Turning the Table: 12 Ways to Handle Guest Complaints

Guest satisfaction is paramount to help ensure customer loyalty. However, the reality is that no restaurant is immune to guest complaints. These issues can range from overcooked steaks to issues with service or ambience. Yet, the way you handle these complaints can often make the difference between a disgruntled customer who won’t return and one who appreciates your commitment to customer service.

Here are a few ways to keep your customers coming back after a negative encounter.

1. Listen Actively:

When a guest raises a concern, it’s crucial to actively listen. Maintain eye contact, nod in acknowledgment, and show empathy. Make the customer feel heard and understood. Whether it’s a complaint about a wrong order, a delay in service, or a problem with the food, your first response should be, “I’m sorry to hear that. Let’s resolve this.”

2. Stay Calm:

Emotions can run high when a guest is unhappy. Remember, it’s not personal. Don’t take it as an attack. Stay calm and composed. A friendly and composed demeanor can help defuse tense situations.

3. Resolve Issues Quickly:

Time is of the essence. The longer a customer’s issue goes unaddressed, the more frustrated they become. Ensure that complaints are escalated and dealt with swiftly. If necessary, consider giving the guest a small token of apology, such as a complimentary dessert or a discount on their bill.

4. Apologize Sincerely:

An apology can work wonders. Even if the issue wasn’t your fault, apologizing for the inconvenience shows that you value the customer’s experience. A sincere “I apologize for the inconvenience you’ve experienced” can go a long way.

5. Empower Your Staff:

Empower your team to handle customer complaints independently. If a server or a chef can address the problem on the spot, it saves time and often results in a more immediate resolution. They should have the authority to make decisions like offering a replacement dish or a discount.

6. Learn from Mistakes:

Every complaint is a learning opportunity. Take a close look at the issues raised and use them as feedback for improvement. Were there recurring complaints about a particular dish or service area? It’s your chance to enhance and evolve.

7. Implement a Feedback System:

Consider having a feedback system in place, whether through comment cards, online reviews, or surveys. Guests may not always voice their concerns in person, but they’re more likely to provide feedback through other channels.

8. Train Your Staff:

A well-trained staff is your frontline defense against customer complaints. Teach them how to handle problems effectively, how to remain calm, and how to communicate with empathy.

9. Online Reputation Management:

In today’s digital age, negative reviews can significantly impact your restaurant. Respond to online reviews gracefully. Thank the customer for their feedback and express your desire to make improvements. When others see you addressing issues, it can be a positive reflection on your restaurant.

10. Stay Consistent:

Consistency is key. Maintain the same level of service, quality, and courtesy every day. Inconsistencies can lead to recurring complaints.

11. Communicate Internally:

Feedback from guests should not only be used for external improvement but internal communication as well. Share feedback with your team to motivate them to provide better service.

12. Document Complaints:

Document each complaint you receive. This can help you track recurring issues and their resolutions, aiding in your continuous improvement efforts.


In the restaurant industry, guest complaints are inevitable. But by mastering the art of handling them, you can turn a potentially negative experience into a positive one. Remember, it’s not the presence of complaints that defines your restaurant; it’s how you respond to them that truly matters. In the end, a well-handled complaint can create a stronger, more loyal customer than one who never had an issue at all.

Want to learn more about this topic from an industry expert?


ServSafe Benefits is a hospitality hub built for industry workers.

More Articles for You

Staying Healthy: Dealing with Cold and Flu Symptoms
Career + Life

Staying Healthy: Dealing with Cold and Flu Symptoms

You’re no stranger to the hustle and bustle of the industry. Long hours, tight schedules, and close proximity to coworkers and customers can make you particularly vulnerable to the common cold and flu during their respective seasons. These ailments can lead to achy, feverish symptoms, which can be disruptive to your work routine. While getting a flu vaccination and maintaining excellent hand hygiene are essential precautions, it’s important to understand that they are not foolproof measures to keep you illness-free. In case you do fall sick, it’s crucial to distinguish between cold and flu symptoms and know how to alleviate your discomfort.