How to Handle Customer Complaints in the Food Service Industry

How to Handle Customer Complaints in the Food Service Industry?


Ever wondered why restaurateurs put suggestion boxes on each corner of the restaurant? It is not to decorate it but because they expect some complaints. Mention foodservice business anywhere and the chat will not end without someone mentioning customer complaints. Customer complaints are inevitable in any foodservice industry.
If the food placed on the table does not meet the standards and expectations of the customers, they will raise complaints. It is your duty as a food service provider to hear them and address the matter accordingly. Everyone working in a food service industry will have to deal with customer complaints at some point in their profession. Whether it is a simple complaint like serving the wrong drink or adding too much salt in the meal, how you solve it is what makes the difference.

An experienced restaurateur knows that a well-handled customer complaint is an added advantage to his foodservice business. The grief-stricken customer will be satisfied and will come back together with friends. It is improbable, impracticable and unconvincing to lose customers due to erroneous customer care. Listen to your customers and create time to talk to them. For customers who are difficult to deal with, train your workers on how to handle customer complaints effectively. 

Customer/guest complaints vary from one food service to the other. Knowing how to respond to customer complaints creates a difference between your foodservice and your competitors. I am going to discuss the top 10 guest complaints in a restaurant. 
⦁    Service Complaints 
Service complaints are a common guest complaint in restaurants that can ruin the reputation of your restaurant if overlooked. A restaurant worker may forget to clean the table or may spill some soup on the guest. Many customers rush on social media to crucify the restaurant upside down instead of talking to the restaurant manager. 

When these service complaints arise, act quickly to resolve them before they go overboard. They can easily destroy your restaurant and create a bad image. 

These common restaurant complaints have solutions. For instance, in the case of an unwiped table, apologize to the lamented customer and assure them the table will be wiped clean. Make sure it is wiped immediately. 

⦁    Food Complaints
Some food complaints like; food was cold, the soup was tasteless, the pasta had no salt, I did not get what I ordered. These are common complaints in restaurants. You cannot please everyone but you can try.


Try to figure out the source of the problem and get the best solution. If the food was cold, warm it. Let the complaining customer know how sorry you are and if possible, offer some drinks as the food is warmed. 

⦁    Food Poisoning 
Food poisoning is a delicate matter that should be addressed immediately before it becomes uncontrollable. No one wants to take a meal and the next thing is stomach upsets. 

Take illness report seriously. If the customer was complaining via social media, move the conversation from it by emailing the crabby customer. For instance, “This is the first case we have heard about food poisoning. Could you please reach us via ( and let us know more about your meal”?

You would have demonstrated that you are aware of the problem and you are going to work round the clock to have a solution, that’s what everyone wants to see. Taking the conversation out of the public eye could save you from public critics, frustrations and angry customers as well. 

Create a food poisoning complaint form template where you can note the meals customers are complaining about. Improve on those meals. 

⦁    Working Grievances
Mention operational complaints anywhere and you will hear a good number of people comment. Actually, a good number that can elect a president. Some are complaining about long queues while others about the long waiting times. We both know it is nature but if a customer with a reservation waits for hours, you owe him an apology. 

Talk to them and inform them how sometimes you a bit held up due to many customers. Serve them faster and assure them next time they will be given first priority. 

⦁    Customer Lifestyle
Some customers are vegetarians, others have gluten allergies. You cannot have everything for everyone. Try to be a good neighbor. If you don’t have the meal a customer is requesting, suggest other restaurants within the vicinity that offer the meal. 
Definitely, nobody wants to turn away services but since you cannot offer what you don’t have, try to provide a better solution. 

⦁    Delivery Complaints
Delivery complaints are common among customers who order food online. Sometimes the meals are delayed due to inevitable issues like vehicle breakdown or impassable roads. Customers do not care about the reason the food was delayed, they only care about the meal. 

In the cases of late deliveries, call the customer early in advance and inform them the delivery van has developed a mechanical problem so the delivery will delay for a while. If they can wait, they will let you know. Apologize to them and assure them the matter will be resolved. 

⦁    Condescending Employees
Customers don’t like impolite waiters. They need to be respected and treated with a lot of dignity. In case there is an argument between a customer and your employee, intervene and resolve the matter.

Listen to both of them and apologize to the customer on behalf of the employee. Get another employee to serve the grieving customer. 

⦁    Ill-Equipped Restrooms
It is your work to keep the restaurant restroom as clean as whistle. It is not as easy as it sounds. Restrooms are used by people from all walks of life. Some don’t know how to use them while others know but they don’t care. They will leave the restroom unflushed. 
Make sure the restrooms are clean and up to the standard. Hygiene of the customers is the first priority. Allocate someone to clean the restrooms now and then. 

