How to Turn Bar Complaints into Repeat Customers

By Ray Foley, Heather Dismore

Although no one likes to hear what she’s doing wrong, many bar owners overlook the immense opportunity that customers provide when they’re chewing you out because your place sucks. Granted, it doesn’t always feel like an opportunity at the time, which is why we’re telling you about it now, in a moment of cool, calm collectedness.

You do, indeed, want people to complain to you on occasion. The alternative is that a customer is disappointed, doesn’t tell you, never comes back again, and tells 15 other people how bad your place is. Yikes!

Okay, so here’s how you make sure your patrons not only leave happy but also come back and stay happy.

  1. Listen to the patron.

    Close your mouth, make solid, continuous eye contact, and just listen. Too many times managers rush to fix the problem without listening to what the customer is telling them. In essence, the manager interrupts, causing even more problems.

    Remove whatever is disappointing or offending the customer immediately. If it’s a drink or food item, remove the glass or plate immediately after you’ve heard the complaint. If it sits there in front of the customer, it continues to be a source of negative emotions and can prevent you from turning around the situation.

  2. Apologize or thank the patron for the feedback, depending on the situation.

    Believe it or not, many patrons just want to know that you hear their problem and feel their pain. Your sincerity can go a long way in resolving the problem in their mind. Sometimes guests just want to tell you an idea that would make your place better for them, so they’re not complaining; they’re just making a suggestion.

    Thank them for their interest in your business and let them know you’ll consider their idea.

  3. Fix the current problem.

    Don’t just start comping drinks off the patron’s check. If the problem is that her glass is chipped, get her a new one. If the Coke in her Jack and Coke tastes funny, go check the soda system. Give her a quality experience first, and consider giving something away as a last resort.

  4. Rectify the long-term problem.

    Let your customers know that you’ll definitely take care of the long-term problem. In the chipped-glass example, maybe you institute a more-careful inspection of glassware at some stage in your stocking process.

    In the Coke example, you can set up a system where a barback makes more frequent checks of the soda system. Whatever it is, figure out systematically what caused the offending experience to occur and take steps to fix it.