common restaurant complaints and solutions
by Laura-Andreea Voicu

Restaurant owners are no stranger to complaints. From the quality of the food to the prices and customer service, you will have to deal with many complaints and learn how to solve them to be successful. Below, I look at some of the most common restaurant complaints and solutions to address them like a pro.

How to Solve the 13 Most Common Restaurant Complaints

1. Subpar food and drink quality

The complaint:

Naturally, some of the most common problems faced by customers in a restaurant are related to the food. From the food being cold to a drink advertised as ice-cold being lukewarm, trouble ensues when customers don’t receive what they were promised.

The solution:

The way to solve most complaints related to food in a restaurant is to ensure that each member of your staff is doing their job. It’s enough for one person to ignore their responsibilities for the entire system to crumble.

Ask yourself, “Why did the food arrive cold to the customer?” Was it ready and sitting in the kitchen for the server to collect it? In that case, talk to the server and hold them accountable.

Perhaps the problem is that the thermometers or the appliances you’re using to heat the food aren’t working correctly. They might require a checkup.

It might also happen that guests complain about dishes tasting strange. Get to the bottom of the reason to find out whether there’s an issue with the meal or the person doesn’t like it for subjective reasons.

Sometimes, you will get picky customers who can’t be pleased by anything. If the complaint has a solid basis, offer to replace the meal for free or get some drinks on the house.

2. Poor customer service

The complaint:

A close second to food issues, customer service problems in restaurants are relatively common. The complaints can be that the server was rude, didn’t calculate the check correctly, or was unable to answer basic questions.

The solution:

The best way to solve a complaint about restaurant service is to talk to your staff and make sure they’re all properly trained to represent your business.

Your employees are the face of your restaurant, so it’s crucial that you spend time and effort training them and listening to their concerns. Happy employees make for a successful business.

If you believe you’ve done everything you could to train them and the issues persist, it’s clear they are not the right people for the job. You can’t afford to risk customer satisfaction for an employee who doesn’t want to learn.

You can resolve most complaints in a restaurant through proper training. That’s where the staff learns everything there is to know about the restaurant and their responsibilities. If the issue stems from rude behavior or a bad attitude, that may be something not even training can solve.

Look for warning signs of that in training so you can nip the issue in the bud and hopefully avoid any customer complaints related to staff rudeness.

If you’re looking to improve customer service for your restaurant, one good way to start is by getting a local phone number. Customers will appreciate being able to reach you directly, and it will make it easier for them to connect with you if they have any questions or concerns. Plus, having a local phone number will make your restaurant appear more professional and credible.

3. Order mix-up

The complaint:

Not getting what you’ve ordered is one of the most disappointing and frustrating customer problems in a restaurant. The same goes for the server forgetting to bring you something after you’ve requested it more than once.

The solution:

Mix-ups with orders is something that will occasionally happen in a restaurant. As long as it doesn’t become a regular occurrence, there’s nothing to worry about.

However, you have to learn how to avoid it in the future and calm down the customer to which it has happened.

If it happened because employees weren’t doing their job, this is a problem that proper training can solve. It might, however, also be because the staff is swamped.

In that case, make sure you aren’t understaffed and that the workload isn’t too much for your current employees to handle. Talk to them openly and ask whether they need help.

To calm down the disgruntled customer, offer to bring them what they initially ordered for free. Train your employees to keep a close eye on the tables to spot any signs that customers are getting impatient or angry. They might be able to avoid a scene if they learn proper prevention.

4. Lack of cleanliness and other safety concerns

The complaint:

Eating in a clean and sanitary environment is vital to customers when visiting restaurants. That is why a large majority of the most common restaurant complaints are related to the food utensils or the table not being clean, the bathrooms not being properly disinfected, and so on.

The solution:

Your restaurant needs to have a handbook that lists all the essential health and safety regulations like employees’ handwashing and hair rules. This will avoid incidents like food contamination.

Even though there are surfaces you know you have to clean daily or even multiple times a day, it’s easy to let less important things slip through the cracks. But customers notice these things.

If you have fake plants in your restaurant, dust them often. Don’t forget to clean the windows or the ceiling fans, although they may not be your priority.

Create a restaurant cleaning checklist with daily, weekly, and monthly items to keep track of all these minor things you need to clean. That way, you won’t ever forget anything, and your restaurant will look spotless.

COVID19 Health and Safety

The COVID19 pandemic has added new anxieties when it comes to health and safety. Make sure that you abide by all local regulations and that it’s safe for you to welcome guests to your restaurant. Additionally, have all staff members wear masks and clean and disinfect surfaces regularly.

