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Dec 20, 2007 01:02 PM

What do you do when you know a customer IS happens

I am a GM in restaurant industry, so some may think i am biased. I am trying to think of delicate ways to let a customer know that something is not our fault, or other issues. Had a customer recently walk up to me and tell me that they did not like their meal, and would like their money back. Now, I spent 9 yrs in sales, and in my mind when someone's first sets of words include "I want my money back", there is usually something else there. Since she sat so close to the front of my counters, I could see that she ate all but the last bite. I politely asked her what she did not like about her meal. She replied "It didn't taste right". I asked what she thought didn't taste right, and VERY politely and with a smile, told her that she must have like something about it, since she almost finished it. Her only reply was "Do I get my money back or not?" I wish customers could hear themselves talk sometimes, they would be shocked. People on both sides of the counter can get so much more accomplished if you just smiled! Anyone have any experiences to relay on this, or any thoughts on the matter?

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  1. Rob83
    Interesting Post... I think it must be an extremely difficult scenario. We all know there some (I'll be polite) Con Artists out there that make it a policy to 'Dine and Dodge'
    If I were in that position, as you did, I think I'd have to inquire of the patron if he/she mentioned their displeasure to any of the Wait Staff? If the customer said No, I think I'd be inclined to ask why not? If the explanation was even remotely plausible, EG: "I tried to get the Server's attention but he/she never came back to the table" or "I asked to speak to the Mgr but he/she never appeared", I think I would be inclined to offer some sort of modest discount, or a g/c for a future discounted meal . Since the person to whom you refer, apparently paid for the meal and then requested a refund, she couldn't have been all that displeased. Usually, when people do that, it's because they are angry/frustrated with the service, not the food. The longer they think about it, the more annoyed they become and thus, they request a refund. That doesn't seem to be the case with your customer.
    So now I'm curious: Did she get the refund? Inquiring minds and your fellow CH'ers want to know:-}

    4 Replies
    1. re: Tay

      I gave her a g/c the equivalent of her meal. ( I told her it is not policy to give back cash without first sending paperwork into the corporate I wanted her or whoever she gives the card to, to come in and use it of course.) Don't think she like my solution though. Also I have no servers...this is a QSR concept. This also happens with people that order one thing, receive it, it's not what they expected, so call or come back and say it is our fault. On the phone when it has been people saying that to me and I was the person to take their order, I do politely tell them that. I took your order, I do remember you stating this, I am sorry it is not what you intended to get, and can I ring you up for what you really want. Not every occasion is like this though.

        1. re: dolores

          I believe it stands for "Quick Service Restaurant"

        2. re: Rob83

          I think that was very generous of you. Under the same circumstances, in that sort of restaurant environment, I don't know that I would have been as accommodating. As you've probably surmised, I'm not in thefood industry business, so that having been said, I think you chose the professional road.

      1. I think you and the company needs to stand firm in these types of situation. I know that's easier said than done. But personally it bugs the heck out of me when I see these things at places I like to patronize. I know the cost has to come out somewhere and I'll have to pay higher prices.

        If it's a legitimate complaint by all means, the person should be compensated and make them feel welcome to return. But unreasonable requests should be given the polite brushoff.

        I feel so strong about this, I've been known to give my name and contact info to servers, managers, cashiers, etc, when I witness a customer making completely ridiculous demands and/or be rude about it while the service person is completely polite and trying to find a reasonable solution. I tell the management that I am available to give a separate accounting of what happened and how hard the server tried to correct things.

        It's one of those personal pet peeves and I feel it's my karmic duty to speak up for servers who just have to take the abuse that is being dished out. If a company gives away everything on these unreasonable complaints then prices will rise or quality will drop and good servers will leave. I don't want that to happen to places I like to support.

        9 Replies
        1. re: Jase

          Bravo!... You are the rare White Knight in what I believe is offen a very under appreciated industry

          1. re: Tay

            I can't say DITTO enough!!!!

          2. re: Jase

            Thank you for speaking up.

            People who try to take advantage of the foodservice industry's desire to please customers take advantage of *all* other customers. To compensate for all their unreasonable and unfair requests, restaurants have no choice to inch their prices up and up. In the end, *we* pay for the meals of these so-called customers.

            1. re: Jase

              "It's one of those personal pet peeves and I feel it's my karmic duty to speak up for servers who just have to take the abuse that is being dished out. If a company gives away everything on these unreasonable complaints then prices will rise or quality will drop and good servers will leave. I don't want that to happen to places I like to support."

              I do understand your dilemma. The other side of the coin is how much is it going to cost you (the restaurant) when other diners see/overhear a disgruntled patron being "politely brushed off"? The problem is that other diners assume the client has a legitimate complaint simply because they would not make a false complaint.

              Don't know where it originated, if I ever knew, but there is an old saying, "The customer is always right." It's a way to cut your losses and run.

