How to Handle Customer Complaints in the Food Service Industry
Virtually everyone working in the food service industry will have to deal with customer complaints at some point in their career. Whether it's something as simple as getting the wrong drink at a fast food restaurant or a service complaint at a high-end gourmet restaurant, how you handle the complaint makes all the difference:
- Listen to the customer's concern, be sympathetic and do whatever you can to fix the problem immediately. Train your employees to not assign blame or make excuses, but to just be responsive to the customer. Take advantage of the experience to make improvements to your products or service as necessary.
- Focus your complete attention on the unhappy customer and allow him to express his complaint without interruption. Listen fully to what he is saying. If the situation is complex, jot down notes so he knows you're taking him seriously and he is being heard.
- Apologize to the customer for the problem, empathize with his situation and assure him you will act immediately to address his complaint. This is not the time to worry about who is to blame or to make excuses. Remain calm and try to keep the situation from escalating.
- Ask the customer what you can do to resolve the problem. At a minimum, volunteer to replace cold food or a mistaken order immediately and make sure the kitchen staff understands the urgency of the situation. If the customer's complaint is more involved, or he remains unhappy in spite of your efforts, offer to bring your manager to speak with him. Customers may feel better talking to someone "in charge" when they have a complaint.
- Make extra efforts to mend the situation. Offer a discount off that day's meal or a certificate for a future meal at the restaurant. Ask if there is anything else you can do to help the customer feel better about the situation.
- Learn from the situation. Customer complaints often identify specific service or process issues that need improvement. Implement changes as appropriate to prevent problem situations from recurring. Be sure all employees are trained and aware of how to handle customer complaints, what types of things they are empowered to do themselves to address them and when they should request a manager's involvement.