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How to Resolve Customer Disputes in Restaurants | Superorder

Written by
March 27, 2024

Beyond Refunds: Exploring Alternative Resolutions for Customer Disputes in Restaurants

Receiving customer complaints is never a fun experience for restaurateurs, but they're a fact of life in this industry. Delivering a knockout customer experience is always a top priority, but the fast-paced nature of running a restaurant leaves much room for error. You can't please everyone, and mistakes happen. While you should always work hard to minimize issues and deliver positive customer experiences time and time again, it's also important for restaurants to know how to respond to concerns as they come.

Customer complaints happen, but what's most important is how you respond to them. Refunds are the go-to when dealing with angry customers, but they are not your only option.

There are many ways to resolve disputes and deliver great customer service. How you resolve issues can make or break the success of your business, and great service recovery will safeguard your reputation. In many cases, a happy resolution will transform the customer experience, turning upset customers into patrons willing to give your business another shot.

In this guide, we'll explore alternative conflict resolution strategies beyond standard refunds, empowering you, your sales team and your staff to create positive customer outcomes.

Understanding Common Customer Complaints

Let's start with why customers complain in the first place. In the restaurant industry, customer complaints can arise for many different reasons, but they all boil down to one thing:

Your restaurant didn't deliver on the expectations your customer had.

The issue could stem from poor customer service, lackluster food quality, dishes that didn't meet a customer's standards, problems with your restaurant's ambiance, order errors, etc. Many patrons will also complain about slow service or the general uncleanliness of the place. No matter the reason, it revolves around the fact that your restaurant didn't meet a customer's needs and expectations.

That's important to remember because customers have different expectations from different restaurants. For example, people are much more willing to let mistakes slide in fast-food restaurants than in fine-dining establishments. In quick eateries, missed food items and inferior dish preparation aren't the end of the world, and many customers will request a fix without so much as a complaint.

But in a fine-dining restaurant with a killer reputation, even minor issues can result in angry customers! That's because they have higher expectations from your business.

While complaints can be disheartening, use them as an opportunity to learn and grow. Complaints are a form of customer feedback, and those insights can help you spot trends and recurring issues. First-call resolution is important, and you should resolve problems as soon as they arise. But what you learn can help your business improve across the board and avoid future mishaps.

Tailor Resolutions Based on Individual Customer Preferences

Before we get into service recovery and conflict resolution strategies, let's discuss the importance of tailoring your fixes toward what people want.

You'll encounter many common complaints, and you can easily categorize issues into shared pain points in the customer experience. But every concern you address is unique. Your customers all have unique experiences, and it's important to validate them all and take a personalized approach to each person.

Refunds and the alternative resolutions we'll review work great for most customers. But not everyone will want the same thing. Some customers are fine with a personalized apology and refund. Others require more to change their perspective of a negative experience. Frustrated customers may want a different solution than the one you provide. Failing to provide a personalized touch can lead to transaction disputes, bad reviews and a tarnished reputation.

Always tailor resolutions to the preferences of individuals. There's no one-size-fits-all approach, and your goal should be to meet the needs of every person. While you can certainly offer standard resolutions and adopt protocols to address upset customers, the best way to impress your patrons is to go above and beyond with a tailored resolution.

Taking that personal approach shows that your restaurant business truly cares about its customers and effective service recovery. That extra dollop of sweetness can convince upset customers that your business isn't a lost cause. Tailored solutions often encourage angry customers to forgive and forget, helping you keep them as part of your customer base.

1. Personalized Apology and Gesture

One of the best ways to resolve conflicts is to provide a personalized apology. "Personalized" is the keyword here. Far too many restaurants take a formulaic approach to addressing customer complaints. While they might come from a place of true concern, they can come off as inauthentic.

Those approaches can make your customer feel like you're going through the motions to make the issue disappear rather than wanting to improve the customer experience.

Your attempts to de-escalate and resolve the situation need to be genuine, and the best way to do that is to offer a personalized apology.

Listen to your customer's complaints and empathize with their concerns. Don't just let their words go in one ear and out the other. Truly listen! You must listen to understand what's going on. Whether it's a string of mishaps or one major flub, you need to listen to get to the bottom of the issue and fix it.

Empathize and provide a true apology. Put yourself in the shoes of your guest and consider how you'd react in a similar situation. You should apologize for yourself, your team members and your business. Make sure to show that you understand the problem and are remorseful for the negative experience. You can do that through your facial expression and body language.

In addition to offering an apology, offer a kind gesture. It doesn't have to be big, but it should smooth things over. As mentioned earlier, tailoring the gesture to the individual is wise. You can ask them what you can do to make things right.

The most common gestures include free dishes, such as a dessert or appetizer. Many customers are also good with modest discounts on their next visit.

