The Customer Isn’t Always Right and 3 Tips for When Guests Believe They Are

By Andrew Carlson, Foodable Industry Expert

One of the biggest myths in the restaurant space is that “the customer is always right.” I want to shift the way we think about the phrase because a lot of business owners are using it literally, and hurting their greatest asset in their business: their employees.

I cannot count how many times I will be in a meeting with a business owner who will take the word of the customer over anything that their employee says. This will cause the employee to lose sight of your company’s vision and could potentially lose faith in the mission of your restaurant.

When an employee joins the team, there is a trust factor there, and when the management or ownership doesn’t give them the floor to hear their side of the story, they will instantly know that they are not a respected member of the team.

If they were respected, the management or ownership would have a discussion based on the customer's review to get to the bottom of the situation.

So, how do you tackle “Is the customer always right?” when customers even believe that they are always right?

Collect the Data

Whenever a customer is disgruntled, do you have a way of collecting the data to better improve your operations? Most people think of Yelp as an evil black hole of negativity, and let’s be honest, it is for the most part. But that’s besides the point. No matter what the customer rates you, you still have the opportunity to learn from them. (Well, 95 percent of the time).

If you have absolutely no way to collect that type of data, spend the three minutes it takes to take a screenshot on your computer, paste it onto a word document, and then put it into a folder and label it (Month Year - “X” Reviews). The folder would read “January 2017 - Service Reviews.”

The reason why you want to collect data is so that you can see where your weaknesses lie within your business and to have a clear understanding of how to improve your operations.

If you’re not striving for excellence every single day then you are striving for mediocrity. When you live in mediocrity, you end up closing your doors.

“Why do so many restaurants close their doors? Because they become addicted to being average, and there is no money in being just average.” — Donald Burns

Deepen the Connection

When the customer is upset, the majority of the time it’s because they feel as if they haven’t been taken care of like they thought they would be. It could be something as simple as the server didn’t come to the table with a smile on his or her face, or it could be something like the meal wasn’t up to their standards.

The issue is when that person doesn’t feel like they have a human connection with the restaurant’s staff. Maybe they wanted to voice how wonderful the experience has been, but their food was a little over seasoned, so if the server was more attentive, they would have been able to communicate that with them. But instead, they leave upset because they didn’t have the opportunity to have that connection and now feel like they were shorted on their experience.

It all boils down to the customers’ perception of their experience. It’s always important to go above and beyond for every customer because the truth is the customers are what keeps businesses alive. Focus more on being attentive to their wants, needs, and desires while they’re in the restaurant and you’ll be able to create loyal customers for life.

Discuss with Respect

Lastly, the biggest reason why customers seem to think they are always right is simply because they think whatever they say goes. That’s not how the business world works and that’s not the way it should work within the restaurant business world either.

Just because a customer doesn’t like something doesn’t mean that they should automatically get a refund. It’s more expensive to give a customer a full refund than it is to get them to try something else that they may like even more. You can always tell a seasoned manager from a novice one by how they handle difficult situations with their customers.

The seasoned managers will be able to take the customer from their current state (upset or anger) and get them to the path of happiness and satisfaction. More novice managers or team members will have a more difficult time achieving the same result because, well, they aren’t as seasoned in handling these types of situations.

The best thing that you can do is to have an open and honest discussion with a respectful tone. When someone understands that you respect why they’re upset and would be too if you were in their shoes, then solutions can happen quickly. If the customer thinks you’re just trying to throw a refund at them to shut them up, that’s when the customer gets even more upset and causes a scene or writes a scathing review on Yelp (or other review outlets).

The customer isn’t always right, but there is something to learn from every customer. Just because the customer goes off the deep end doesn’t mean that you have to jump in with them. Guide them back to the shore and get them to become raving fans of your brand — for life!