Turning a Negative into a Positive: Strategies for Handling Criticism and Complaints in the Restaurant

by Aprons & Smocks

recent article in the New York Times highlighted the idea that people remember negative experiences far more clearly than positive experiences, and these negative experiences have a much more lasting effect on people than do positive experiences. While the article in question discussed the implications of this phenomenon for corporate America, it also has implications for those in the restaurant industry, both in regard to employees as well as to customers.


It’s inevitable that you will, at some point in time, have to have a negative conversation with an employee. Whether it’s a case of a server who makes mistakes when taking orders or a cook who is over seasoning the food or a hostess who is incorrectly estimating wait times, unpleasant conversations have to be had, but it is possible to mitigate people’s natural response to criticism.

There’s a simple method that should be followed when it is necessary to criticize an employee’s behavior:

  • Start off with the criticism. While many of us prefer  to lead into the criticism with some positives, the reality is that employees will pay more attention to the criticism and any information that follows it than they will to the information presented beforehand.
  • Don’t pile on the criticism. Any criticism can be a huge blow to an employee’s morale, so it’s important to only offer one piece of criticism at a time.
  • Offer positive feedback after you have presented the criticism. If you want your employee’s morale to stay high, don’t end on a low note. Tell the employee what he or she is doing well, as you want the employee to continue those behaviors. The employee is more likely to remember this praise, so the entire negative experience can have a positive outcome.


Ultimately, the bottom line of your restaurant depends upon your employees providing great customer service, and that’s not possible when their morale is constantly dropping because of improperly handled criticism.


What are the implications of this article for customers? Obviously, you’re not going to criticize them, but you may have to deal with a negative experience that they’re having in your restaurant.

According to the RightNow 2011 Customer Experience Impact Report,

  • 26% of customers will post a comment on their Facebook or Twitter page after a negative experience.
  • 89% of customers will do business with one of your competitors after they have a negative experience with you.

However, the negative experience does not have to lead to a loss of business. Customers respond positively to businesses that address their concerns, and 22% of customers will post a positive comment in these instances.

That means that if you want to retain your customers, you must deal with their problems immediately. Follow the method below to deal with any customer complaints or problems:

  • Listen to the customer. What is the problem? What do they want you to do to fix that problem? Don’t assume you know the answer.
  • Fix the problem. There will be some circumstances where you can’t give the customer exactly what he or she wants, but most of the time, fixes are fairly easy. It also never hurts to go above and beyond the necessary; after all, you want that customer to tell his or her friends how great the experience was at your restaurant, not that you did the bare minimum to resolve a problem.
  • Be gracious. Apologize for the problem, and thank the customer for his or her business. Check back with the customer to verify that the problem has been resolved.

While all of this might sound like common sense, you are subject to the same reactions to criticism as everyone else. Having a plan in place for the almost inevitable complaints will minimize the potential loss of customers that can occur in these situations and will allow you to keep your own feelings out of the picture. After all, you want your customers to walk out of your restaurant and tell their friends about the great experience they had, not about how the entire experience was a disaster.

Views: 80

Tags: complaints, managing, restaurants


You need to be a member of FohBoh to add comments!

Join FohBoh




Social Wine Club for Craft Wineries


Eateries turn to rationing as lime prices soar

Unrest caused by Mexico's drug cartels, along with floods in Mexico and a drought in California, are taking a toll on this ye -More

25% Usage Reduction, Guaranteed!
Reduce waste and cut cost. Impress your customers and express your brand. Every single Tork Xpressnap napkin dispenser performs double-duty for your business. Find out more about our 25% usage reduction guarantee or get a free trial.

Burger King to upgrade wireless with Whopper Wi-Fi

Burger King has teamed with AT&T to replace existing in-store wireless Internet with an upgraded system dubbed Whopper Wi-Fi  -More

Late-night indulgence pays off for Jack in the Box

Jack in the Box saw its profits rise sharply in the first quarter, a few months after introducing its $6 Munchie Meal menu of -More


Posting a job or finding a job starts here at FohBoh. Call us about special $25 posting packages to syndicate across all major jobs boards.

National News

Wahlburgers Announces Expansion Plans Including Franchise Agreement in Philadelphia

Wahlburgers has signed a franchise agreement with Hingham Associates, LLC that will bring five Wahlburgers to the metropolitan Philadelphia area over the next several years. The franchise group is actively looking at sites and is targeting a late 2014-early 2015 opening for its first restaurant.

Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc. First Quarter 2014 Revenue Up 24.4%

Comparable restaurant sales increased 13.4% - Restaurant level operating margin was 25.9%, a decrease of 40 basis points

Jamba Juice Announces Grand Opening of New St. Louis, MO Location

Jamba Juice Company announced the brand’s continued expansion in the St. Louis market with the opening of a Jamba Juice® store at 11477 Olive Blvd. on April 16, 2014.

Expert in Real Estate Analytics Joins Luna Grill

Luna Grill, the San Diego-based Mediterranean restaurant chain, is welcoming retail real estate industry veteran Greg Thorburn to its leadership team. Thorburn has been brought on board to fill the newly created position of Vice-President of Real Estate.

Rita's Italian Ice Awards Area Development Agreement for Kansas

Rita's Italian Ice has awarded franchise and area development agreements for Kansas and the Kansas City area, which extends to the Missouri side of the city, to franchisees and local residents Jay Miller, Jeff Miller and Pat Reilly.


If you are looking for capital to start or grow your restaurant, create the next 501c3, develop and launch the next app for the restaurant industry,or want to help your peers in some meaningful way, we want to know about it.


TED: Jeremy Kasdin: The flower-shaped starshade that might help us detect Earth-like planets - Jeremy Kasdin (2014)

Astronomers believe that every star in the galaxy has a planet, one fifth of which might harbor life. Only we haven't seen any of them -- yet. Jeremy Kasdin and his team are looking to change that with the design and engineering of an extraordinary piece of equipment: a flower petal-shaped "starshade" that allows a telescope to photograph planets from 50,000 kilometers away. It is, he says, the "coolest possible science."

TED: Norman Spack: How I help transgender teens become who they want to be - Norman Spack (2013)

Puberty is an awkward time for just about everybody, but for transgender teens it can be a nightmare, as they grow overnight into bodies they aren't comfortable with. In a heartfelt talk, endocrinologist Norman Spack tells a personal story of how he became one of the few doctors in the US to treat minors with hormone replacement therapy. By staving off the effects of puberty, Spack gives trans teens the time they need. (Filmed at TEDxBeaconStreet.)

TED: Jennifer Senior: For parents, happiness is a very high bar - Jennifer Senior (2014)

The parenting section of the bookstore is overwhelming—it's "a giant, candy-colored monument to our collective panic," as writer Jennifer Senior puts it. Why is parenthood filled with so much anxiety? Because the goal of modern, middle-class parents—to raise happy children—is so elusive. In this honest talk, she offers some kinder and more achievable aims.

TED: David Brooks: Should you live for your résumé ... or your eulogy? - David Brooks (2014)

Within each of us are two selves, suggests David Brooks in this meditative short talk: the self who craves success, who builds a résumé, and the self who seeks connection, community, love -- the values that make for a great eulogy. (Joseph Soloveitchik has called these selves "Adam I" and "Adam II.") Brooks asks: Can we balance these two selves?

© 2014   Created by FohBoh.

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service