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How to Handle Food Complaints in Online Reviews

April 18, 2019

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Any restaurant is bound to receive criticism about its food at some point, which makes it important for restaurant marketers to know how to handle food complaints in their online reviews.

According to a Corra survey – which uses a five-point scale to judge a consumer’s likeliness to complain – people complaining “when the food is bad at a restaurant” has an average score of 3.13 out of 5 points.

For context, that means that people are more likely to complain about bad food at a restaurant than issues in other industries such as bad service on an airline or if a company uses your contact information to “bombard you with advertisements.” To put it simply, the customers you work with love to air their grievances.

These complaints generally take the form of negative reviews, which can potentially scare away other customers. Research shows that 94 percent of consumers were convinced to stay away from a business because of its negative reviews. That makes it crucial for restaurant markets handle these complaints quickly and with grace.

These customer grievances fall under one of two categories, and each one has different approaches to resolving the situation.

  • Handling Food Complaints About Taste or Presentation
  • Handling Complaints on Food Poisoning

How to Handle Food Complaints about Taste or Presentation

Customers have expectations of the food even before they set foot inside the restaurant. Failing to meet or exceed those expectations might result in any number of complaints in their reviews ranging from “the steak was too well-done” to “the soup didn’t look appealing.”

The best option in this situation is to have a well-written and thought-out response. This involves apologizing and thanking the reviewer for spending their time and money at the restaurant, taking responsibility for poor experience, and finding a solution that will make them come back again.

how to handle food complaints

Responding to reviews in this manner doesn’t just help you save face to the reviewer; it also helps attract new customers. Research shows that 44.6 percent of consumers are likely to visit a business if it responds to negative reviews.

Crafting a thoughtful and caring response to a customer’s complaints about the food shows that you care about each customer’s feedback and that you have a long-standing commitment to creating a better experience for every customer.  

How to Handle Food Poisoning Complaints

Complaints about the taste or presentation is one thing, but customer complaints about food poisoning as a result of dining at the restaurant is a more serious matter. Even the simple accusation from a reviewer can severely damage any restaurant’s reputation.

To handle this delicate situation, you need to do three things:

Step 1: Address the Issue (but don’t Apologize)

It’s easy to take a page from the section above and immediately apologize to the reviewer, but that might actually put the guilt squarely on the restaurant before any evidence is presented. This is dangerous if the customer decides to pursue legal action.

To protect your business’s liability, refrain from apologizing. Instead, thank them for their feedback and assure them that you’re taking active steps to look into the problem

Step 2: Get Information from the Customer

When responding, you should also post an email address and ask the customer to contact you directly because the rest of this conversation should be offline or in private. This allows you to ask them information critical to finding the source of the illness. These questions include:

  • When did they visit the restaurant?
  • What did they eat?
  • Did anyone else in their party eat the same thing?
  • What are their current symptoms?
  • Did they go to a doctor? If so, what was the diagnosis?

Step 3: Do Your Homework

While you wait for a response to those questions, you should also inspect the current state of the restaurant by checking the overall cleanliness of the kitchen. You can also contact suppliers to see if they had any food-related issues, check your stock to see if the food in question is still fresh or expired, and make sure the staff practice proper hygiene.

That last point about staff hygiene can be a major pain point for any restaurant. A study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Environmental Health Specialists Network revealed that 12 percent of food workers were still performing their duties even if they were sick with vomiting or diarrhea.

how to handle food complaints

As a precaution you should also get legal counsel if the customer decides to take legal action against the restaurant. It’s also worth your time to familiarize yourself with the restaurant’s insurance policy, especially if it has a section on coverage for foodborne illnesses.

A Plan for Handling Food Complaints

It’s important to note that taking care of food complaints by being proactive, writing a response, or engaging with the reviewer isn’t something that isn’t done spontaneously.

These situations require you to have a plan in place for handling these situations. Every complaint might be a different type of scenario with its own set of challenges, but at least there’s a plan in place that provides some sort of foundation when interacting with customers about the complaint.

Once you have a plan formulated and implemented make sure that everyone on the restaurant staff, regardless of their position in the overall hierarchy, is familiar with it. This drives home the idea that everyone is involved and highly invested in the restaurant’s success.

An involved and engaged staff will not only reduce the risk of food complaints, but it can also improve the overall customer experience, which leads to better reviews and more exposure.

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