One of the inevitable truths of running a restaurant is the need to deal with the occasional restaurant customer complaint. Whether it’s posting a negative Yelp review, making a fuss on social media or demanding to see a manager in person, guests have many avenues when it comes to airing their grievances.
The problem is, some restaurant owners become immediately defensive when handling common restaurant complaints — especially when they are posted publicly online. We get it; it can feel like a personal affront when guests object to your food or service, especially on a public internet forum. You can prevent the situation from escalating to viral proportions, however, by handling restaurant customer complaints with care. In fact, doing so is actually an important part of your restaurant marketing strategy.
Ideally, you’ll get the chance to listen to and rectify the situation in person. But if the customer doesn’t give you that opportunity, approach online feedback as you would face-to-face feedback. Try to get in touch with the customer directly. The most important thing to remember when addressing negative comments is to listen (or read) carefully, sympathize with the guest, and offer a solution to make things right.
Here are 11 common examples of customer complaints in restaurants, and solutions for how to handle them.
A leisurely, well-paced dinner at a restaurant can be one of life’s true pleasures. On the other hand, delayed greetings, long waits for drink orders, and food that takes forever to arrive can tarnish a dining experience. Angry customers may take their complaints to social media.
How to Respond: Service can be slow on nights when a restaurant is understaffed, whether because it’s unexpectedly busy or someone called in sick. Usually, all you can do is grin and bear it, and apologize to guests for the long delay. If possible, have a manager touch each table to personally address the situation and offer a comped round of drinks or dessert on the house.
If the complaint comes in on social media, respond with a note like this: “I’m so sorry about the delay tonight. We’d love for you to give us another try. Here’s a coupon for two free cocktails during your next visit.”
Food Not to Their Liking
We’ve all had the unfortunate experience of ordering something off the menu that just wasn’t to our liking. Maybe the food was cold, the sandwich was soggy, or the dish just tasted strange. There’s a difference, however, between someone simply not liking their meal and an objective error with the preparation.
How to respond: You can’t please everyone, but you can try. Locate the source of the complaint; was the food sitting out too long before being served? Look for bottlenecks on the line. Is the sandwich bread soggy? Perhaps you need a different type of bun.
Try saying something like: “Thank you for bringing this to our attention. I’m so sorry you didn’t enjoy your experience. I will speak to the kitchen manager to make sure it doesn’t happen again. If you’d like to give us another try, we’d love to make it up to you.” You can say this in person or in a message over social media.
If you can swing a comped meal or a round of drinks, offer it up. If the customer posted online about a bad experience, they might also be willing to share how your restaurant made it right.
A common restaurant guest complaint is receiving the wrong order, or finding that something was incorrect or missing from their order.
How to respond: Restaurant kitchens can be busy, miscommunications happen, and order mixups might occur here and there. Be sure to find out exactly what went wrong so that you can fix it as quickly as possible. If you can, take away the incorrect item and promise to return right away with the right order.
If for some reason the customer posts about the issue on social media, message the guest privately to find out what happened. Then, offer some sort of compensation. Mail the guest a gift card or offer a coupon, and encourage them to come back to give you a second chance.
Delivery Arrived Cold
Guests who order delivery have certain expectations of how their food will look, smell and taste when it arrives. If a delivery order arrives cold, wilted, or otherwise unappealing, the guest is likely to complain.
How to Respond: Start by having a plan for food delivery to uphold the integrity of the food from the time it leaves the premises to the time it arrives on your guest’s table. If you are doing your own delivery, make sure to use insulated food delivery bags to keep the food warm during transport. You should also pack cold foods separately from hot foods. If you partner with a third party delivery service, make sure they have food safety and food temperature protocols in place.
If you receive a guest complaint that their food arrived cold, it’s hard to rectify without being there in person. Still, do what you can to make it right. Offer a credit for a comped appetizer or dessert next time, and double-check your take-out procedures to make sure you’re doing all you can on your end.
Long Wait for Delivery
When customers order delivery, they’re probably already hungry. That means that every minute counts — and, probably, they’re counting every minute. Customers may complain on social media about long wait times for delivery if they waited longer than they expected.
How to Respond: First, make sure that hosts and kitchen staff are communicating about how long a food order will take to prepare. Then, factor in drive times and traffic before giving the guest an estimate. Then, be sure you address the situation with your delivery service or driver to make sure they didn’t run into any issues during the delivery.
Still, things happen and sometimes deliveries take longer than expected. If you can communicate with the customer, offer a sincere apology along with a credit for a comped appetizer or dessert on their next order.
