Customers May Not Always Be Right. They Are Just Never Wrong.

Managing Expectations in Food Service

You don’t have to work in foodservice to have heard the phrase “the customer is always right.” Go on, admit it. You may have even said it yourself from time to time (perhaps while rolling your eyes and sending a perfectly good steak back to the kitchen).


But what many savvy foodservice operators might have realised is they don’t necessarily need to adhere to this rule as sometimes it can have more negative effects than positive. For example, the ‘customer is always right’ adage can:

• Make employees resentful and pit them against managers and customers alike,
• Encourage the customer to think they are the expert, when they are arguably paying you to be; and
• Absorb valuable time and resources solving problems for angry dissatisfied customers that you may not want to return anyway.


Those in foodservice know that at times the phrase is simply not always true (or helpful) in the real world. While the customer is not always right, what is important to remember is that they are still never wrong.


Instead of focusing on this old adage, it might be more helpful for foodservice professionals to change their mindset and focus on managing expectations instead. So, what does that look like? And how can you incorporate it into your venue’s culture?


1. Always listen first:
o It is often difficult not to defend yourself when an angry customer voices their disappointment. But a better strategy may often be to listen to the full complaint, be understanding and sympathetic to their feelings and ask questions. The aim is to figure out what the person’s expectations were and where they had not been met.


2. Own your mistakes (if they are your mistakes)
o If it turns out the reason for the customer’s dissatisfaction is your fault, by all means acknowledge and apologise for that. But if your customer’s dissatisfaction stems from something you could not have been reasonably expected to provide, then there may be a different approach. This is where the customer may not always be right. Providing a better understanding might give you a better chance at retaining that customer.


3. Explain how you’re going to solve the issue
o Most people understand mistakes happen, so if possible, outline how you are going to resolve the issue as soon as you can. That way everyone will be much happier. If the customer has had a bad experience, they aren’t “wrong” and their negative experience needs to be rectified (even if it’s not your fault).


Of course, you and your team are always going to strive for excellent customer service but if you follow the ‘customer is always right’ policy then you may actually end up lowering employee morale, empowering rude customers and even creating unhappy experiences for other customers. Instead, consider following the three-step process outlined above (and teaching your team to as well) and you may be left with far happier customers and employees.