The great thing about offering a gesture like a free item or discount is that it encourages a customer to return. Not only are you providing great customer service and making things right, but you're giving that upset customer a reason to return. It's a chance to do things right, and that can make all the difference.

2. Complimentary Experiences

Complimentary experiences are another way to resolve customer complaints. Many fine-dining establishments follow this approach as part of their best practices. Of course, there are limits to what your staff can provide, and they may need to clear things with a general manager before proceeding. But a gesture like that can help you save your restaurant's reputation.

A complimentary experience can include free meals on the house. That's the most basic way to resolve complaints. However, you can also go above and beyond. For example, your restaurant can offer special dishes or exclusive service experiences. The goal is to improve customer satisfaction and show upset customers what your restaurant is capable of.

As always, tailor the gesture to the individual. However, offering complimentary experiences is a fantastic way to flip a customer's opinion about your business. If this was a customer's first time dining at your restaurant, the sour experience can make them never return. You lose their patronage forever.

By extending an offer for something special, you have an opportunity to show the customer that a bad experience is not the norm. Your staff can go the extra mile to ensure they're satisfied and leave with nothing but great opinions about your restaurant.

3. Loyalty Programs and Incentives

Loyalty programs and rewards are more popular than ever in the restaurant industry. They're a fantastic way of encouraging your customers to keep coming back by offering fun incentives. All programs are different, and how you develop yours depends entirely on the type of experience you want to deliver.

Either way, offering a boost in rewards or points can resolve issues faster than you might think. This approach is effective with returning customers already part of your loyalty program.

Granting extra points or discounts your customers can use during their next visit can make a huge difference. Like the previous strategy, it encourages customers to return for a do-over. Your team will have another chance to correct their mistake and deliver a better customer experience. Meanwhile, your guest gets to save money or cash in a great reward that might have taken ages to reach.

One big perk of leveraging incentives and loyalty programs is that it doesn't cost your business much. You're not comping meals or providing a refund. Instead, you're offering savings and discounts for a future business.

It's a cost-effective alternative that can smooth things over and actively improve your reputation.

Encourage Open Communication Channels

Communication is critical in the restaurant business. Encouraging and employing clear communication channels can make things easier for your guests and staff.

When incidents occur, having a dedicated channel for complaints makes it easy for your customers to express their concerns. For example, you might offer live chat features with a customer service agent on your app. Or, you could include contact information guests can use to speak with a customer service representative via email, phone or text on receipts.

Make those channels easy to find. Easy access to a customer service rep can make all the difference.

But don't stop by providing channels to customer service representatives. It's also wise to improve communication within your team. Providing a quick and easy way for your back-of-house staff to communicate with front-of-house staff can dramatically reduce errors. Imagine how the number of incidents will drop when your cooks can easily ask for clarification from your waitstaff!

Staff Training for Conflict Resolution

Training is paramount for any customer-facing position. Conflict resolution shouldn't be left to general managers or leaders. Every person arming the cashier, waiting tables and interacting with customers should know how to de-escalate.

It seems easy enough, but customer complaints can drum up many emotions. Not everyone will agree with complaints, and some will take things personally. You must train your team how to handle these situations while remaining professional.

Adopt protocols for conflict resolution. Train your team on how to avoid mistakes from the jump and what to do when they occur. Work with your staff on how to communicate with guests, deliver a great apology and what they can do to make things right.

Leveraging Technology for Streamlined Dispute Resolution Processes

We live in a tech-focused world, so why not utilize it to improve every facet of your restaurant? While most business owners focus on how tech can improve operational efficiency, there are great platforms for dispute resolution, too.

Using software to manage complaints and disputes can streamline your entire approach. Great software can catch errors before they reach your customers. Some platforms will also aggregate customer feedback to help you discover pain points in the customer experience.

You can also leverage technology to make gestures that improve a customer's experience, such as adding points to a loyalty program or responding to negative online reviews.

Get Started With Superorder Today

Refunds are the standard way to address customer complaints in the restaurant industry. But sometimes, an apology is not enough. Furthermore, frequent refunds can hurt your bottom line. Luckily, there are many alternatives to explore.

Try our strategies and improve your approach to handling customer complaints. Providing personalized apologies with cost-effective gestures can de-escalate situations and enhance the customer experience. Guest satisfaction is your ultimate priority, so learning how to resolve complaints can make all the difference in preserving your reputation over the long haul.

When you're ready to elevate your restaurant and pave the road toward success in this industry, check out Superorder. With Superorder, you can access powerful tools that can help you understand and manage customer complaints. The all-in-one platform dramatically improves your restaurant's operation, putting every detail in one easy-to-use digital space.

Use Superorder to help your business grow and reach a new level of success!

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