How to Run a Bar: Basics of Unhappy Customer Management

By Ray Foley, Heather Dismore

People are in a bar to have a good time. In a restaurant, they may be there to actually eat, trying to get in and get out, to get on with their busy day. But in a bar, most people have come to unwind, relax, and hang out a bit.

A bar is not a necessity; it’s a luxury to be able to take time out of a busy life and take a load off. As the bar owner, you can’t survive if you can’t keep your cus-tomers happy. But you will encounter unhappy customers from time to time.

Beware of providing freebies: Complimentary food and free drinks

Don’t just reach for the comp (complimentary) button on your register if you have a customer service problem. It’s a very dangerous precedent. Each situation has to be handled differently. Yes, the customer is always right (that’s why they’re called customers, not people), but comping food or drinks for bad service doesn’t usually bring the customer back.

If the customer doesn’t want to pay because his steak was overcooked, make sure he tells you before he’s eaten three-quarters of it. If the problem is the house’s fault, take the item off the bill and say, “I am sorry. I hope you will come back and give us another chance to serve you.”

Giving free cocktails to people who weren’t pleased with their meal doesn’t help you. Try to get them a meal that they love before they leave, rather than just comping things off their check. Some customers do this for a living!

On the other hand, it’s also a dangerous precedent to assume your customer is trying to cheat you. Do what’s right by the guest and then make sure you’re not overcooking your steaks. Sometimes it is your fault, and if you’re sincere in your apologies and in correcting the problem, you can have a customer for life and a raving fan.

Timely and private responses to complaints

Problems should be taken care of as soon as possible. Don’t let the customer steam. If the customer is exceptionally agitated, take the person out of the room to your office and solve the problem. You don’t want to make the situation worse by causing a scene in front of other customers and your em-ployees.

Remember, you want to solve the problem, not be part of it! Listen to the patron’s explanation of the problem and ask, “What would you like me to do?” or “What can I do to help?” The person usually has a solution in mind. You can go with the patron’s solution or offer your own.

Avoid telling the patron “No.” If you can’t comply with the request, explain what you can do. “How ’bout if we get you a new server who probably won’t spill a tray of beers on you, and get you a complimentary T-shirt because yours is wet?”