Turn That Complaint into Future Bar & Restaurant Business

 In Bar & Restaurant Operations, Customer Service

No doubt you’ve come across information someplace on the Interwebs that talks about customer complaints in terms of being an opportunity. To be sure, it is good advice. Ignoring or (in the case of social media) deleting a customer’s complaints – regardless of its validity – is a huge mistake in any business, especially for a bar or restaurant…

Demonstrating patience with the squeaky wheel serves two purposes.

First, it has the potential to turn an angry (and potentially former) customer into a regular customer. The kind of person who is emotional over issues related to customer service just might be the most appreciative when his or her complaint is handled properly.

Additionally, when you are handling such issues, you are usually doing so in a public forum. Your manager is on stage, with an audience full of potential repeat customers. As others in the restaurant watch the interaction with an unhappy patron, they will no doubt be taking mental notes. If they are blown away by your patience, they may be more inclined to return themselves. Even better, they could relay what they witnessed to friends. “I was at Pete’s Tavern the other day…”

So how do you go about executing an effective strategy when it comes to talking an unhappy customer off the ledge? How best to sooth the savage beast of cold soup or warm beer? As with many things, the best answer is one easily remembered. In this case, the word of the day is L.A.S.T.


Though the L-word sounds about as de rigueur as possible, you’d be surprised how many people mangle this part of the process. Make a point to give your disgruntled customer your full and undivided attention as you ascertain the reason smoke is pouring from their ears. Knowing exactly what is bothering them is critical to the rest of this interaction moving smoothly to positive conclusion.


Even if you actually didn’t do anything wrong, you should still be expressing your concern that one of your customers is upset. A genuine apology goes a long way here. Try to avoid making excuses, as most customers don’t care about which part of the sausage making broke down.


Beginning with the first person to field the complaint, a determined effort should be made to find the best person in the business to correct the problem. In most cases that means a server or bartender finding a manager. The situation should be clearly explained and the best course of action determined.  There should also be a simple, repeatable process in place to surface appropriate issues with the owners or corporate management, where applicable.


Thanking the customer both for their patience and for bringing to your attention a faulty component of your operation goes along way towards solidifying the relationship. If you’ve made the customer happy, this is the follow-up that should help pave the way for them returning again.

The great irony of customer service complaints is that, when handled in the right way, they can turn lemons into lemonade and develop a long-term relationship. There will always be customers who never recover from an issue with their service. For the rest, however, a solid approach to damage control can be an worthwhile investment in your future.

Leave a Comment

Start typing and press Enter to search