⦁    Dirty Utensils 
Shout dirty utensils and everybody will be on his toes. Your restaurant will be deserted for years. Dirty utensils can make customers take an about-turn right at your restaurant doorstep. Dirty utensils jeopardize customer health. Complaints pertaining to dirty utensils should be addressed immediately. 
If possible, take the complaining customers into a closed office and apologize to them. Make a fresh order for them and talk to the dishwasher. Make sure all the dishes are washed and super clean. 

⦁    Waiters with Sloppy Appearance 
Customers hate employee who has poor hygiene. They might not complain to the workers or the restaurant manager but they will express their opinion via social media. Once the complaint is raised, talk to the grieved customer. Assure them the problem is handled and make sure you talk to the employee in question. 

In order to curb this issue, make sure your restaurant employees wear a uniform. They should have a pair or two, release them early so that they can wash the uniform. 

If customer complaints cannot be solved internally, involve a complaint resolution dialogue. Handling guest complaints in a restaurant dialogue show how the restaurant management is serious with customer complaints. For those who do not know how to handle an angry customer in a restaurant, worry not. I will show you how to do it, it is as simple as ABC, it is not rocket science. Here are some easy steps that will leave your customers satisfied.

⦁    Step1- Listen to the Devastated Customer 
Let the customer say what is in their hearts. Do not interrupt them because if you do they may feel the need to start over. You will spend the whole day solving one guest complaint, nod to show you are following what they are saying and you are actively engaged. Always maintain eye contact with the guest. 

As you listen to the guest, keep an open mind. That is, try to know the cause of the problem and why the customer is complaining. Do not argue with the customer while talking. Even if they are wrong, telling them their errors will prolong their frustration.

If you realize the compliant is sensitive, direct the customer to follow you in a private area like in an office. There, you can continue listening to him without drawing unnecessary attention or disrupting the other dinners. 

⦁    Step 2 Try to understand the problem
As the customer talks, try to picture the problem. An example of a customer complaint in a restaurant is small pieces of meat in a meal. In your mind’s eye, try to figure out the pieces of meat in question. Are they large or small? Round and smooth or just mere bones? Is the meat half cooked or well-cooked? You will understand the customer problem if you are armed with this mental image.

⦁    Step 3 Elucidate what the customer says 
Clarify what the customer is complaining about by either asking questions or repeating the complaint back to them in a different language.

For instance, if a customer walks into your office and starts complaining about a late delivery, you might not understand what delivery he is referring to since there were a couple of them that day. Ask questions as needed. You might inquire, “When did you order the meal?” Do not ignore the meal the customer is talking about, follow up by asking specifics.

Once the customers are done explaining, repeat the complaint back to them in a different language. For instance, if the customer is complaining the food was late. “So, the meal you ordered was not delivered the time you wanted?”. If they agree, you have listened well. 

⦁    Step 4 Stay Calm 
Wear a serious face while listening to your customer’s complaint. Do not laugh or smile, the customers will feel like you are mocking them and become more agitated. Put a concerned facial expression to make your customers feel as if you are truly concerned about them. 

Respond kindly to rude and arrogant customers who might start yelling rudely. Try to exercise patience and empathy. Ignore their insults since it is the reputation of your restaurant that is on the line and listens patiently to the entire complaint. 

⦁    Step 5 Apologize to the customer 
Some people view apologizing as a sign of weakness and faultiness which is not true. It is an acknowledgment that you have made a mistake and you are not proud of it. Apologize to the customer by saying, “I am really sorry for the mistake and I promise it will never happen again” 

Customers will feel more persuaded to forgive your restaurant or the employee who offended them. Act genuinely when apologizing even if there is no reason for you to apologize. You are losing nothing after all. The apology will make the customer feel better. 

Customers welcome explanations but not excuses. An example of dealing with a customer complaint is, “I am sorry, our delivery van got a puncture on its way to your place, that’s why we did not deliver in time, but I promise I will look for an alternative van in case of any delays”. But do not say, “it’s the driver who caused the delay not me”. 

⦁    Step 6 Be quick when handling complaints 
Always give customer complaints the first priority over anything else. Set a place in your restaurant where you can sit with customers and listen to them privately. Some complaints are so sensitive that they can scare away other customers.

For instance, if a customer walks into the restaurant and starts complaining that he was served a meal with houseflies. Other customers will stop taking their meals to listen to him. They might even decline to pay for the meals if they note fishy ingredients in the soup. 

If it is not possible for you to solve the customer complaint to their satisfaction, get their contact information so that you can reach then later with a solution. Do not leave a customer grievance pending. 

