Handling a Complaint

From time to time you’re going to come across guests or tables who are not satisfied with a particular aspect of their experience in your restaurant, it happens. Despite that in many situations it will eventually be dealt with by a manager, you as a server must know how to handle the initial start of the complaint, and if you’re good you won’t even need to get a manager involved (however it is important to bring the complaint to the managers attention).

First thing is to stop and listen, don’t cut them off, just hear them out in its entirety and let them say what they need to say. You’re just going to make it worse for yourself if you try to talk while they are venting out their complaint.

Secondly, don’t get on the defensive, this is not a personal attack on you (unless they say in their complaint “I think it’s your fault and you’re responsible”, but that rarely happens and I do mean rarely). It’s generally an issue with drinks or food taking too long or the quality is not what they wanted.

Once they have let everything out the next thing to do is be polite. If necessary apologize for the incident and get the details of the issue and ask them “what can I do to fix this for you?“. If it’s something like a steak they ordered was overcooked then you can ask them if they would like another one made or if they would prefer to select something different from the menu. Before you leave the table tell them “I will get this fixed for you“.

At this stage, you have done everything you can to help your guest get what they want and they will appreciate your genuine concern to help them out. I’ve had instances where a guest has complained to me and have shouted and screamed at me, and have been close to ripping my head off. When I responded in the way I mentioned above 9 times out of 10 I have received an apology from that guest.

Next, after you got the details of what the guest wants go immediately and get whatever it is they wanted. If they needed a new steak go straight to the kitchen and ask them to get it started “on the fly” or to “sell” (this is restaurant terminology for “A.S.A.P” I list a bunch of restaurant jargon in an earlier blog post titled Restaurant Terminology)

This is the point where you will approach a manager and tell them about the complaint, what the guest wanted and what you have done to rectify the situation. In corporate-run restaurants or event service venues, they may have a different procedure, but that would be something they would explain to you when you begin your employment with them. The manager may choose to go speak with the table to make sure that everything is okay and that the problem is being worked on.

VERY IMPORTANT – Stay in constant communication with this table and let them know exactly how long it will take to get their new steak to them or whatever it was they complained about to be fixed. I can’t stress this point enough, the last thing you want to do when you have put in this work to keep them happy and get things fixed is to neglect or not stay in contact with them.

When you come back to them with your solution in hand once again apologize to them and tell them you will be back shortly to check and see that everything is to their liking, then do just that.

It’s not a difficult thing to deal with after you have been through a situation like this a few times before, and generally, in the end, you will have some very happy guests despite the fact that at one stage something went wrong. I have actually had people tip me 20% to 30% after handling their complaints and doing everything I could to make sure that they had an excellent dining experience.

Basically, you just need to listen carefully, pinpoint the issue, move with a sense of urgency to get things fixed and stay in constant contact with any table that has complained.

I hope the next time you’re handling a complaint is because your guests think you’re too good-looking.

Have a complaint-free day.