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“How was everything?”

I don’t know about you, but I’m getting tired of offering honest feedback and the restaurant staff not knowing how to handle it. I’m not looking for a free meal. I just want to give owners constructive feedback, without the embarrassment of a less than stellar online review.

I remember going out with my college boyfriend and his parents for dinner, right at the time I started my first restaurant job at Café Nola on South Street. They loved going to all the chains around the Oxford Valley Mall, despite his mother complaining about each and every meal. It was mortifying. She ate everything on her plate and then complained to the manager and got something comped. I’m surprised these restaurants didn’t have a photo of her at the host stand, banned for eternity. This is what a lot of folks think of when they hear a complaint—the guest from hell. But this is NOT every guest who complains.

Most restaurant patrons won’t say anything when they’re unhappy with their meal or drink. They don’t like confrontation, don’t think it will be handled properly, or they feel like they’re being rude or overly critical. They just won’t come back. So, when a guest is brave enough to offer constructive feedback, you need a mechanism with which to handle it. Why take your chances on an online review? Be proactive. Get the feedback now when you have an opportunity to fix a problem if there is one.

Your servers and bartenders should be following documented Steps of Service, which includes checking in once the guest has had a chance to taste what they’ve ordered. You want to get this feedback quickly so that you have time to correct something before the guest becomes disgruntled. Sure, some people might grin and bear it and write a negative review later. (You should have a system in place for that too.) But if you’re lucky, your guests will tell you the truth. This is an opportunity. A big one. It means quality control broke down somewhere. Now that you know about it, you can fix it—before your reputation is damaged. Take it seriously and train your staff on what to do.

If you get the feedback quickly enough, you have the opportunity to offer the guest something else, or offer to remake it if it wasn’t done to their liking (as in temperature). Just comping a dish or a meal won’t necessarily make them happy—they’re still hungry! You can certainly send out something else, compliments of the chef, while their meal is being remade, or offer a round of drinks to fill the time. But if you get feedback at the end of the meal that the experience wasn’t a 9 or 10 out of 10, now what?

My husband and I recently went to a new Italian restaurant about a 10-minute walk from home on a Friday evening. I ordered the salmon entree, and he got the pasta special (not so special), which was pappardelle with braised short rib. My dish was good, not great. His was poor. It was a pile of bland mush, priced at $42. He’s not the type to complain, but I am the type to give honest feedback, which I did. (I want a good restaurant I can walk to in ten minutes.) The bartender’s response? “Try something else next time.” NEXT TIME, YOU SAY? I just overpaid for bland mushy pasta, no one could answer any questions on the menu, and the bar stools were so close together I was touching my neighbor’s elbow. My comment was an opportunity for a next time, and quite honestly, she blew it. How many other bland pasta dishes did they serve that weekend? How long can a restaurant (or any business for that matter) possibly last without that valuable customer feedback loop?

The first problem is that no one checked in once we got our food. The second problem is that when she did ask “how was everything,” she didn’t know what to do with the information. When your staff hears that feedback, it should make them jump with joy. This is their opportunity to shine! An opportunity to go above and beyond, to get a mention in a Google review for how well they handled a situation, to forge a relationship with an outspoken local who will tell their friends and neighbors how great the service is. Don’t miss out on this incredible opportunity. Having a customer feedback mechanism in place is critical to your business. And negative feedback is a gift.


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