The average American dines out 5.9 times every week and spends $36.40 per meal, according to a 2018 report from Zagat. That’s over $200 a week spent on restaurant food and over $800 billion in annual restaurant sales.
With so much money and time spent dining outside of the home, it’s unsurprising that restaurants receive a huge amount of customer feedback. From formal reviews by critics to sites like Yelp and Tripadvisor, diners have access to dozens of channels to let customers know how they really feel -- and they usually do. While five-star reviews are the goal for most restaurants, complaints and negative feedback is often more useful for restaurants, allowing management to target shortcomings and improve more quickly in the long run.
The following are five of the most common customer complaints in food service:
1. Poor Service
One of the major differences between eating at home and dining out is the element of service, and when this service fails to meet expectations, it can lead to massive disappointment. When waitstaff is slow, inattentive, disorganized, or outright rude, it negatively affects the dining experience and can turn an otherwise pleasant meal into a complaint-worthy affair.
2. Food Quality
Even more important than a restaurant’s service, of course, is the quality of its food. Food quality can make or break a restaurant and for good reason: it’s the main reason why guests step through the door. If the food is mediocre (say the bread is stale or the chicken unseasoned), or worse, unsafe and a risk for food poisoning, word spreads fast via social media and restaurants can quickly shutter.
Granted, taste can certainly be subjective, and not every complaint will warrant dramatic changes to a restaurant’s menu. However, keeping an ear open to feedback can help to curb issues of quality and save an establishment from early death.
3. Facilities Cleanliness
Waiter, there’s a fly in my soup!
Flies in the soup, rats in the kitchen, sticky tables and dirty bathrooms. Even broken faucets and leaky ceilings. Facilities issues like these can deter diners from even sitting down to order. A dirty, unkempt restaurant doesn’t just elicit disgust; it also shows diners that management doesn’t care enough to keep things clean and in working order. That can give off an awful first impression.
4. Environment / Ambiance
A lot goes into planning a successful restaurant: everything from the design of the chairs to the distance between tables plays an important role in customer comfort. When a restaurant fails to provide a comfortable environment for its diners -- maybe the music is too loud, the lights are too low, or the tables are wobbling -- it can turn a positive experience negative very quickly. Complaints can help restaurant owners adjust these important details to maximize comfort for those dining in.
5. High Prices
Eating out at a restaurant is a financial investment, and diners want to make sure they’re getting a good return on that investment. An expensive meal ought to look and taste worthy of its cost -- if the food does not deliver on what the menu promised, customers will be disappointed and reluctant to return. Restaurateurs should review comments to see if the restaurant experience measures up to the cost of dining there, and make adjustments if it does not.
Managing Customer Complaints
No matter how impeccable a restaurant may be, it will inevitably attract some complaints -- that’s the nature of running a customer-facing business. But how restaurant staff receives and responds to these complaints can make all the difference for the future of the establishment. Following up quickly, communicating with unhappy customers, and using feedback to make long-term improvements is key.
Using complaint management software, restaurants can easily keep track of customer correspondence and notify staff to respond when a complaint comes in. Software like Issuetrak allows employees to set up workflows, assign tasks, and add notes and attachments to each issue, streamlining the complaint resolution process and recording information every step of the way. Reporting tools allow owners, managers, and other staff to visualize data and see trends to help further pinpoint and resolve weaknesses.
Restaurant complaints happen, but with a good complaint management software solution in place, they can be used for constructive change rather than resulting in disaster.