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Need some tips for Handling Restaurant Customer Complaints? Getting negative reviews about poor service or food from your customer base? Bad Restaurant Reviews can destroy your dining business, whether it is a cafe or a restaurant. With Raqtan’s Restaurant Customer Complaint Action Plan, find out how to handle complaints as well as stop them happening.

Customer complaints are inevitable. You can be running the best restaurant in the world, but the odd customer will still complain about something. 

Some customers will say anything in an attempt to get a discount; others are simply having a bad day and need to vent. Either way, you and your staff need to treat complaints calmly as the cost of doing business.

What you need is a Customer Complaints Plan. With a strategy in place that all your staff are familiar with, you can be relaxed when a complaint crops up. Staying relaxed is important, because it stops complaints escalating. But being calm under pressure is only half the story. 

To deal with complaints well, you need to show your customer further attributes: that you genuinely care about the problem they have brought up, and that you have the energy and focus to deal with it as soon as possible. To keep morale up, think of complaints as an opportunity, rather than a threat.

Top tip: complaints may be tiresome to deal with, but complaints are actually gifts to your business. 

If a customer complains, this provides honest, valuable feedback that will allow you to improve your business if you absorb what has been said. What’s more, the customer is giving you a second chance, right now, to keep their business. Don’t waste this chance! Have a Customer Complaints Plan in place, and use it with a positive attitude to develop your business.

Customer Complaints: Restaurant Action Plan

3 main phases of action make up your Customer Complaint Action Plan. For each complaint, follow as a sequence:


Stop the situation from escalating. This phase is about taking the heat out of the situation by listening properly and staying calm. 


Turn the complaining customer into an ally. This phase is about dealing with the customer superbly so they think better of your business, not worse.


Make the best of the situation for your restaurant. This phase is about making your business better by learning from the customer complaint and sharing the benefits of its integration with staff.

Customer Complaint Action Plan: Breakdown


You may be having a bad day. But your customer is telling you their day is taking a turn for the worse. So listen! Demonstrate empathy. This will calm down the customer and your business depends upon it. Do not cross your arms. Engage eye contact (softly). Nod your head. Jot down a few written notes.

Take the emotion out of the situation by calmly repeating what the customer’s complaint is. Confirm with the customer that you have got the details correct. Repeating the complaint will make the customer feel in control. Repetition of what somebody else has just said is also a proven negotiating technique, and used in NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming); it clearly demonstrates empathy.

Even if you do not feel like it, thank the customer. Remember that it could be worse; they could have not said anything and gone online and given your restaurant a stinking review. As it is, you can thank them sincerely for giving you the chance to put things right.

This does not mean accept responsibility for the way the customer is feeling; they might just be venting. Also, if they claim to be feeling physically ill, now is not the time for your business to be accepting responsibility without looking into their claims. But you and your staff need to make clear immediately that you want your customers to be happy, and accept that this has not happened.

Remember: whatever the customer complaint, you have a process to deal with it. Try not to take it personally or as a reflection of your business as a whole. 


If it is possible to do so, offer to take an appropriate action. This action might be replacing a dish of food, dealing with another customer, or immediately taking the complaint to a manager. 

If there is no action you can take immediately (for whatever reason), be sure to be clear with the customer. It is far better to manage expectations than to promise that which you cannot deliver. Agree on a course of action that will satisfy the customer and speak the deal out loud.

This is what divides simply-acceptable customer complaint management from Best Practice! Best practice is to give the customer a further perk – on top of what you have agreed to do for them. This may well turn the customer from a complaining customer into a firm ally for the future of the brand. Go the extra mile!

Some complaints may need action in the future. Even if they do not, contact each complaining customer later via email. Be nice! Thank them for their complaint. Offer your apologies again. Ideally, give them another perk; this may feel like a sacrifice, but a lot of future business could come from it.

Use your follow-up email to gently advertise your business further – being sure to offer the customer preferential treatment. 


Log all complaints. Staff may be reluctant to do so because it reflects badly on them. Reassure staff that, if they are underperforming, you will know about it already!

At staff meetings, go over all logged complaints with staff. Some WILL be the staff’s fault; others may be your fault as the restaurateur; others may be nobody’s fault. Be as fair as you can, and do NOT play the blame game. Promulgate a culture where complaints are accepted as opportunities to improve.

As an entrepreneur, it is critical to get in the right head-set about complaints. What are your customers telling you about how you can improve your business? Take the time to find out. Set aside any anger about your business being criticised, and make the best of the situation. Use complaints to focus future improvements.

Common Customer Complaints In Restaurants

It is good business to have some set responses ready for your staff to deal with common complaints. Before drilling down to details, train your staff first with the Customer Complaint Action Plan (outlined above).


Complaint: I don’t like the food 

Suggested Response:

Ask whether the dish was badly described in the menu. If so, apologise, suggest a replacement and provide it free of charge. If not, make some personal suggestions about which dishes on the next course might make the customer feel better.


Complaint: The food took too long to come 

Suggested Response:

If your staff are overrun, apologise immediately and convincingly. Say that you will do better with the next course; if the customer is still upset at the end of the meal, give them a perk.


