In a perfect world, each and every diner who visits your restaurant will leave satisfied,
happy and ready to rave about their wonderful customer experiences to all of their friends, family members, neighbors, coworkers and acquaintances.
In the real world, however, unhappy diners are a fact of restaurant life.
While your primary strategies may involve preventing bad diner experiences in the first place, it’s equally important to have corrective strategies at the ready when things slide off track. Let’s count down four ways to turn things around when customer experiences are going south.
1. Acknowledge First
The instinct to ignore a problem and hope it will resolve on its own or be forgotten can be a strong one, but it’s also dangerous — particularly in the service-oriented restaurant world.
Not to mention that our digital society now has a very long collective memory.
As soon as a customer complaint arises, a manager should be on hand to address the situation. This involves visiting the table, a full introduction, active listening, and an apology.
One simple way to make sure you understand while simultaneously showing the customer that you do? Summarize the issue aloud.
After all, diner issues often stem directly from miscommunication so failure to openly address the problem may unnecessarily make it worse.
Also, keep in mind that while it may be an inconvenience or unpleasantry in the moment, acknowledging what went wrong isn’t just about the diner. It’s also a vital part of ensuring that your restaurant’s operations are sound, and to take corrective action, if necessary.
2. Act Quickly
The most desirable outcome when it comes to managing poor diner experiences? Resolving complaints while the customer is still on the premises. This can be as simple — and effective — as sending over a free round of drinks to help lift spirits during an unacceptable wait time.
One thing to keep in mind, however? Freebies aren’t always the way to go. Not only do they cost your restaurant money, but they often also fail to address the problem.
Today’s consumers are smarter than ever before. They don’t want to be distracted or redirected; they want to know their concerns are being heard, and free round of appetizers has little to do with that.
In some cases — particularly those with potentially legal ramifications — documentation is key. Comprehensive incident reports provide written documentation as well as serve as useful reference in the future.
If an issue can’t be resolved while a diner is still on premises, commit to following up as soon as possible. Make sure you’ve got the customer’s contact information and let him/her know when you’ll be in touch.
Then, stick to that timeline. Even if you’re still awaiting resolution, a simple email or phone call saying, “We’re working on it,” goes a long way.
3. Safeguard Your Reputation
In our increasingly social world, the value of your restaurant’s online reputation cannot be overstated. But just because diners don’t immediately express discontent doesn’t mean they’re not doing so through a different — and exponentially dangerous — outlet.
In fact, one scientific study presented at a recent American Association for the Advancement of Science conference concluded that people write about negative dining experiences in a way “similar to that used by people recalling terrorist attacks or horrific accidents.”
It’s no surprise, then, that an increasing body of evidence points to the profound power of feedback sites like Yelp, where a mere one-star increase can translate to heightened sales up up to nine percent, while one-star drop can be incredibly destructive.
While you can’t change online reviews, you can change readers’ perceptions of them by responding with an apology, explanation, and or resolution, if possible.
Ultimately, diners don’t expect you to be perfect, but they do expect you to be accountable. And doing so online is just as important as doing so in your physical restaurant.
4. Be Proactive
Diners are going to have options — both positive and negative. If you don’t know about these opinions, however, your hands are tied when it comes to responding to them. Creating an environment which welcomes customers to express themselves can yield invaluable returns.
From servers, managers and cashiers who directly check in to online surveys and/or complaint cards, there are plenty of ways to invite diners to share their customer experiences toward the betterment of your restaurant and its relationships with your diners.
Since online review sites aren’t going away anytime soon, why not use them to your favor, as well? Actively encourage customers to provide feedback on sites like Yelp! And Urbanspoon, too.
A beneficial side benefit of encouraging satisfied diners to rate their customer experiences online? Abundant positive feedback can offset the occasional negative review.
One last thing to keep in mind? While managers may naturally take the lead when it comes to addressing customer complaints, all staff should be trained in how to handle complaints.
The clearer your policies and procedures are, the more likely they are to be followed, even at times when your restaurant is swamped or you’re short-handed.
With future sales — and your restaurant’s reputation on the line — keeping customers happy is a mission-critical, all-hands-on-deck effort.