How to Deal with Customer Complaints at Your Restaurant

How to Deal with Customer Complaints at Your Restaurant - Chef Works

Author: Sarah Crago  

How to deal with customer complaints at your restaurant

The dreaded one-star review and scathing comments can cause your restaurant irreversible damage. So how do you handle customer complaints and better still what steps can you take to avoid a complaint in the first place?

We’re going to identify the most common customer complaints, steps for handling complaints, and protocols to implement in your restaurant so that your staff are equipped to deal with customer complaints.

The most common customer complaints

Wait time

The most common customer complaint in a restaurant is the wait time. This comes down to the fact that no one likes to wait. Whether it’s the wait to be seated or the wait time for the food to arrive, customers will feel a sense of abandonment if they are left hanging.

The big problem here is if you are not meeting the customer’s expectations when it comes to waiting time. If you are a fast-food restaurant, your customers will expect the food to come fast! If that expectation is not being met, then we have a problem.

What is the expectation in your restaurant? Calculate all the waiting periods that the customer will experience from when they step foot in your restaurant and assess whether there is an expectation gap that might lead to a customer complaint. Identify where the standard is not being met and work with your staff to improve the process.

Order inaccuracy

You specifically ordered the BLT with NO MAYO, but it arrived slathered with mayo! Of course you’re going to complain.

Mistakes in the order journey from the table to the kitchen and back to the table can be prevented and quite frankly just shouldn’t happen. No one wants to receive the wrong order.

Quality checkpoints should be put in place at each stage of the order journey. At the table, the server should repeat the order back to the customer to avoid any miscommunication and double-check the order. In the kitchen, tickets should be checked before and after plating. A final check of the order should be made by servers before delivering the order to the table.

With automated ordering systems and even table-side ordering directly by the customer instances of order inaccuracy have been eliminated however there is always the risk of human error somewhere along the line. By putting quality checks in place this common complaint can be avoided.

Dirty restroom

No matter how pristine your restaurant is if your toilets are dirty this will be judged as a reflection of your overall cleanliness. If this is the state of the restroom, then I wonder what the kitchen is like!

Your staff need to be made aware that the restrooms must be kept clean and tidy throughout service, a cleaning roster and regular checks will ensure this is achieved.

Friendly service

As we all know, dining out is not just about the food alone. The restaurant experience is made up of several touch points and friendly service is one that can tip the experience from bad – good – great.

It’s important to define what good/great customer service looks like in your restaurant and train all staff to meet and exceed these expectations. When your staff are on the floor, they are the face of the restaurant. A bad attitude will reflect badly on your restaurant's image.

Especially in Australia, where a tipping culture is not expected, your staff need to be reminded that their behaviour does matter, and they cannot get away with unfriendly service. Encourage your staff to be personable and always display positive body language. Acknowledge and reward good service.

A good tip to remember is the sandwich of service; always greet the customer warmly and farewell them like family.

The five steps for handling customer complaints

So we’ve identified what the most common customer complaints are and offered ways in which to prevent these from occurring in your restaurant, but we’re not perfect and customers will find reasons to complain.

Outlined below are five steps to train your staff to deal with complaints. Because when a customer does complain, you certainly don’t want to ignore it, an unresolved complaint will rarely go away and will most likely result in one of those nasty one-star reviews.

Step 1. Listen

When a customer complains they want their grievance to be heard. Your staff need to be trained in the art of listening! Giving the customer your undivided attention to ensure that they feel heard and allowing the customer to voice their complaint without interruption is paramount. No buts or maybes.

Step 2. Respond

Once the complaint has been received in its entirety the customer will expect a response. The most immediate response should be an apology followed by an acknowledgment of the complaint. A friendly and professional attitude that expresses sympathy without making excuses will ensure that the situation does not escalate.

Step 3. Offer solutions

Every complaint needs to be rectified with a solution. What can be done to fix the situation? Your staff need to know what the boundaries are in terms of offering solutions and when to refer issues that go beyond their remit to management. Basic solutions such as a replacement meal, free drink, discount on the bill or future visit should be at the discretion of your staff in order to fix an immediate complaint. It’s okay to ask the customer what they would be satisfied with as a solution.

Step 4. Go above and beyond

The customer has been offered a solution that they are satisfied with, and the issue has been resolved. Don’t stop here. To earn maximum forgiveness points and turn that initial complaint into high praise, throw in something a little extra. A free dessert they weren’t expecting or a voucher for their next visit. Any dissatisfied feelings will be dissolved with a little extra loving.

Step 5. Learn

As difficult as it is to receive complaints, they should all be taken as an opportunity to learn and improve your business. Even from the most impossible to please customers, there will be a key learning take-away. A good practice is to document every customer complaint, whether you have a notebook or online system where staff can document the complaint at the end of each shift. This will give management even more insight into where improvements can be made and help identify recurring patterns.


Your ultimate defence in dealing with complaints

No matter how good your staff are and how good your food is, no restaurant is immune to customer complaints. Your ultimate defence in dealing with complaints is to be prepared.

  1. Have a customer service strategy
  2. Train your staff in what you expect from them
  3. Have a customer complaints protocol
  4. Never ignore a customer complaint
  5. Learn from every complaint

Being prepared and knowing how to handle customer complaints will ultimately have a positive effect on your restaurant and encourage repeat customers.


At Chef Works, we are driven by those who are inspired by all things culinary. Fueled by the belief that every culinary professional deserves the right apparel and tools to enhance the work they do. We understand that the recipe for excellence goes far beyond simple ingredients.

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