5. Long wait time

The complaint:

When you’re hungry, the last thing you want to do is wait a long time for the food to arrive. Depending on the food they’ve ordered, customers expect a specific time frame for the order to be ready. The same goes for the time they’re willing to wait until being seated or getting a menu.

The solution:

First, train your servers to provide an estimated wait time for different dishes, so customers know what to expect. Of course, this also means the rest of the team should work like a well-oiled machine to make sure they respect that time.

Second, consider adding entertainment to your restaurant to make wait times more manageable, like a TV, live band, or free WiFi. That way, customers will have something to do while they wait.

If the order is unnaturally delayed for reasons like a busy restaurant or an employee who called in sick, apologize to the patrons and offer free drinks or a dessert on the house for their troubles.

6. Overpriced menu items

The complaint:

Most often than not, customers are willing to pay a more significant sum of money for a nice meal. But when the dish is pricey, and the quality isn’t what they expected, they will feel like they’ve been taken for a ride.

The solution:

Setting the prices at your restaurant is a tricky business. You have to do a lot of research and also check out the competition to see if there’s any way you can beat their prices without sacrificing quality.

There are many factors that you have to consider when pricing your menu items. Menu pricing should look at raw food costs, food cost percentages, and gross profit margins. For the customers, the entire dining experience matters, including food presentation.

Learn more: Restaurant Menu Pricing Strategies to Help Your Business Thrive

An excellent tip to lower food costs and implicitly menu prices is to use seasonal ingredients that you source locally.

Read more: The Benefits of a Seasonal Restaurant Menu & How to Implement One

7. Issues with seating and general atmosphere

The complaint:

Common restaurant complaints also include poor positioning of the tables, a crowded area, being seated near the kitchen service door, loud music, and other complaints related to the atmosphere.

The solution:

Design your restaurant trying to anticipate these complaints. You can maximize even the tiniest of spaces if you have a vision or hire a professional to do it for you.

Read more: 15 Restaurant Design Tips That Will Attract More Customers

When designing the seating area, consider the restaurant’s layout and don’t overcrowd it with tables and chairs. You also need space for customers and staff to move around without bumping into the furniture and each other.

Regulate the temperature in the restaurant using a climate control system and ensure proper ventilation for hot summer days. Also, keep the music down so customers can talk to each other.

Lighting is also an essential factor to consider. You want to create an ambiance that resonates with your target audience. If you’re targeting couples, you need softer, more romantic lighting. If you own a fast food, bright lights are better.

8. Absence of certain services or products

The complaint:

Let’s say a customer wants to pay with their credit card or pick up their food to eat at home. If you are unable to meet these expectations, some customers might complain. Missing ingredients for the meals or drinks they want to order is also a reason to complain.

The solution:

You can quickly solve the missing ingredients debacle by keeping a close eye on your inventory and restocking before ingredients get low. Consider using restaurant inventory management software to ensure you never run out of ingredients.

Even so, it might sometimes happen that you are out of an ingredient and you can’t prepare some of the dishes on your menu. In that case, to avoid complaints, you should temporarily hide them from the menu.

Since you can’t do that with a physical menu, I recommend switching to QR menus for dine-in. In the video below, you will find step-by-step instructions on creating a free QR code menu for restaurants.

With a QR code redirecting to your online menu, it’s easy to hide any dish you can no longer prepare for lack of ingredients.

Regarding complaints about the absence of certain services, consider branching out into online payments and order fulfillment options like home delivery and pickup.

Take Your First Online Order Today Enable food ordering and delivery for free with GloriaFood

9. Food poisoning or indigestion

The complaint:

One of the most common restaurant complaints that restaurant owners never want to face is a customer having health issues after eating at your restaurant. Food poisoning and indigestion are serious concerns that could give your restaurant a bad reputation.

The solution:

Since this is the type of issue that usually arises after the customer is no longer at the restaurant, they will likely write a bad review or post on your social media for the other customers to see.

At that time, it’s crucial not just to get to the bottom of the situation and find out if the customer really got food poisoning or indigestion at your restaurant but also to do some damage control.

Since you want to keep accusations like these out of the public eye, respond to the complaint and move it over to email, where you can discuss more at length about what happened.

Be empathetic and understanding with the customer and do your best to ensure that this won’t happen again. Customers like to see you take action in these situations, so explain precisely how you’re going to solve the problem.

10. Website not working properly

The complaint:

A website can help with restaurant recognition and increased profits as long as it provides a good user experience. Bad UX is a common complaint when users access restaurant websites to check their menu or place an order.

The solution:

If you have a website for your restaurant, treat it as an extension of your brand. Make sure whoever lands on it finds what they were looking for and leaves the website with a good impression.

If you are selling food on your restaurant website, you have to make sure the menu is visible and easy to access. Moreover, users should be able to place an order even if they’re not technologically savvy.

