7 Most Common Restaurant Complaints and How to Handle Them
Reputation can make or break a business. Whether a customer keeps their complaints private and decides to never return to your restaurant, or they leave a negative review online for the public, customer complaints have a ripple effect.
When customers share feedback, it’s important for restaurateurs to listen and implement changes to improve the dining experience.
What’s better than addressing an issue once it’s already become a problem? Anticipating problems and making changes before a customer complains.
Examples and Solutions to the Most Common Restaurant Complaints
Diners’ biggest issues can be grouped into the following categories:
We’re going dive into these common restaurant complaints, provide you with solutions for handling them and share real-world examples of customer complaints from online reviews.
Food and Drink Complaints
Types of Food and Drink Restaurant Complaints:
Poor food quality is one of the most common complaints in restaurants. Examples of this complaint include dishes lacking flavor, failing to meet expectations or causing food poisoning.
Diners also complain about food temperature, such as a dish coming out cold or meat being served at a different degree of doneness than requested.
Customers also aren’t happy when they inform servers about a dietary restriction or allergen and the restaurant gives them something that they can’t eat. Mix-ups caused by servers mishearing and failing to confirm orders are also common issues.
We see many of the most common restaurant complaints about food in this Google review of a popular casual restaurant chain. The guest states that her fries were soggy and the ribs were “tough as cardboard.” She also complains about the temperature of the food, which she said was cold despite being reheated. The guest also reveals that items were missing from her order.
Solutions to Food and Drink Complaints:
Recipe books and proper training for chefs are solutions to customer complaints about food quality. When chefs know what they’re doing and follow the same protocol, dishes should be consistent.
Your restaurant’s kitchen display system can help you keep food from getting cold. These systems can track how long a ticket has been open to help the back-of-house team prioritize the longest-standing orders.
Technology, such as self-service ordering solutions and customer-facing displays, can help reduce mix-ups and incorrect orders. When it comes to food allergies, a mix-up can turn into a serious issue for both guests and the restaurant. Currently, only Rhode Island and Massachusetts require restaurants to provide staff with allergen training. However, with a whopping 10.3 million Americans suffering from severe shellfish and nut allergies, and four out of five food allergy fatalities caused by nuts, it’s too costly not to provide allergen training for your team.
Customer Service Complaints
Types of Customer Service Complaints:
Inattentiveness and rudeness are some of the most common customer service-related restaurant complaints. Front-of-house (FOH) staff members who are mean, curt or barely visit the table are examples of things guests complain about.
Poor meal pacing is another issue. According to research in our Date Night Diner Report, 45% of diners wouldn’t return to a restaurant if their party’s meals arrived at the table at different times (i.e., more than 10 to 15 minutes apart).
Guests also complain about check inaccuracy: getting charged the wrong amount, for the wrong items or for something they didn’t know costs extra.
Poor service is to blame for this customer’s bad experience at the bar she reviewed. She received mixed messages from rude staff, which led to a frustrating wait, and experienced inattentive service that ultimately led her to leave. This bar lost a customer forever due to subpar service.
Solutions to Restaurant Customer Service Complaints:
Post-meal feedback surveys and online review management can help you understand who on your team is doing well and who needs more help (or to be replaced). A tool like SevenRooms can automate asking guests for feedback and can aggregate public reviews to make it easier to stay on top of them.
Look for patterns in poor staff behaviors and use that intel to train team members who need additional support. Thorough staff onboarding and ongoing customer service training are solutions to this common restaurant complaint.
Types of Restaurant Atmosphere Complaints:
Customer complaints about atmosphere cover a range of issues, from too hot or too cold room temperatures to poor lighting.
Sound-related complaints are common at restaurants that play music or have live entertainment. In fact, 43% of diners say they wouldn’t return to a restaurant if it was too loud to hold a conversation. And 26% of diners wouldn’t return if they were seated next to a party that was talking too loudly, while 31% of customers would stay away if they were seated too close to another table.
Crowds are another atmosphere issue guests take issue with. We found that one in four diners would stop coming to a restaurant if it was too crowded for them to find their party.
The music at this jazz bar and restaurant was too loud for the customer to enjoy her birthday visit. Unfortunately, she’s vowed to never come back again, which means the restaurant has lost her as a customer for good.