              Now... If your restaurant would go broke because you adopted such a policy, that would bring up a heavy question regarding how many complaints are legitimate.

              1. re: Caroline1

                God, the customer is SO not always right.

                1. re: invinotheresverde

                  That's absolutely true. The question is what the restaurant gains in business by arguing with the customer? And that is what, "The customer is always right" is all about. The business not loosing.

                  1. re: Caroline1

                    The business can just as easily lose by bending to a customer's unreasonable requests.

                    If a customer is flat out wrong, I say tell 'em and hope they never darken your door again. It's really not worth the headache dealing with those who are never satisfied a/o looking for something free.

                    If the complaint is legit it's a completely different situation, of course.

              2. re: Jase

                Can't help but wonder...
                Do you also speak up (unsolicited) if you see other patrons receiving bad service or otherwise being poorly treated? Seems like two sides of the same coin.

                1. re: broncosaurus

                  Nope, not the same coin at all. Patrons have the power to speak up and get the situation corrected or leave without my help.

                  Servers on the other hand have to shup up and take it. More often than not, they might not get the benefit of the doubt. They might lose their jobs if the customer lies or exaggerates about the poor quality of service.

              3. I'm sorry you have to put up with this Rob from some of your customers and I have witnessed it myself. I used to have a friend who took pride in all the free meals she could get by complaining after the fact about the food. I guess you have to learn to figure out who has a valid complaint and who is out to abuse the system like my ex-friend but I'm sure it is easier said than done.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Hooda_Guest

                  "I used to have a friend who took pride in all the free meals she could get by complaining after the fact about the food"
                  You reminded me that people like that actually take pride in pulling low class moves like trolling for free meals.
                  I'm really happy for you that she is now an EX friend...

                2. I commend you on a job well handled. It's not always easy to deal with the public.
                  This is an extreme example, it has only ever happened once, and I will admit it wasn't the best way to deal with it, but sometimes you just reach that point, and well, things just happen sometimes quickly.

                  A gentleman (Generous term) comes in and wants to place an order to go. I hand him a menu to look over. He refuses to look at the menu, and would rather have me recite it. As I begin to tell him what is available, he appears to want to ask questions rather than listen to what we can offer. Again I suggest he might be better off looking at the menu.
                  Again he rejects the idea, and asks how much a pork sandwich is.

                  I tell him the price and also let him know two sides of his choosing will accompany his sandwich. The next thing out of his mouth is an exclamation concerning our price and asks if we will lower the price if he chooses not to have any sides. Trying to work with the guy, I offer him a lower price (which isn't policy) but as I said I was trying to work with him. He agreed on the price and shoved his money at me. I told him I would collect when I had his food ready to go, but he insisted on paying right then.

                  I rang him him up, gave him his change, and he then again started complaining about price. I asked him if he wanted his sandwich or not. He said he did, and wanted it "All the way up"
                  Not being familiar with the term, I figured he wanted everything that could possibly come with a sandwich. So I gave him extra onions, pickles and sauce.
                  As I was making his sandwich my wife came from the kitchen( she heard the whole thing), greeted him with a smile and offered a glass of water while he waited. He looked in the case and decided on a Heineken instead. My wife rang the beer up, and he started whining about the prices here again.

                  I put the order up, and she sat the sandwich in front of him. He immediately opened it and complained that he was going to have to put the onion on himself. He then complained that the sauce was on the side and that he told me he wanted it "All the wayup" All the while still telling her how expensive everything was.

                  It was at that point the deal was over. He was not going to be happy no matter what was done.
                  My wife took his sandwich and threw it in the trash, she then grabbed his beer and poured it out. The next maneuver was opening the cash drawer and giving him his money back.
                  As expected he turned walking for the door shouting, I'll never come back here!!!!
                  I almost chased him down to get it in writing.

                  14 Replies
                  1. re: Barbecue Joe

                    While the customer was clearly a problem, I'm not sure what purpose was served by throwing his sandwich away and pouring out his beer. If other customers didn't witness the circumstances leading up to his departure, but did witness your wife's actions, they might be put off of eating at your establishment. Why not just let him grumble about the prices and ignore it? Other people can see the prices and know what they are so they can judge his behavior for what it is (petty and poor). It seems what your wife did was sink closer to his level and make your business look bad.

                    1. re: Orchid64

                      On the other hand, if I was there, I would have given her a standing ovation. If I came upon the incident near the end, I would have assumed that the guy was probably the problem and still given her a word of encouragement.

                        1. re: rednyellow

                          I'm curious about how you decide to apply your bias in these cases. Given an absence of information either way, and only witnessing the end of the incident, I'd assume the opposite.

                          At any rate, I believe that lowering yourself to the level of a poorly-behaved person rather reacting in a civilized and professional manner doesn't reflect well on you. It's better to take the high road and respect yourself enough not to act out on your anger.