Include all relevant information such as your address, opening hours, menu, and contact information on the homepage. Learn how to spot and avoid the most common restaurant website mistakes.

11. Delivery-related issues

The complaint:

Adding delivery to your restaurant is an excellent idea but a huge responsibility too. You need to make sure that your ordering customers are happy. Delivery-related complaints include:

  • The food arrived late and cold.
  • There was a mix-up with the orders.
  • The delivery rider was rude.

The solution:

In this case, the solution is a hands-on approach to your delivery business. Set up an in-house online ordering system, hire and train your own delivery drivers, and control the entire process from start to finish.

Most complaints related to delivery are directed at the restaurant. In reality, if they use third-party delivery apps, the delivery is no longer in their control once the food leaves the restaurant.

By taking control of the ordering and delivery process, you minimize the risk of complaints. Moreover, suppose a bad customer service complaint does still occur. In that case, you can get in touch with the customer directly and solve it.

12. Dietary restrictions not accommodated

The complaint:

Some customers complain when a restaurant they visit doesn’t have vegetarian, vegan, or gluten-free options. There are many types of diets and restrictions that people have to follow, and it’s expected that they want as many restaurants as possible to accommodate them.

The solution:

So, what is there to do in that case? Changing your entire menu or adding many new items to accommodate everyone is most likely not feasible. And that’s okay. If you’ve created your restaurant with a specific diet in mind, that doesn’t mean you have to change it.

A middle ground, in this case, would be to try and add at least one menu item that accommodates multiple diets. You can also do vegetarian/vegan options for your most popular dishes. If you decide to do that, don’t forget to state that in the menu descriptions clearly.

Download our ebook to learn how to write food descriptions that will make customers hungry.

If that’s not feasible either, the most you can do is be nice. Try to suggest other establishments in the area where you know they serve the type of food the customer is looking for. They will appreciate you trying to help.

13. Discrepancies between the menu and the food

The complaint:

Finally, more common restaurant complaints ensue when customers see something in your menu which doesn’t reflect reality. A good example would be a dish looking delicious in the photos on the menu but disappointing in real life.

The solution:

Avoid using stock photos in your menu and on the website because customers will be disappointed when they see the real thing.

Take professional photos of your food, even if it means investing more money. In the long run, the investment will pay off. You can use these photos everywhere, from your menu to social media.

If you can’t afford professional photos just yet, try checking social media and seeing if anyone has tagged you in their photos. If you find beautiful images of your food, contact the person who took them and ask for permission to use them on your menu or for marketing purposes.

How to Respond to Customer Complaints in 5 Steps

No matter how well you’re doing, there will always be people who complain. When that happens, here’s how to handle customer complaints:

  1. Listen carefully: The first thing you’ll want to do is listen to the complaint carefully. Don’t cut the customer off to interject because you might miss vital information, and you will only make them angrier. Also, don’t smile while they are complaining to you, even though you might find that polite. Listen with a concerned and attentive attitude.
  2. Apologize: Before you try to make things better, apologize to the customer. Mention how regretful you are that their experience wasn’t optimal and that you’ll do your best so that it never happens again.
  3. Offer a solution: Next, think of ways to solve the problem they are raising and communicate that solution to them. Give extensive details on how you will solve the problem and what your next steps are.
  4. Make things right with some freebies: To “sweeten the deal,” offer a freebie like a drink or a dessert on the house. It won’t cost you too much, and it might make a massive difference in the customer’s attitude.
  5. Do a follow-up: Finally, ensure that the customer leaves the interaction feeling satisfied and not disgruntled. If your solution isn’t working for them, try to find an alternative. If the complaint is online, recheck it after you addressed it to see if anything has changed.

You might also like:

How to Respond to Negative Restaurant Reviews to Increase Brand Loyalty

25 Restaurant Survey Questions to Help You Gain Valuable Insight

Final Words

There you have it; the most common restaurant complaints and solutions on fixing them and keeping customers happy. Remember that complaints are not always indicative of you doing something wrong. Regardless, it is your responsibility to investigate them.

There will be times when no matter what you do, someone won’t be satisfied. In that case, it’s important not to let it drag you down. All you can do is your best, and most customers will appreciate that.

photo of GloriaFood blog writer Laura-Andreea Voicu
Laura-Andreea Voicu

Laura-Andreea Voicu is an experienced content writer with a knack for marketing and SEO. She creates guides and resources designed to help restaurants grow their presence online and boost sales.

She has been featured on the Oracle Food and Beverage Blog and wrote for Search Engine Journal, Clutch, Sender, Venngage, Quickbooks, and many more.

Find me on LinkedIn.