How to identify and satisfy unhappy customers


Here are our top five tips to spotting unhappy customers, and turning their experience around.

If they are leaving early, always ask why

Short of a customer directly communicating with yourself or your team how unhappy they were with the food or service, it's usually pretty easy to spot a dissatisfied customer. One giveaway is leaving early. If they booked for dinner, but leave after starters, don't be afraid to ask if everything was OK.

This gives them a safe space to pass on any comments or reasons for leaving - maybe the music was too loud, the meals are too expensive, or the staff are not attentive enough. You don't have to agree, but it's important to know why so you can spot any patterns.

Make sure your staff always check in after every course

The majority of complaints from unhappy customers will come down to the service they receive. Sure, poor quality food or incorrect order can be fairly disastrous, but handled by the right staff member? It's able to be rectified with a swift replacement and apology.

Checking in after every course is a must from your staff. This gives your customer every opportunity to discuss their meal, and feel as though they have sufficient attention from the wait staff. There’s nothing worse than dreading your next course and having nobody to speak with about your complaint.

If you're a casual venue, try popping over to the table at least once during the course of the meal to check in. Most happy customers will wave you on, but if not, make sure you listen to what they have to say. You would rather be too attentive than not attentive enough.

You cannot have a hot head

There's no doubt about it - some customers can be very difficult, and make you want to tear your hair out! But you cannot, under any circumstances, lose your temper. Your reputation as a business owner and a venue rely upon keeping cool, calm, and collected.

Don’t allow yourself to be provoked by personal attacks or outlandish statements, and be sure not to return them yourself! Here are some calming phrases you can use when dealing with an abusive or angry customer:

  • How can I help?
  • What is the best way we can fix this problem?
  • Thank you so much for letting us know about this.
  • I’m so sorry to hear about this.
  • I completely understand how you feel.
  • Thank you so much for your patience and understanding.
  • I will action this for you right away.

Never raise your voice and never throw out insults. Your job is to take on their criticism - as hard as it can be! - and make the call about how it can be fixed.

Right or wrong, they need to leave happy

As they say, the customer is always right. Regardless of whether you find their complaint to be correct or incorrect, it’s in your best interests to ensure that they leave happy. For this reason, any discussion that you share needs to be solutions-focused - how can you help? What will make them happen?

Working within reason, try and figure out what is at the core of their issue, and work from there. Was it the staff, the food, or the venue that caused them distress? Do they want their food replaced, or do they just want to leave? The key here is to ensure that you listen carefully to what they have to say, without rushing in.

Take their details, and give them yours

In the age of social media, you want to be very careful about any dealings you have with an unhappy customer. Lose your cool, and you’ll suddenly find yourself the subject of a viral YouTube video...go too softly, and you’ll have a line out the door of other people wanting a free meal.

Do things the old fashioned way, and exchange details. Tell them you’ll get to them within 24 hours to resolve the problem, and give them time to cool down. This also gives you space to figure out the best way to handle the issue - if it’s serious, you can even put in place a media plan.

TIP: Turn notifications on for your social media reviews so you’ll be able to respond to them quickly.

Being attentive and staying calm are the best ways to deal with unhappy customers.

Whilst they might present as angry or unreasonable, at the end of the day they are probably just disappointed.

So, offering a solution will always be appreciated, even if it’s not accepted.