter, VP of British Airways

Your Vulcan Range is used and appreciated every day, but it is not your restaurant’s greatest asset. Your guests are.

Your guests are the reason that you get to do what you love every day Feeding their hunger is what keeps your lights on. Guests praise you. Guests thank you, and guests also complain about you. The question is, how do you manage these complaints?

I’m sure your 1st-grade teacher taught you this, but a lot of time has passed since you were 6, and people forget! The bottom line is that instead of taking something negative someone said about you to heart, think about it as a way to improve and grow yourself and your restaurant.

When fielding complaints try to think visually. It is so easy to get heated and jump to conclusions especially where there are emotions attached to the complaint. Think of this as a decision tree, and when receiving a guest complaint, do your best to think as rationally as possible.

1. Understand.



Be empathetic. Put yourself in their shoes. Maybe their car broke down this morning, or they broke up with their girlfriend. Give the guest your complete attention, and be focused. Restaurants are hectic places, approach their table with a notebook, and take notes on what they are explaining. Introduce yourself. Explain who you are, and why you were called over. Be sincere! Use a tone of voice that shows understanding and care. Listen carefully to the guest, and apologize.

2. What can you do RIGHT now.


What can you do to put out this fire? Does it need immediate action, or is it more of a suggestion for the future? If your staff is offended because this guest offended them think about what you can do while this guest is still here. It’s 7:15 on a Friday, you don’t want to cause a huge commotion, or get your staff riled up. What can you do to solve this and appease this guest at this time? The answer could be comping something from his check, or giving a gift card, or offering a round of drinks on you. Thank them for making this observation, and show you are going to act on it. Begin to resolve this problem, if it is bigger spanning than this one guest, solve it later.

3. Think it through.


This is your recovery stage. Take a step back. Calm down, and if necessary, calm down your staff. Make a bigger effort to compensate for the problem with the guest, and decide what you are going to change and how you and your team will learn from the guest’s feedback. Decide if you want to tell your team what happened, and how you are going to operate moving forward.

But what if I received a complaint on Yelp?


Oh, Yelp. Sometimes it seems as though people are venting about their lives when they write a negative review of your restaurant on Yelp. Love it or hate it, Yelp is part of the consumer experience. Respond promptly, and answer questions like you would in person is the easiest way to look at Yelp. Learn from what people are posting, just as you would in real life. Remember to keep your cool, and stay respectful.

Fielding customer complaints is tough. Especially tough when you have to do it all on your own. Training your staff to be able to answer these questions, and when to express to you that there’s a problem is a way to make your life a whole lot easier.


Written by   |  
Hannah can be found riding the slopes of New Hampshire by winter and riding the waves of Rhode Island by summer. In order to satisfy a constant sweet tooth, you can find her bouncing between Ellie's Bakery and Pastiche, both in Providence, RI.