‘The customer is always right’ is a mantra that many businesses repeat to employees. But when something goes wrong in a restaurant, and table-side tensions are high, it can be difficult for waiting staff and managers to control the situation (or agree with that sentiment).

Ideally, you should aim to make sure that every diner leaves with a smile on their face and a full stomach.

But how can you deal with tricky customer encounters without causing a scene?

Offer a solution

First and foremost, it’s not enough to simply apologise for an error; you also need to do your best to fix it.

This might be straightforward enough, especially if the complaint relates to the way that the food has been prepared, for instance.

Just showing that you are doing something about the issue that has been raised will reassure the customer and make them feel valued.

Whatever you do, don’t make it seem as if their complaint is an inconvenience, and always be proactive with your response.

Stay calm & be polite

Sticky table-side situations can escalate quickly if you respond to a customer complaint with annoyance, anger or indifference. And if you’ve had a hectic shift, it can be tempting to be dismissive when there are a hundred other things flying about in your head.

Being calm, considerate and impeccably polite is the best antidote to any bristly customer behaviour. Kill them with kindness and you’ll soon deflate any unwanted indignation, rather than allowing it to boil over.

Say “thank you”

It may seem counter intuitive, but if a customer makes a complaint, it will actually help the situation settle down if you thank them for highlighting a problem.

This isn’t just about placating irate diners; a lot of the feedback they provide could be genuinely useful and help you improve your business.

Furthermore, it takes a lot of courage to speak up if something is wrong, which is why disgruntled customers who do give you a piece of their mind are especially valuable.

This should help you to contextualise a table-side encounter as a positive learning experience, even if it can be stressful at the time.

Provide perks

You’ll probably know this already, but nothing makes restaurant customers happier than getting a discount or a freebie.

In many cases it will not only make up for whatever issue occurred during the meal but will also give them a satisfying memory of visiting your establishment, and make them more likely to return, as a result.

Aside from offering to take the cost of the problem dish off the final bill, or including dessert free of charge, there are other perks you can offer which might have longer term benefits. For example, you could provide a discount on a return visit so that you can smooth things over with customers and establish a better relationship for the future.

Wrapping up

Every complaint made in a restaurant is unique, but these tips should set you on the right path and stop one-star reviews haunting your eatery.

Most importantly, you need to remember to prioritise your reaction to a complaint, rather than leave customers to stew after they have raised an issue.

Fix things fast, or face the consequences!