Let’s face it--your product can be great, but it’s nothing without A+ service that makes each customer feel special. And we all know too well that, unfortunately, not every single patron is going to walk away with a smile, no matter how hard we try. Maybe they’re having a bad day and being extra picky, maybe it was a factor out of our control, or perhaps it was a helpful growing moment for a new establishment still finding their sea legs. No matter what, when the time comes to address customer dissatisfaction and turn that criticism into an opportunity to showcase your brand’s integrity, we are faced with a question that is even older than the internet--to comp, or not to comp?
Restaurant comps are a double-edged sword, and now in the days of customers sharing sordid tales of their dining mishaps all over social media, there can be increased pressure to react in a public way. They can come back to the teeth-gritting-yet-important service industry adage of the customer always being right: at the end of the day, even if you and your staff did everything right, it can be advisable to comp a meal or offer a freebie in the interest of saving a customer. A response to a negative online review can spread the message that you value consumer happiness and are a relatable, human business. Especially if you actually are at fault (most reasonable humans worthy of dining with you ultimately can grasp the humanity of their servers and chefs and realize that, well, shit happens) comping is a great way to save face, right a wrong, and easily smooth over a potential conflict. Patrons are less likely to hold on to that imperfect experience if they feel validated and like amends have been made, and a comped meal or free round of apps can be the olive branch that has a customer re-thinking blacklisting your establishment, or leaving a nasty review online.
On the other hand, if word spreads that you are loose with the freebies, you stand to be in danger of being taken advantage of--and having finicky people looking to save a buck fudging mishaps or feigning distress. This increased pressure to comp can lead to revenue loss and all-around chaos. For cases of pure unfounded customer craziness and unrealistic expectations that are completely out of your control, this is a good place to draw a line and respectfully stand your ground a bit. This is, of course, a fine line and a case-by-case basis, and it’s always better to affirm the customer’s needs and take a small loss than to permanently burn a bridge, but when someone is making completely unrealistic demands that have nothing to do with the quality of service or product, it’s not always necessary to throw business sense to the wind to appease them.
If it seems like you are constantly comping to make up for issues, there may be some internal kinks in your business that need to be examined. This is where quantitative feedback tools like PLEY come in--to give you proper data to sound the alarm and highlight areas for improvement. This has the potential to grow your earnings exponentially--not only by nearly eliminating losses from comping, but also by giving you the tools to anticipate customer’s needs like never before. It’s like that movie, What Women Want. But for steaks.