Complaint: I got the wrong order 

Suggested Response:

Confirm this is the case (don’t just take it for granted that the customer is correct). If there has been a mistake, apologise and make it a priority to provide the correct order.


Complaint: The Food was delivered cold 

Suggested Response:

You can either offer to have it heated up (which might be not acceptable to the customer) or re-supplied as a fresh dish.


Complaint: The Food was not hygienic

Suggested Response:

Confirm how the food was not hygienic. If the customer is correct, explain that 



Complaint: The Food made me ill

Suggested Response:

This is a serious complaint. So tread carefully. You should not admit liability immediately under any circumstances, as this might prejudice your position if it comes to legal proceedings. What you do need to do, though, is accept that you may have to shut down your restaurant for the day – right now. Bring a manager in to assess the situation. And if you need to shut down, do so. Ensure your Business Continuity Plan has this situation covered in detail, so you and staff do not have to think about what comes next. 



Complaint: The restaurant is not hygienic

Suggested Response:

A difficult one! Is the customer correct? If so, what sort of restaurant are you running? In your staff work rosta, you need to prioritise cleaning. Otherwise, this sort of complaint does not give your staff much wriggle room. Luckily, there is a way to deal with this complaint – if you have the available staff. Apologise to the customer – and get cleaning! The customer will feel better that action has immediately been taken, even if it disrupts your normal operations.



Complaint: The restaurant is not a suitable environment

Suggested Response:

Sometimes, events beyond our control mean that our restaurant dining area is not a great place to eat. There may be a bad smell, or another problem. If so, apologise. If you can do something about the problem, make it a priority. You may have to close your restaurant temporarily; if so, ensure that customers receive generous compensation.



Complaint: The food is too expensive

Suggested Response:

Explain that the restaurant hopes to achieve the highest standards and that this is only possible with premium ingredients and skills (which cost!). Some customers are always after a discount: impress them by giving them a preferential perk, but not necessarily a discount for the sake of it.



Complaint: The staff have a bad attitude

Suggested Response:

Make sure there is always a manager available. This means the customer can ‘escalate’ the complaint. This makes the customer feel in control. Often, this will make them feel better on its own.



Complaint: The customer service is bad

Suggested Response:

Apologise. If there are extenuating circumstances, assure the customer that there is no excuse for poor customer service; but then make the excuse anyway. It is better that the customer understands why a problem is happening rather than deny it is happening.



Complaint: The staff don’t know anything useful

Suggested Response:

Your staff may not be up to scratch on menu ingredients. If so, be sure to educate them later. First, apologise to the customer and get a manager involved to answer their questions.



Complaint: Your information online is inaccurate

Suggested Response:

Confirm how this is the case. Thank the customer for bringing it to your attention. Take their email, and send them a preferential perk – this will show that, online, you are still a savvy outfit.


How Do I Handle Angry Customers?

Top tip: accept that some customers are having a bad day. 

Whatever you do or say to address your complaint, they will be angry. This happens. Do not let it bother you or your staff. Provided you follow through with your Customer Complaint Action Plan, you will have achieved Best Practice and potentially turned the situation around in the long run; what more can you do?

What Is The Impact Of Unhappy Customers On Your Restaurant?

The impact of unhappy customers on your restaurant business is far greater than you think. That’s because word spreads, and bad reputations spread quicker and wider than good reputations! That’s human nature, so get on the right side of it.

Why Should I Tackle Customer Complaints As A Priority?

Because, if you do not, you will run out of customers. Why? Because of social media.

Social media online has instant and massive spread. Before the internet, a bad reputation would spread by word of mouth. This took time, and depended on personal associations. Now, a bad reputation can spread across the world in an instant and affect anybody and everybody who happens to fancy a meal out tonight.

How Do I Deal With Bad Reviews On Social Media?

You must be pro-active. One bad review in the wrong place can have a massive effect.

Set yourself up for success. Make it an absolute priority to extract emails from customers when they dine with you. (How you achieve this is up to you; a good way is to give perks in return. Spend if necessary.)

With a database of contact details for all customers, you can then contact a customer directly in the event of them leaving a terrible review online. This is a lifeline to your business. 

You may be able to woo the customer by offering them your sincere apologies as well as perks. If they remain firm in their public complaint, you can still then publicise on your own social media that you have done your very best to tackle complaints, and even list what steps you took to do so.

What Is A Free Way To Stop Customer Complaints From Happening?

Make sure your online information is always accurate. Make sure your menu information is accurate too (prices, allergens, nutritional and dietary info). This costs you nothing, but can stop a lot of customer complaints from happening.

Your Customer Complaint Action Plan boils down to one thing: be generous. If you are not prepared to give stuff away when customers complain, you are missing a trick. Under pressure, you can convert angry customers into loyal customers simply by showing that you are genuinely sorry that they are unhappy, and showering them with preferential treatment, now and in the future. 

Sure, dealing with customer complaints in this way costs money – and restaurants run on tight margins. ‘We can’t afford to keep giving stuff away’ you might say. Well, neither can you afford to have customers going online and giving you bad reviews; you really can’t. A few Riyals spent in the short-term could save your business in the long-term.

Thank you for reviewing Raqtan’s Customer Complaint Action Plan. If you have any queries or comments, please leave them in the area below and we will be delighted to respond.

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