Every week we comb through the news to find employment trends affecting the hospitality industry so you don’t have to. This week’s topic: managing dissatisfied customers and the top issues causing their dissatisfaction 

Managing Dissatisfied Customers

As we approach one year living with COVID-19, every state except Oregon allows some form of on-site dining, whether it be indoor or outdoor, albeit restricted. Despite these restrictions, guest sentiment has remained positive over the past couple of weeks, leading to “the best performance for restaurants since the beginning of the pandemic” according to Nation’s Restaurant News.  

Positive guest sentiment – which refers to how good consumers feel about doing something (in this case dining out at a restaurant) – can lead to increased sales and traffic which is key for restaurants right now. But due to the difficulties of navigating our pandemic landscape, it can also lead to higher dissatisfaction amongst customers. Below, we’ll identify the top causes of dissatisfaction among customers and some ways you can start managing dissatisfied customers. 


Concern: Longer wait times 

According to a survey by Bluedot, “The COVID-19 pandemic has intensified customer impatience, reducing customers’ willingness to wait for drive-thru, curbside and in-store pickup orders to six minutes from 10 minutes just a half year ago.” The survey also found that 77% of respondents would leave/consider leaving a restaurant if they saw a long line. Because of this decreased level of patience, we’re seeing more employees reporting that guests are unhappy having to wait, whether it’s because of increased traffic, capacity restrictions, or being short-staffed.  

Possible solutions: 

  • Communicate well with customers. Consider utilizing social media channels to report wait times, possible delays, and other obstacles that might prolong service. You can also include this information when welcoming them to your store. In this case, it’s better to over communicate so the more updates, the better. Communication is crucial when managing dissatisfied customers. 
  • Partner with a staffing company that can provide an extra hand when needed.  
  • Use a scheduling platform to accept reservations, that way guests can have a more realistic idea of when they can expect to be serviced while reducing the amount of people waiting in line.  

Concern: Difficulty enforcing health + safety regulations 

Wearing a mask and maintaining social distancing requirements are still incredibly important, even as restaurants lower their restrictions. Unfortunately, enforcing these rules can still prove to be difficult. One reason, Bluedot suggests, is because of pandemic fatigue, which is when people get worn out from following public health practices. Their survey reports that restaurant-goers are showing signs of pandemic fatigue, with “concern for safety protocols such as masks and gloves softened among consumers.”  

Possible solutions:  

  • Carry documentation on hand that outlines your states dining regulations. This will provide clear insight for any confused customers. 
  • Keep disposable masks available for anyone who isn’t wearing one.  
  • Train staff on providing the best answers to questions like, “why can’t I sit there,” “why do I need to wear a mask when I walk around,” etc.  

Concern: Limited menu items 

Some restaurants have been forced to reduce their menu offerings in order to accommodate the shift in business or to save money. This might mean that guests are missing out on their favorite dishes or drinks, causing them to have a less than satisfactory experience.  

Possible solutions: 

  • Offer small gift cards or other rewards to make up for the missing items.  
  • Design an exciting menu that will make them forget about the old dishes.  
  • Create attractive specials or deals that will draw customers in.  

In addition to the above solutions, we have a few tips for restaurant managers who deal with the occasional unhappy guest:  

  • Focus on the aspects you can control. Cleanliness is still a huge requirement for customers who dine-outwith it being one of the top factors when deciding on a restaurant. By creating a safe, clean, and welcoming environment, you can increase guest satisfaction as soon as they walk in the door.  
  • Support your staff as best as you can. If you have an upset customer taking it out on an employee, make sure to support your team member to the best of your ability. We’re all under a lot of stress right now, but especially essential workers like restaurant employees. They’ll feel more confident knowing you have their backs.  
  • Listen and try to understand. In a lot of cases, disgruntled guests are just looking for someone to listen to them. Try to understand where their complaints may be coming from in order to better find a solution.  

As restrictions lessen and more customers return to restaurants, there will be several challenges operators face including managing dissatisfied customers, longer wait times, difficulty enforcing health and safety regulations, and limited menu offerings. By using the solutions above, managers can tackle these issues head on and improve satisfaction – which will drive sales and encourage customers to return.