3 Tips to Improve your F&B Customer Service Recovery

Last Updated: July 25, 2014
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Chief Food Hunter. Seth doesn't promise good reviews, only honest ones. Occasionally gets angry emails from restaurant owners for not giving a stellar writeup. Instagram: @sethluicious


customer service recovery F&B

Have you ever had a bad restaurant experience? How did the staff or managers react?

While I was researching for one of my food guides, I went all the way to the northern end of Singapore to try out a western grill restaurant. The place was packed, but the busy staff were still chirpy and told us to wait a moment while they prepared a table.

Eventually we were seated, and seeing such a slammed night, I also prepared for our ordered meal to arrive a tad slower. It took about 30 minutes for the food to arrive, which was expected, but something else happened- my buffalo chicken wings didn’t make it to the table.

To their credit, the staff did inform me that the fried stuff would take longer, so I didn’t enquire further, assuming the fried wings would come later. After we finished all our main courses, and the wings still did not arrive, I was starting to get vexed. So I approached one of the staff to check on the wings. He nodded and went off. 10 minutes pass, no reply, no wings.

I decided to approach the more senior looking manager instead, and asked about our wings again. He nodded, said he would check and promptly left. Another 10 minutes pass without us knowing the fate of our wings, which is when I decided to just get the check.

When I asked for the bill, only then did the manager inform me the wings I ordered 1 hr 5 minutes ago, was being fried and will be out very soon. I said it was ok and I just wanted the bill. But he insisted that the wings were being fried already and suggested I pack them away instead. Sure, that’s what I did, but the restaurant lost me as a repeat customer just because the staff insisted I pay for their $12 buffalo wings (food cost probably around $4), which the kitchen obviously forgot about. Was it worth it?

Oh, he did throw in an apology after we paid and packed the wings. But the blood in my head probably didn’t let me hear very well by then.

Here’s what the manager and staff could have done better:

1. Acknowledge and reply

If a guest asks about a missing dish or any other requirement like even a glass of water, staff should acknowledge the request, then come back with an answer. Are you still catching the chicken? Did you run out of water? Did the chef go on strike? We ask because we want an answer to what’s happening.

Yes, sometimes it gets really busy and there are a million things to do, but you can’t leave a customer’s request just hanging like that. People want to be heard, and being ignored is a sure-fire way to lose customers in the long term.

Always get back to the customer even after you’ve checked with the kitchen. We want to know something is being done.

2. Be honest

If a restaurant makes a mistake, own up. Be genuine and be candid to your guest. In the scenario I experienced, the kitchen obviously misplaced the order and forgot all about my wings. But instead of owning up, they decided to pretend everything was hunky dory and still push out the wings instead.

Diners aren’t simpletons. If a dish doesn’t come together with all the other main dishes (with fine-dining as an exception), we know something went wrong. Trying to cover it up just makes it worst.

What the manger could have done is just admit they forgot about our order, apologize, and asked if I still wanted it. Honesty is the best policy.

3. Make up for your mistake; build a long-term relationship

When a restaurant makes a mistake most often accidentally, some customers will be nonchalant about it, while others will get piping mad. A verbal apology is expected, but why not go the extra mile and retain the customer by making up for it? If played right, even a short-tempered guest can be tamed.

There are limitless ways a restaurant can make their apology more sincere: a discount off the bill, a free dessert, waiving off certain dishes- the possibilities of appeasing the customer is limitless. And the cost to the restaurant is minimal, compared to the profits of long term customer loyalty they can get in return.

In my dining situation, if the manager had at least waived off my ‘lost and found’ chicken wings, I would have felt a lot less frustrated. Better yet, if they offered a small discount off the bill for making me wait, they would have still kept me as a customer because they made up for their mistake and I appreciate it.

It is most probably inexperience that make restaurants unable to deal with customer service recovery appropriately, and I hope this article provides some learning points for anyone in the service line.

If you are able to turn that customer frown into a smile, you’re going to retain a lot more customers, make a lasting impression and make a lot more profit. Don’t just think about the short term costs of compensating for a mistake, which is very marginal if you manage to convert a long term customer in the end. Spend that couple dollars for hundreds to thousands in return.

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