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The Most Common Restaurant Guest Complaints (And How to Fix Them)

Posted on February 01 2019








Ask guests to dish on the things that most annoy them in restaurant dining and get ready for a long list. In the digital age, when a bad experience goes live in the time it takes to slurp an oyster, restaurateurs have to stay sharp. From the smallest displeasure to downright fury, what one customer thinks is outrageous another will deem perfectly reasonable. Every meal is a mini-election in which eaters vote for their favorite places with their dollars, making every gripe and compliment matter equally when diners express them.

To assume today’s diners’ standards are impossible to meet is a mistake—this dining expert’s pet peeves are among the most common and simple to fix, yet they can make a big difference between comfort and distracting from the meal.

Temperature: One study suggests that a temperature range of 69-72 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal for comfort in dining. You may find that you need to adjust according to your client preference. In summertime, I absolutely hate walking into a restaurant that is 55 degrees and freezing.

Lighting: Restaurant owners and chefs often get wrong: lighting. This is the design secret behind the most romantic restaurants and the chic answer to contemporary spaces, the variable that sets the mood and backdrop for the entire dining encounter. In most cases, to fix this problem, restaurant owners don’t have to make major lighting changes. Every light switch should have a dimmer, a soft light source and be accompanied by warm candlelight.

Sound: But at the top of my list of pet peeves is another sensory faux paux, sound problems. There is nothing more unpleasant than a restaurant with bad acoustics and music that is so loud you can’t have a great conversation.

Neglecting the Solo Diners: Travel Blogger Suzanne Wolko’s dining pet peeve relates to solo dining around the world. She writes about her travels and highlights her solo dining experiences on PhilaTravelGirl. After a decade working in restaurants as a server, she is surprised by how some restaurants embrace solo diners at individual tables, communal tables and through chatty staff, while others stumble with requests from single diners or deny their needs altogether.

Dealing with Obnoxious Guests: Sometimes a diner’s pet peeve isn’t with the restaurant at all, but with other guests. When we go out to eat, one of my pet peeves is when people are rude to the servers and that goes for whether the meal was right or not—there is no need for rudeness, another is when kids are running around, being loud, doing inappropriate things and the parents are either doing nothing or trying to beg and reason with them. This might include stomping up and down the aisles, talking loudly, shrieking and other such lack of manners.

In this case, majority rules. When one table is disrupting many, communicating with the unruly gang is essential—if they walk out, the restaurant loses one table’s revenue. But when multiple customers leave due to an unsuitable dining environment, the loss is much greater.

Being Defensive: Excuses are never acceptable when the restaurant is at fault and in most instances, even when it isn’t. Customer service is the opposite of arguing. And when a diner has a problem, the only response should be a promise to solve it.

How to Fix Common Restaurant Complaints

No one can please everyone, but small things can make a big difference in gratuity and repeat business. Indulge guests who are rooting for your business with their dollars. Here is a list of a few pet peeves to guard against and simple ways to correct them.

Ketchup reigns supreme at the top of condiment pet peeves. Ditch the packets and use bottles, but be sure to clean them regularly. Diners take note of dirty condiment containers.

Enough with the automatic refills. Refilling coffee and tea before asking is consistently ranked as annoying by diners. The art of custom flavoring tea and coffee is a time-honored diner preference. Asking before topping off is a cost-saver, so save the extra beverage for the guest who wants more.

Hold the fruit. Unless a guest asks for lemon or lime, leave it in the kitchen. Citrus goes to waste every day in restaurants, unsightly languishing on bread plates and tablecloths.

Diners are fed up with chefs disguising tiny food items as tapas on the menu. The formal definition of tapas is “small Spanish savory dishes, typically served with drinks at a bar.” Unless this applies to your restaurant, be honest with your guests as to what they can expect when the plate arrives at the table, rather than slap a pretentious name on a plate of cubed cheese and call it tapas.

Poor wine education leads to lost revenue and bad customer experience. Restaurateurs pour millions of dollars down the drain because bar or wait staff fail to properly preserve wine bottles the night before. Ask your wine representative to conduct a training session.

Make your servers menu mavens. Nothing says, “My chef doesn’t care about you,” like a server who can’t recite current dishes with enthusiasm. Every server should be able to describe the menu when asked. Hold a contest for best menu describers and watch how fast your servers master this task.

Move it! Diners report seeing their food sitting in the window for more than a few seconds as one of the biggest reasons for sending back their dish. It’s not even the temperature or consistency that ticks them off, but rather the lack of attentiveness. Have at least one dedicated food runner and don’t leave that plate in the window.


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