Customer Service Concerns for Food Businesses

In the digital age, your restaurant, bar, or catering company's customer service strategy can make or break your business. A poor online review may be the single reason a potential customer snubs your establishment. But if you champion good customer service, you can distinguish your business from your competition and attract new and regular customers.

Though friendly service is essential, there are other customer concerns to consider as well. For example, when a customer has a special diet or food allergies, a mistaken order can have bigger consequences than irritation. These oversights can be downright deadly and can lead to expensive lawsuits against your food business.

So how do you handle a customer service situation before it becomes your establishment's defining review on Yelp or escalates into a lawsuit? Check out this guide for tips on common customer service complaints and ideas to keep them under control.

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Common Customer Service Complaints for Food Businesses

Common Customer Service Complaints for Food Businesses

There are some customers who simply can't be pleased. But most of the time, customer dissatisfaction arises from actual events and situations that can be handled. To help prepare your business and employees for these difficult encounters, let's take a look at some of the most common sources of customer complaints:

Unknowledgeable Employees

Nothing irritates a customer faster than an employee who doesn't know what they're talking about – whether that may be ingredients in your restaurant's signature dish or prices for your wedding catering packages. When customers ask questions, they expect answers – or at least, someone who is willing to help them find answers.

To help minimize the potential for these kinds of complaints, be sure the employees who work directly with customers understand…

  • The products and services they're selling (including ingredient lists, nutrition facts, allergens, pricing, etc.).
  • Where to find help if they can't answer a customer's question or demands (e.g., asking the chef, consulting company literature, etc.).

Rude Employees or Staff

It seems obvious that rude staff would lead to customer service complaints. But rudeness can take many shapes and forms, which may not always be obvious to you or your employees. For instance, indifference, not paying attention, curt sentences, an aloof tone of voice, or defensive attitude and body language can all seem abrasive to a customer and trigger an exaggerated response. In turn, your staff member might push back, and by then, the whole situation could be an uphill battle.

To prevent these complaints, be sure your employees…

  • Use appropriate communication skills (both verbal and nonverbal).
  • Actively listen to customers.
  • Understand the appropriate attitude, gestures, facial expressions, and word choices to use with patrons.


If customers can't call, email, or speak to the right person, you have a recipe for dissatisfaction. To avoid inadvertently peeving potential customers, be sure to…

  • Keep your website in working order.
  • Update and clearly display your restaurant or catering business's contact information on your website, brochures, menus, and social media sites. This includes your business's…
    • Phone number.
    • Physical address.
    • Email address.
  • Display your hours of operation on your front door and stick to those hours.

Also, be sure a manager or someone with decision-making power is around throughout the business day. That way, when an issue arises, your servers or bartenders can alert the person in charge when a customer asks for their supervisor.

Unresolved Problems

If your customer raises a complaint or has an issue, don't leave them in limbo. Unresolved issues rarely go away – they will likely turn up again in the form of a nasty online review.

To ensure your customers have some kind of resolution, be sure to…

  • Respond to inquiries in a timely fashion.
  • Acknowledge that you received their query, complaint, or concern.
  • Express your plans to handle or resolve their concern.

Need some problem-solving advice? Keep reading to learn how your business can handle customer complaints.

Food Services Businesses: Steps for Handling Customer Complaints

Food Services Businesses: Steps for Handling Customer Complaints

The way your business handles customer complaints can determine whether the problem persists or diffuses. Of course, every situation has its own nuances and considerations. But as a general rule, listening to the customer, being sympathetic to their position, and offering a speedy resolution can make all the difference. Plus, you can use these situations as learning experiences for the future.

For example, let's say a customer has a meal they consider less than satisfactory and they allege their server was slow and discourteous. Let's take a look at five basic steps for handling this complaint about your food business's service and products.

Complaint Resolution Step 1: Listen

When your customer has an issue or a complaint, make sure your employees allow the customer to be heard. This includes…

  • Focusing their undivided attention on the dissatisfied customer.
  • Letting the customer voice their complaint without interruption.
  • Listening to what they're saying.