⦁    Step 7 Solve the Problem 
Giving a solution to a customer complaint will depend on the situation. Consider the customer’s mood, customers complaint and the options available. Ask the complaining customer what they propose to happen in order to rectify the situation. If the customer request is realistic, honor it. If it is unrealistic, consult your coworkers on how they feel the case should be handled.

Keep in mind the restaurant protocol when choosing the appropriate cause of action to solve the complaint. If you an employee, seek approval from your manager before offering some services like free meals.

⦁    Step 8 Share the Customer Complaint with your Coworkers 
Some of the customer complaints are universal and any co-worker can repeat them. By sharing the complaint with them, you will alert them on the things to avoid while dealing with the customers. For instance, if the customer was complaining about a cold meal, talk to the person who served the customer to warm it. apologize to the customer. 

⦁    Step 9 Appreciate the Complaint 
Thank the customer who brought up the grievance since the issue will give you an opportunity to recuperate the dining experience. The complaints will help you understand your customers. 

In case you observe things are going south and the customer is not accepting you apologize, resolve the complaint in a restaurant dialogue. The third-party will help to put neutralize the whole issue. 

Why You Should Never let Customer Compliant Unsolved
Customers call the restaurant service line to make a complaint, some with an intention of been compensated while others with the intention of bringing the matter into the management’s attention. Some restaurateurs might view customer complaints as wastage of time and energy. Some even overlook them because they hate been criticized. Customer complaints have merits than you can imagine. 
Importance of Customer Complaints

⦁    They give you an opportunity to know your customers better
You might be telling yourself that the meal you are preparing is the best in town but in a real sense, customers are not enjoying it. They are the ones who will give you an insight into the products and services you are offering. 

When they complain, you will understand their expectations and needs hence you will serve them better. The more you solve the complaint and make things easier for them, the more likely they will be loyal to you and choose your restaurant over others. 

⦁    Know your Mistakes
For every complaint brought into your attention, there are a thousand customers who have experienced it but shied away to speak up. Be serious about the issues that customers bring up when they call especially on areas where two or more customers make the same complaint. 

Addressing the issue will help you realize your mistakes and continue improving your foodservice business. Customers will be happy to see the things they were complaining about been changed. 

⦁    Customer Loyalty 
When customers call a restaurant customer service line to make a complaint, two things are in their mind. One, to get compensation for a meal delivered or to receive a solution to their problem.

Make sure the restaurant call center are up and running, all the complaints are responded to in a timely manner. If the call center agents cannot offer a solution to the grieved customer, compensating them in some way will show that the restaurant appreciates their grievance and encourage them to stick to your meals despite the misfortunes they may have experienced. 

Handling customer complaints effectively is important because it cements customer loyalty to your restaurant. Customers will feel free to order a meal in your restaurant because in case of any fault they can be compensated.

⦁    Get Referrals
When complaints are well resolved and customers are satisfied, the more likely they will refer their friends and family members to your restaurant. The grieved customers will have a positive image of your restaurant even if the services did not meet their expectations. 

A family or friend referral is more valuable and effective than any other type of commercial advertisement. When potential customers hear individuals, they trust praising your food service, they are likely to give it a trial. This shows why customer complaint resolving is so important. 

⦁    Advance Communication with Customers 
Knowing how to handle customer complaints effectively is a huge part of running a successful foodservice business. Customers are happy when they call to make a complaint and they see that their feedback was considered and necessary changes were made, they appreciate that their voice was heard. 

If you do not respond to complaints, customers will refrain from raising their concerns because they think the restaurant does not care or no action will be taken. Actually, some decide to avoid your foodservice business like a plaque. 

When you do the opposite and show them their complaint matters and their satisfaction is your major goal, they will realize that your means of communication are open and feel free to talk to you. They will realize that the call center agents are not there for formality. 

Dissatisfaction can occur for a wide of reasons, some are the restaurant’s fault, some stemming from the customer's misunderstanding but all need to be resolved to the customers’ satisfaction. It is always good to remember customers are the bosses and need to be treated with dignity. They must be heard and necessary action is taken. Train your workers on how to handle angry customers in a restaurant. Some customers are a nuisance and get agitated over a simple mistake. 
Knowing how to handle customer complaints effectively is the best weapon to beat competitors. Your customers will not shy away when expressing their views and opinions, at the end of the day your restaurant will be offering the best services in town. Put suggestion boxes on each corner of the restaurant so that customers can drop their moans there. Make a point to scrutinize each complaint. An act to the complaints that are genuine. 
Customers should not be afraid to give their views in case they are dissatisfied. They can do so by writing a complaint response letter to the restaurant. Visit to have a look at the food complaint response letter sample.