We’re all human.

We all make mistakes.

Sometimes, however, they’re huge mistakes.

In the restaurant industry, a mistake can be the difference between a guest who will return and spread word about how wonderful you are and one who departs in a rage that is subsequently expressed online… to the entire world.

Clearly, you don’t want that, so we thought we’d put together a mini guide for reconciling bad guest experiences.

You got yourself into this mess – so let’s work together to make it right!

Don’t talk; listen

As soon as this particular guest lodged their complaint, you knew you’d done something wrong. You may even have pre-empted it.

One of two things will happen here: you’ll either dive in and try and talk your way out of it, or listen.

Opt for the latter – always.

Let the diner get it all out. Don’t interrupt them or glance at your watch; make it clear that you want to hear them out. Believe it or not, this will start to build a layer of trust that will come in handy later.


When you’re equally as fired up as the guest and slightly on the defensive about a poor dining experience, empathising might be the last tactic on your list.

Regardless, you need to put yourself in the diner’s shoes. How would you feel if your dining experience had panned out like this?

You’d be cheesed off, too – so make it clear that you understand entirely where they’re coming from. Nod, maintain eye contact and if you’re sat at the table, kneel in and demonstrate that you want to get close to both the diner and their issue.

Ask plenty of questions

The diner should still be the one doing the lion’s share of the talking at this stage, and you can fuel their desire to get it all out by asking as many questions as possible.

Here’s the kind of questions you can ask an unhappy diner:

  • What’s the key reason for their anger (there’s always one overriding factor)?
  • What could you do to make the experience better for them next time?
  • Who was involved?
  • How have they been made to feel?

The answers you receive won’t be palatable, and will certainly require a strong stomach, but the mere fact you’re asking them will prove that you care and want to get it sorted.

Asking questions also shows that you want to take responsibility for the issue, and that will go an awfully long way to help you reach a satisfactory conclusion.

Compensate them

Ah… compensation. Yikes. No business owner wants to hear that.

Unfortunately, when you get something significantly wrong, compensation is usually the best way forward. It might be in the form of a percentage bill reduction, a bottle of champagne, offer of a free meal next time or the entire bill wiped off – but it needs to be fair.

Compensation comes in many forms, but in instances like this one, it’s far better than an apology and will nearly always result in a guest who won’t take the complaint any further.

And who knows… they may even turn into a regular!

Image credit