Solutions to Restaurant Atmosphere Complaints:
Read reviews and send surveys to proactively ask customers what they enjoyed about your restaurant’s atmosphere and what could be improved. You can also ask servers to record requests during service to help your team better understand the temperature and noise level people like.
Online Ordering Complaints
Types of Online Ordering Complaints:
Common customer complaints about takeout and delivery orders include receiving the wrong item, food getting cold, long wait times and customers having to meet delivery drivers at their vehicles instead of at their front doors.
This restaurant clearly did not manage the customer’s expectations. They had to wait almost 2 hours for a quoted 45-minute pizza delivery and to top it off, the food arrived cold.
Solutions to Online Ordering Complaints:
An online ordering solution that integrates with your point of sale (POS) system keeps your kitchen organized so you can make sure customers get what they ordered. Delivery integrations facilitate deliveries from professional drivers who can communicate expectations to customers including accurate delivery times.
Another solution is to offer direct delivery, instead of partnering with third-party platforms, so you can have full control over the quality of the order execution.
Types of Restaurant Hygiene Complaints:
The most common customer complaints about hygiene restaurants receive are related to finding hair in food, dirty utensils and dishes and cleanliness issues in bathrooms. Restaurants also hear about dirty or dusty dining rooms and rodent sightings.
This particular location of a popular chain restaurant suffered from major cleanliness issues when this guest visited. The customer cited dirty, uncleared tables as a major concern, and also experienced frustrating customer service.
Solutions to Restaurant Hygiene Complaints:
The COVID-19 pandemic put a spotlight on sanitation and though restrictions and health mandates have been lifted, it’s still top of mind for many diners. Provide hand sanitizer at host stands and server stations and ensure staff is thoroughly cleaning tables between seatings. Checklists can help your team remember to clean toilets, restock toilet paper, and check serviceware as it comes out of the dishwasher. If your team is short-staffed, consider hiring a cleaning service to help.
Hair nets and hats also reduce the likelihood of stray hair making its way onto a plate.
Types of Pricing Complaints:
When it comes to pricing, guests complain about expensive dishes, surprise charges for upsells, high delivery and service fees, reservation cancellation fees and unexpected auto-gratuities.
A $65 price tag for soup at a restaurant that Google describes as “casual” would disappoint anyone. This customer was especially upset that the quality of the dish didn’t match its price.
Solutions to Restaurant Pricing Complaints:
Transparency is the best solution to common customer complaints about pricing. If you’ve had to raise prices, tell guests why. If guacamole costs extra, let customers know. Make your reservation cancellation policy clear if you’re going to charge for no-shows.
If customers complain about prices consistently, consider reducing portion sizes to avoid raising prices.
Types of Restaurant Technology Complaints:
When it comes to restaurant tech, guests complain about reservation cancellation charges, outdated websites, confusing online ordering platforms and inflexible self-service ordering kiosks.
This customer, who likely ordered food online, was rightfully upset that he never received his order, especially after waiting such a long time. Despite this inconvenience, he was charged for a meal.
Solutions to Tech Complaints:
Resolve these problems by making cancellation policies clear, updating your website regularly, training servers to teach customers how to use self-service ordering tools and assisting when needed. Overcompensate for impersonal technology with great service.
How to Proactively Manage Restaurant Complaints
Preventing customer complaints is better than receiving and resolving them. Be proactive about managing issues by soliciting feedback from guests.
You should also actively monitor feedback from public review websites. SevenRooms’ review aggregation tool gathers reviews from various sites and sends management a daily digest. The tool’s dashboard lets you see patterns in guest sentiment to implement changes.
Fortunately, with the right solutions, you can get ahead of common restaurant complaints and resolve small issues before they turn into big problems. Delight guests and prevent complaints with SevenRooms. Book a demo today.
Restaurant Complaint FAQs
1. What Are the Most Common Complaints at a Restaurant?
The most common restaurant complaints fall into 7 major categories: food and drink, customer service, atmosphere, online ordering, hygiene, pricing, and technology.
2. How Do You Respond to Complaining Customers?
The first step is to listen to a customer’s complaint and fully acknowledge their experience. Then offer an apology and find a resolution that satisfies the customer in a timely manner. Take note of the complaint and, if necessary, review it with staff or take action to make improvements.