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Perhaps a server neglected their table for too long. Maybe the host felt overwhelmed and was short with a customer. No matter what the issue, rude service can really strike a nerve. Unfortunately, the slighted guest might vent on social media instead of asking to speak with a manager.
How to Respond: While social media venting can be frustrating, try and rectify the situation if you can. When handling service complaints, take the conversation offline.
You might write: “I’m so sorry; poor service is inexcusable. Would you mind emailing [email@example.com] and letting us know what happened?” Another way to say it is “Thank you for the feedback. We’ll discuss this with our staff ASAP and hope you’ll give us a second chance soon.”
Long Wait to be Seated or Served
No one likes a long wait to be seated — especially when they’re hungry. Waiting for a long time to be seated can be frustrating.
How to Respond: When customers complain about the long wait on a Saturday night, respond with empathy but encourage them to make a reservation in the future. You might say, “I’m sorry about the wait. We tend to get very busy on Saturday nights! We offer online reservations if you’d like to make one for your next visit.” Then include the link to your reservations page.
You’ve also likely seen people point to empty tables and say, “But that one’s open!” Customers may complain about this online as well. One way to respond is to say, “We know how odd it looks when you see open tables and are told there’s a wait. We do our best to seat everyone ASAP, and those tables are being held for reservations. If you’d like to make one, please visit [LINK].”
Even if it seems unlikely that someone could get food poisoning at your restaurant, any reports of illness should be taken seriously.
How to Respond: When you read a complaint over social media, the first and most important thing to do is to move the conversation from social media to email. Demonstrate that you’re taking the complaint seriously, are going to investigate, and are going to work with the customer on a solution. You might phrase it this way:
“We are so sorry to hear this, and this is the first case we’ve heard about. Could you please email [firstname.lastname@example.org] and let us know more about your meal? Our chef will also inspect the kitchen and ensure all ingredients meet our quality expectations.”
Taking the conversation into a more private sphere could save you public grief from a frustrated, sick, and angry customer. Even if the complaint is private, keeping in good communication will show that you’re genuinely interested in your customers’ wellbeing.
Check out these effective ways to get high-quality guest feedback by using restaurant technology and restaurant comment cards.
Unable to Accommodate Dietary Restrictions
Don’t cater to gluten allergies? Not a vegetarian-friendly place? A lack of ability to accommodate dietary restrictions is another common restaurant complaint.
How to Respond: Even if you can’t accommodate guests with dietary restrictions, now’s your time to be a good neighbor. If you genuinely can’t work with them, try to provide another solution. Suggest other restaurants in the area that are better suited to their needs. Your neighboring restaurant will appreciate it, and the customer will, too.
Try saying: “We don’t offer vegan options here, but we are five minutes away from [neighboring restaurant], which serves gluten-free, vegan, and vegetarian options.”
Whether it’s a mouse scurrying under a door, a cockroach sighting, or a strand of hair in the food, no one wants to see anything gross when dining out in a restaurant. And no restaurant owner wants to see a complaint on social media about something like this, either.
How to Respond: When you see an online complaint about something gross happening in your restaurant, respond right away. If the post is public, comment as soon as possible requesting that the customer email your manager to describe when and where the incident happened. Then, privately reply letting the customer know that this is certainly not normal and that you’re taking every measure to ensure that it doesn’t happen again. Those precautions may include setting pest traps, hiring an exterminator, or revisiting cleanliness and hygiene training with your staff.
Food was Overpriced or Poor Value for Money
Restaurant customers likely have an idea in their mind about what restaurant meals cost and what they’re willing to pay. A common restaurant complaint is that their food was overpriced, or perhaps a poor value for the money they paid. When customers complain about food being overpriced, it may be because they are visiting from out of town and aren’t used to the market cost, or because they didn’t enjoy their meal as much as they hoped, and felt it “wasn’t worth the price.”
How to Respond: Try to put yourself in the customers’ shoes when reading these types of complaints online. Chances are, they had an idea of what they’d receive, and their experience was contrary to that. Don’t make excuses, but offer up useful explanations where warranted.
You might say: “The market price for that particular seafood ingredient tends to fluctuate, but we charge what we do because we source the highest quality possible. We’d love for you to give us another try. Our happy hour has excellent prices on similar, appetizer-style dishes!”
Respond to Complaints and Make Things Right
Reading negative restaurant customer complaints on social media is never fun. But there are ways to reach out and rectify the situation, even when it’s not in person. Remember to approach the complaint with patience, a listening ear, and sympathy for the customer. When possible, do what you can to make things right: it's completely possible to turn an angry reviewer into a regular.
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