Jotting down notes can help your employees retain information for future reference and let the customer know that their concern is being taken seriously.

Complaint Resolution Step 2: Respond

After the customer has complained that their dinner was cold and their waiter was inattentive, your employee should…

  • Apologize for the problem without making excuses.
  • Express sympathy for the customer's situation.
  • Assure the customer that their complaint will be addressed immediately.

As always, a friendly and calm attitude can keep the situation from spiraling.

Complaint Resolution Step 3: Offer Solutions

Train your employees to ask the customer what they can do to amend the situation. Give your employees the ability to offer some basic solutions, such as offering…

  • A meal replacement.
  • A free dessert.
  • Contact with a manager who can speak with the customer.

Be sure your employees understand what they can and can't offer to resolve a customer complaint so that they don't accidentally make the situation worse.

Complaint Resolution Step 4: Go Beyond

"Under-promise and over-deliver" is a common business strategy that helps create satisfied customers. Essentially, it means you set your customers' expectations low, and then wow them by exceeding their expectations.

This technique isn't just a handy sales tip – it can come in handy when you're trying to make amends, too. So after the disgruntled customer has agreed to a proposed solution, throw in an extra perk, such as…

  • A discount on the day's meal.
  • A certificate for a future meal at your establishment.

And of course, ask if there is anything else you or your employees can do to improve their experience.

Complaint Resolution Step 5: Learn

This final step is perhaps the hardest. It's easy to resort to platitudes like "the customer's always right!" or shrug off the customer as a finicky person. It's much more difficult to take an unpleasant situation and use it as an opportunity to reflect on what can be improved in your establishment.

When you do treat problems as a learning experience, though, you can potentially reduce future problems. For instance, you may use the situation to…

  • Implement operational changes to prevent similar problems from recurring.
  • Train employees on how to properly handle a complaint.
  • Make employees aware of when they should handle a situation themselves and when they should request a manager's involvement.

If your establishment keeps running into the same types of problems, you can determine the changes to make to improve your customers' experience.

Special Customer Considerations for Food Businesses

Special Customer Considerations for Food Businesses

Here are some special considerations that can help keep your customers satisfied, informed, and healthy:

  • List prices for all your menu items. You don't want your customers to be blindsided when they get their check! For specials that aren't listed on the menu, make sure the server states the price after they describe the offer.
  • Spell out your gratuity expectations. Does your business automatically add 18 percent to customers' bills for tip? Does your establishment not accept tips? Clearly state your policies in places your customers will see, such as the menus or at the register.
  • Draw attention to potential allergens and dietary concerns. Clearly note on your menus which items contain allergens such as peanuts, shellfish, and dairy. And if your items can be made gluten-free, vegetarian, or vegan, denote those options (and their pricing) as well. These considerations will help your customers make informed decisions about their selections.
  • Make nutrition information available. Consider creating nutrition fact brochures for your establishments' staple dishes.
  • State your alcohol service policy. Do you allow patrons to BYOB? Is there a corking fee? If so, make sure this information is clearly stated in the menu. Also, inform customers that they can be denied alcohol service at the server's discretion. (To learn more about avoiding trouble when serving alcohol, check out our eBook, Liquor Liability for Food Services Businesses.)
Small Business Insurance for Food Businesses: When Quality Customer Service isn't Enough

Small Business Insurance for Food Businesses: When Quality Customer Service isn't Enough

Mistakes are inevitable. And unfortunately, some mistakes have consequences that a free meal or discount simply won't fix. For example, say a customer didn't know a dish was prepared with peanut oil and has a serious medical reaction? Or what if a customer burned themselves on a piping hot pan of fajitas?

Small business insurance can be your last line of defense when these unexpected events happen and your restaurant is sued for damages. Adequate coverage can protect your finances and help you cover the high cost of attorney's fees and court-ordered compensation.

To learn more about the coverages that can help raft your business through a lawsuit, apply for an insurance quote from insureon today.

More Customer Retention Resources for Food Services Business Owners

More Customer Retention Resources for Food Services Business Owners

Check out these articles for more information about managing your risks and growing your food business:

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