                          1. re: Orchid64

                            Having been in the service industry, both retail and restaurant, I can empathize with the employee. Having observed many an incident in which the employee is not allowed to react and must take abuse, I often make a comment to the employee to give them encouragement and am ALWAYS thanked for my acknowledgment of the situation. So if giving regard to the employee is 'lowering myself' to poor behavior, I think that ALL responses that I have received have been otherwise. Plus, I am not angry, I am empathetic to those that are being abused. Is there a problem with that?

                            1. re: justagthing

                              The high road is the best choice, but it only goes so far. Sometimes, when all else fails, it feels good to really "express yourself"

                    2. re: Barbecue Joe

                      "He refuses to look at the menu, and would rather have me recite it. As I begin to tell him what is available, he appears to want to ask questions rather than listen to what we can offer. Again I suggest he might be better off looking at the menu.
                      Again he rejects the idea, and asks how much a pork sandwich is."

                      Sounds like the guy can't read. But that is no excuse for his behavior.

                      1. re: Withnail42

                        maybe, but lots of guests who can read don't/won't read menus for themselves. It's not uncommon. You greet a table and they start asking if you have specific dishes (despite the presence of a menu, a list of the dishes the restaurant serves). They'll ask for descriptions that are clearly printed in front of them. They'll order things you don't have--"I'll have shrimp cocktaill." "I'm sorry sir, we don't have shrimp cocktail." "What do you mean?"--and have never had and are not printed on the menu.

                        People are odd.

                        1. re: nc213

                          How do you KNOW they can read??? Maybe they can read and they forgot their glasses. Trust me, I'm a (eye business, not restaurant business..) professional telling you this: a person without needed reading glasses in a darkened restaurant might as well be illiterate. That person might well ask you questions...and because they are embarrassed to tell you the REAL reason they are asking they might well act a little beligerent as well...its been my experience that those who have something to hide often act out to mask their insufficiencies....

                          I agree, its not an excuse for their behavior, but it happens. Its a lot easier to act a little obnoxious and get people to do what you wish through intimidation than it is to say "I'm sorry, I can't read....can you help me with the menu?" And there are a heck of a lot of people out there in denial about their vision.

                          The best promotion item I ever saw for MY type of business was a pair of disposable paper reading glasses (with a very cheap type of plastic lens in them). They were really just something you would hold up to your eyes and read a menu through. And they had someone's optical business info. printed right on them. The optical business would pass them out by the hundreds to restaurants. The restaurants loved offering them to people who were clearly struggling to read the menu, and the optical place got all the PR!

                          1. re: janetofreno

                            I"ve reached the needing reading glasses age and try to keep one of those cheap little credit card sized magnifiers in my wallet for dark rooms and small print. It I couldn't read the menu, I'd do my best and ask for clarification or even say what I'm hungry for and what can they do, but what ever, I'd be polite and explain that I cant see a damn thing.

                            1. re: janetofreno

                              first, I fully get that there are plenty of illiterate and semi-literate adults in the world. I've tutored them. I'm sure that some people who have difficulty reading have asked what's on the menu.
                              I also get that menus can be difficult for people with bad and/or aging eyes (my eyesight is terrible and I'm only 31!) and that dark restaurants don't help. I have loved when I worked in places that kept reading glasses and small flashlights on hand for the guests.

                              I'm talking about people who

                              1) read me a menu description and then ask what the item is
                              2) refuse to open their menus and then order things. Once an older couple came into one place where I worked and ordered shrimp cocktail and strip steaks for lunch. We had no shrimp on the menu (and hence no shrimp in the house) and no strips prepped b/c we didn't serve them for lunch. The couple grew flustered and angry that they had driven to the restaurant. (and no, we hadn't recently removed the items from teh menu and yes, we did have an accurate menu online)
                              3) they keep their menus closed and ask what you have, then they argue with you or mention that you've left something out.
                              4) they don't read what comes with items and then complain when they come, or they assume that their food comes with x or y even though it's clearly stated on the menu that it doesn;t (and they read the menu to choose their order). My husband does this often as well.

                              1. re: janetofreno

                                I've seen whole tables do this, and then proceed to, later on in the meal, quote ingredients or prices from the mneu. Did they all forget their glasses? I've also seen people absolutely refuse give their own phone numbers when ordering takeout or delivery, and refuse to empty their own grocery carts. I have a lot of faith in humanity, but it is shocking to see what some are capable of. It's hard to know unless you work in a service industry and see these things regularly.

                                That said, I have also seen people politely say, I'm so embarrassed, but I"ve forgotten my glasses. Will you please read me the menu? I'm ALWAYS happy to do that.

