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Guest Complaints: Dos and Don’ts

When a guest calls to complain, they often just want to be heard - whether your business had anything to do with it or not. Stick to these Dos and Don’ts to create a positive customer interaction every time.

At this time of year, with norovirus and flu season, people get sick. And when they do, they often think back to the last restaurant they ate at before they got sick -- whether that’s relevant or not. 


Most foodborne illness has a 12-36 hour incubation period, so it’s often what you ate the day before, rather than a few hours before. Many folks don’t know the difference between the symptoms of other common illnesses and foodborne illnesses, and even when they do, they often turn to the most recent - rather than the most likely - culprit for their gastrointestinal troubles. 


Knowing all this, it can be frustrating when a customer calls in to complain, especially when we suspect that it we didn’t make them sick. 


Turning a Guest Complaint into a Great Guest Experience


Making a customer feel heard and understood is the name of the game. 

How they feel during this first call usually determines whether they call the health department, how they’ll talk about it with their friends, or whether they post online. 



  • Take responsibility for their illness - in most cases, your business is genuinely not responsible. 
  • Tell them whether you have any other guest complaints. This should never be disclosed to a client. 
  • Get angry. Even though most foodborne illness has a 12-36 hour onset, many folks don’t know that. Politely and respectfully direct them to information about onset times that might better help them identify what caused their illness, like the CDC.


  • Make sure the most senior manager on site takes the call. This makes folks feel like their complaint is important.
  • Be polite and empathetic. Listen to their full story without interrupting. Share that you hope they feel better.
  • Encourage them to seek medical attention from their personal physician if necessary
  • Get their full information, including how best to reach them and all the information about their symptoms, when they were at your establishment, when their symptoms started, and whether anyone else with them became ill
  • Give them a timeline for when you’ll call back (e.g. within 24 hours) and stick to that 
  • Listen to understand what they want. Many folks just want to be heard or to let us know. Some want credit for their meal. Play it by ear and use your best judgement. 
  • Make it personal. Ask them to come back in when they’re feeling better, and to ask for you so that you can meet them in-person. Make them feel heard, personally.

And remember, sometimes this helps us respond to a crisis early. When in doubt, check in with Zedic and we’ll help you to navigate the tricky world of guest complaints. 

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