In a world where the customer is always right, it is critical to know how to diffuse and rectify unhappy diners. Each member of your restaurant’s staff should have training and practice in handling uncomfortable situations. This includes kitchen staff too, though they are less likely to interact with customers. When your staff understands all aspects of conflict management, your restaurant will run smoother including inter-staff relations.
Serving good food is just one aspect of owning a restaurant. If you were to survey successful restaurants, they would emphasize excellent customer care as well, also known as Customer Relationship Management. From a welcoming host to a well-timed kitchen, good service comes in many shades. Get your staff up to speed on all manners of service, including how to deescalate a situation with an unhappy customer.
Deescalating an Unhappy Diner
It’s bound to happen, even with the best staff. A customer becomes upset at something. It could be one small mistake, but it is simply the last straw in a bad day for them. Be sure to role play and discuss unhappy diners with your staff. Talk about what could have been done better or differently. Be sure the following aspects are addressed whenever an issue comes up:
- Offer your name and ask for their name.
Addressing each other by a first name is much more personal and indicates you care. This inherently provides a sense of being understood which can help lead towards a successful resolution.
- Remain calm.
Show your unhappy diner that you have compassion for their situation. Staff should never respond with anger, resentment, or rudeness towards a customer. Instill in your staff the phrase “don’t take it personally”. When staff maintains their composure, even the most unhappy diners will start to calm down.
- Take time to listen.
Sometimes all that an angry customer really wants is to be heard. Allow them to explain their side of the story and use active listening skills along the way. For example, when they break or are finished, rephrase and ask if you hear them correctly. Do not interrupt them halfway through as it may cause more anger and cause them to feel unimportant.
- Assess what the customer wants.
This may simply be a direct question or involve you providing options to remedy the situation.
- Apologize sincerely without excuses.
A clear apology is generally enough for most customers; however, keep it short and to the point. Do not, for any reason, apologize with an excuse. This completely negates your apology.
- Offer solutions and remedies.
At a minimum, offer a discount on the bill, free coffee or beverage, or a small gift card. The most important thing here is that the unhappy diner feels they are being taken care of. Even the smallest gesture can make a big difference.
Staying calm, listening, and providing a solution are crucial steps to find a resolution. Also remember to apologize, as that shows humbleness towards the diner. They are more likely to be satisfied with the outcome of the situation. This can lead to a return visit as they know they will be taken care of if something goes wrong.
Regularly train your staff to deal with complaints. Take time to emphasize the importance of showing respect to customers, no matter what complaints (or insults) they may have. Remind them that the customer could be having a bad day or be in a perpetual bad mood—and that is okay. Then, if an angry diner calls for attention, your staff will be able to solve the issue smoothly and soothe the customer’s frustration.
An additional consideration is to use your POS system to track mistakes, corrections, and comped meals. Most modern systems can run dynamic reports such as time of day, how busy the restaurant was, who was working, and how long the customer was there. These reports can assist you in making modifications to better serve your customers.
The Virtual Unhappy Diner & Trolls Online
Today’s unhappy diner may not directly confront the issue. Social media including Facebook can be of concern when users share and forward complaints and bad reviews. It is a rarity that a good review is passed on. Of course, this is not how you want to be recognized.
The basic factors in responding to poor reviews are the same as in-person unhappy diners. Read the complaint, respond for every new complaint, apologize for the poor experience, and invite them to contact you directly.
Never, ever, ever argue about something online. There are people out there that purposely create chaos and enjoy the drama which will make your restaurant look unprofessional and petty. Often referred to as trolls, these drama experts are only looking to make you look bad. Simply respond that you are sorry for the experience and would like to discuss the issue further. Then do not respond to any further comments from the troll.
It is also important to share these complaints with your staff. While they will not be responding to the complaints online, it builds an understanding of customer expectations and their response to anything less. Also provide positive feedback, including kudos to staff specifically mentioned in any compliments.
Whether online or in-person, the method to handle unhappy diners is simple. Remain calm, listen, apologize, and find resolution through offering solutions.