                          2. re: Barbecue Joe

                            a relatively small point in a long and sad story, perhaps, but I can't help but wonder why you just didn't ask him what he meant by 'all the way up' since you weren't familiar with the term, particularly since you must have had an inkling by then that he wasn't going to be the easiest guy to deal with...

                            1. re: Barbecue Joe

                              O.K. So I skimmed thru all the posts-Does anyone actually know what "All the way up"
                              means? I am in Chicago & have never heard that one..Very curious now. Where are you located?

                            2. Here is another situation that happened in a restaurant I was running 2 years ago. I had an employee that had only been working for about 3 weeks (part-time no less), so she was not the fastest taking orders. I am usually attached to a new employee at the hip...I want someone trained my way, the exact way the company wants. I had to step away from her momentarily, but from her very first day, as every employee of mine, I tell them-- do NOT be afraid to tell a customer that you are new, and you want to get some some help to ensure we get your order correct. Even if customer is in a hurry, they will appreciate honesty, as they have been new at a job somewhere in their life. Anyway, my employee comes to me crying. She tells me she did exactly as I taught her, and this woman chastised her...telling her that anyone with half a brain can take these orders, why can't she. She was also cursing at her. I tried to be professional...even apologizing, since sometimes that is all a customer needs to hear.i again explained her newness. The customer then told me that i must not be training her right, which means I don't know my job. She then started cursing through her tirade again, and in front of the rest of the customer line, I told her that I would appreciate if she would leave the line since we will not be serving her today, and I would request that she not return. She eventually called my hq and I was verbally reprimanded, but I even stressed to my superiors, that I would do it again. Anyone ever see anything like this before?

                              10 Replies
                              1. re: Rob83

                                Your corporate office should have backed you up if she was cursing. That's where the line should be drawn--you should NEVER have to put up with that.

                                I used to be a service writer in a garage, and believe me--you get to deal with a lot of angry customers in that situation. I'd put up with a lot of abuse, but the second the cursing started, the conversation was over, and management would back us up.

                                1. re: Rob83

                                  I have heard of a few situations where the customer was out of line and when they were finally reprimanded the other customers cheered. I don't think you have to worry about other customers perceptions being negative, they are often on the side of the server or manager. My friend was once at a steak house sitting at the counter and a woman sent her steak back several times claiming it was not cooked correctly. A woman sitting next to her finally told her that it was exactly as she had ordered it and to just eat it. I think businesses worry too much about losing business, there are some people that are not worth having as customers.

                                  1. re: Rob83

                                    yes i've seen situations like that quite a bit in the biz. some people have been taught or have learned that if they just make a big enough stink, they get whatever they want, for free/very cheap, and they do take pride in it. it ticks the other customers off when they see mgmt cave to these bullies, because not only is it an unpleasant spectacle and waste of everyone's time, they realize that it does increase losses to the restaurant and that all the customers must pay more as a result.

                                    treat all complaints professionally and in a concerned manner, exactly as you did, Rob83: if someone has a legitimate complaint, they calm down quickly when they are treated nicely and someone does everything reasonable to fix the situation. someone who escalates the situation, becoming verbally or physically abusive or threatening, is a scammer and they should be shown the door asap, with security/police called, & your real, paying customers will be happy to see it.

                                    1. re: Rob83

                                      Yes, those people are always with us. I ran into a few such customers waiting tables, but I had the good fortune to work at a non-corporate place where the owners had long-standing relationships with the managers and trusted them implicitly. That trust meant that management could back up the servers and tell the occasional impossible case to get out and never come back without any of us worrying about accusations of poor customer service.

                                      1. re: Rob83

                                        Yeah the line is always at cursing, in my experience

                                        1. re: alysonlaurel

                                          I find the "line" confusing. Not the cursing, but why orders are being taken from people standing in line? Was this a take-out-only place, or were customers seated for their meal? If so, why take orders when people are on a wait-list when you have no idea when their table will be ready.

                                          I've got to read Rob83 again. Maybe I misread him. Nope. Apparently not. He asked the cursing woman to "leave the line." Strange.

                                          1. re: Caroline1

                                            I believe that this was a "fast food" type of place in which you place your order, pay and then go find an open table and they then bring you your food (or maybe call you back to pick it up) when it's ready, based on a number you get when you have paid.

                                            1. re: Servorg

                                              I thought about that, then decided probably not because the new employee seems to be going to people in line to take orders as opposed to working a register. Doesn't really matter. The woman was turned out and apparently Rob83 no longer works there. But thanks for your thoughs!

                                              1. re: Caroline1

                                                I just assumed that the "Cursing Customer" had reached the front of the order/pay line, had "gone off" on the new employee and was still standing there at the head of the line, (holding up everyone behind her) when Rob came over to try and smooth things over, and got more of the same from the "CC".

                                                1. re: Servorg

                                                  You're probably right. Originally, fast food never occurred to me.