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How Not to Handle Unhappy Customers

Running a fast-casual restaurant is hard work. You have to think about menu ingredients, prices, employees, technology, budgets and more. It’s a 24/7 job, so it’s no wonder a negative online review could set someone off.

Still, there are good ways and bad ways to deal with disappointed customers. Then there’s the way Amy’s Baking Company recently chose. The eatery in Scottsdale, Ariz., already scorned by celebrity TV chef Gordon Ramsey in an episode of “Kitchen Nightmares,” provided restaurateurs everywhere a cautionary tale.

In reacting to negative posts on Reddit, Yelp and Facebook, the restaurant’s Facebook page called its critics “little punks,” “fools,” “horrible people” and other words not fit for a family blog. The result was as predictable as death and taxes. What might have been an opportunity for Amy’s to improve its customer experience snowballed into meme-of-the-moment and national ridicule.

Negative reviews on social media can be difficult to control. Restaurants are finding that digital survey tablets allow them to avoid negative reviews from ever appearing.

Negative reviews on social media can be difficult to control. Restaurants are finding that digital survey tablets allow them to avoid negative reviews from ever appearing.

Keep It Clean and, If Possible, Private

The Amy’s story offers several lessons on how to deal with criticism in the social media age. Assuming you are watching what is said about your eatery online – you certainly should be – here are some rules of thumb:

Keep It Positive: Don’t let yourself be put on the defensive. Try to remember that people posted negative reviews because something about your restaurant let them down. It’s best not to start by assuming they are wrong or making up the situation. As a manager or business owner, it’s your job to fix their problem, not create bigger issues for yourself by publicly provoking the customer. So, if you’re going to respond via social media, keep it positive.

Keep It Private: Many social sites give you the option to send someone a private message. If someone complains about having a rude waiter, message him privately to get more information. Assure him that you are handling the problem internally and offer him a gift card or free meal on his next visit. This does two things: it lets the customer know you’re sincerely sorry for what happened and it encourages him to come back once the problem’s resolved.

Handle the Problem: Good things can come from criticism, and you can use the incident to create a better customer experience going forward. Once you have all the facts, bring up the situation with employees and deal directly with the individual involved. After you have taken the appropriate actions, you can publicly message the affected customer to let him or her know the problem is resolved. It can be something as simple as, “Hi [name], we heard what you had to say, we’ve made some changes and we would love to see you back soon!” This lets everyone know that your customers are your first priority.

Get Ahead of the Next Problem: It’s great to be able to extinguish a social-media brush fire, but wouldn’t it be better if the comments never appeared in the first place? What if you had a chance to make disgruntled customers happy before they leave your business? Restaurants are finding that LRS’ digital survey tablets allow you to do just that.

These fully programmable and easy-to-use devices are handed to guests at the table when with the check. With any negative response, a manager is immediately notified, giving you the opportunity to keep customers from leaving unhappy. Restaurants have reported a response rate of 75 percent and up using the devices – far higher than comment cards or online survey systems.

Better yet, digital survey solutions dramatically reduce the chance of an online comment that you’ll have to address later.


Skip Cass is the chief executive officer at LRS and an expert in operational efficiency and creating a memorable guest experience.

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