It’s an unfortunate but inevitable moment: when a disgruntled restaurant guest expresses their dissatisfaction. It’s rarely done with grace, and it’s often misdirected at the wait staff. As a customer service and hospitality business, a restaurant often must default to “the customer is always right” tactic, smoothing over the mistake and making amends or compensating for the issue.
Celebrity James Corden was in the news recently for screaming at the famous Balthazar’s waitstaff—proving established, fine-dining restaurants are not exempt from this experience. Corden later explained that he was experiencing anxiety over his wife’s food allergy, which the restaurant allegedly mishandled, which calls into question the issues of fault and communication. In customer service, if the restaurant becomes responsible for the situation, however inappropriate the reaction may be, how can restaurant owner-operators and their teams be best equipped for handling these incidences?
Mark Moller, founder and president of restaurant consultants The Recipe of Success has an interesting take on this particular situation, which he wrote about in Nation’s Restaurant News (NRN). He suggests that the broader “good will” that emerged toward restaurants during the pandemic is declining and even somewhat forgotten, and that restaurants need to pivot, preparing to deal with higher guest expectations in 2023. Moller says that the best way to avoid uncomfortable guest encounters is to manage everyone’s expectations from the start, that way all parties are on the same page and any potential problems can be more easily diffused.
In his NRN blog post, Moller creates an eight-point approach to expectations management, including being up-front about short staffing, keeping management in the loop, paying special attention to kids’ needs or dietary restrictions, and maintaining calm communication. Beyond this preemptive approach, Moller also reminds restaurant owner-operators that not everyone can be pleased and that managers do have a responsibility to their team’s health and safety.
When it comes to food allergies, which can be incredibly dangerous with fast consequences, situations are likely to get emotional. It is important to take every precaution to prevent such circumstances, and should they arise, restaurants must handle the issue with humility. Richard Weil, principal and owner of National Restaurant Consultants recently experienced an allergic reaction in a five-star restaurant. “Communication and follow-up with front-of-house and back-of-house staff is the control point for making sure dietary and allergy concerns remain as a very high priority. It can happen anywhere.”
The best means for avoiding a highly-charged situation with a disgruntled guest is simply to have a plan in place, one that has been effectively communicated to all team members. Our restaurant consultants have decades of experience in the industry, and have developed expertise in customer service and public relations. Contact a restaurant consultant to help you prepare effective communications plans.