Skills Focus: Spotting The Complaint

The last three skills focus segments have focused on selling entrees by recommending them.  These should have proven successful in getting your staff engaged in communicating with their guests what items they might enjoy.  This week the focus is going to shift to another vital task that too many servers fail to execute.  What happens when they don’t like your recommendation?  What happens when they refuse to tell you that they don’t like them?  This can be devastating to a server’s tip and restaurant’s reputation.  That is why this week the focus is on spotting the complaint.

Spotting the Complaint

A few teaching points on this topic:

Just because the guest does not complain it does not mean they are satisfied:  There are a number of reasons that a guest might refuse to complain about an item they are unsatisfied with.  They could be embarrassed, not want to cause a scene, or feel that the server won’t care.  Not hearing a complaint is not an excuse to believe that the guest is satisfied.  If they don’t express the complaint to their server, they can still broadcast their complaint to Yelp, Facebook, Twitter, or any number of other sites.  This can have a disastrous affect on your business and their tips.

There are clues to dissatisfaction:  If a guest does not admit their dissatisfaction, you are not off the hook for any complaints they may have.  It is not fair, but it is reality.  When a guest tells you something is “fine” or sends back most of the meal uneaten, they often want you to show that you care enough to follow up.  Do not disappoint them.  Showing that you care enough to follow up is the most effective way to prevent a guest from airing their grievances elsewhere.  This is the first step in turning a guest with a complaint into a future regular customer.

It is in their best interest:  As with all topics you try to teach servers, you must relate it back to how it benefits them.  In this case it is simple.  A guest that feels certain that their servers cares about the complaint, whether that guest voices it or not, will have a much higher opinion of the server.  This will reflect in the server’s tip.  It will also reflect well upon the restaurant.  This creates return guests and prevents disappointed guests from spreading their negative reviews to friends.

How to teach this topic:

Monday-Wednesday:  Review the materials discussed in the post.  Talk about the signs of dissatisfaction it describes.  Make clear that you will not accept any guest leaving dissatisfied and want to be made aware of any guest you suspect is unhappy.  Make sure to visit the tables to show your commitment to the topic.

Thursday-Friday:  Get feedback from your staff about signals their guests have given them about being unsatisfied.  See if they can add more to the list.  Follow up and see how they were able to get the guest to admit the problem.  Do not let this turn negative.  Instead, focus on the number of complaints that were addressed in the restaurant before they were spread to potential customers.

Saturday-Sunday:  Ask for success stories.  Who was able to spot a complaint?  How was it spotted?  Was the complaint successfully resolved?  Once your staff sees your commitment to addressing problems that are uncovered, they will look harder for them in the future.  This allows you as a professional problem solver to insure that all of your guests leave happy.

We all hate it when a guest complains.  It is not pleasant to know that you have disappointed a guest.  Ignoring the complaints does not make them go away.  Addressing the complaint while the guest is in the restaurant will prevent it from spreading.  By showing how much you care about your guests you will earn a great deal of good will.  The key is to spot the complaint and act on it before it is too late.

Tips²: Tips For Improving Your Tips, the new book from the author of The Manager’s Office, teaches the skills of exceptional servers that will increase customer satisfaction and dramatically improve restaurant sales.  This book is more than a server training manual.  It is the secret to teaching your staff to enjoy selling and give your guests the experience that will create raving fans.  To learn more about the book, visit  Use the coupon code “MANAGER” to save 20% at the checkout.

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About David Hayden

David Hayden is a restaurant marketing and training consultant based in Kansas City, MO. He writes a series of 9 blogs collectively known as The Hospitality Formula Network and is the author of "Tips2: Tips For Improving Your Tips" and "Building Your Brand With Facebook"

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