The Most Common Restaurant Complaints (And How to Fix Them)

Posted on July 29, 2015 by Michelle Locke

When it comes to your restaurant, you do everything you can to provide great food and a great experience. But sometimes things go wrong. It might come out of the blue or it might be an issue that you’ve been struggling to address with your staff. Compare common complaints in your restaurant to this report from Consumer Reports. In this blog post, we’ll cover these most common restaurant complaints from consumers… and how to make changes to fix them.


It comes as no surprise that the biggest complaints among consumers have to do with restaurant cleanliness. 76% of consumers have complained about dirty utensils or improperly cleaned tables, and 73% of consumers complained about unclean or ill-equipped restrooms. Equally bad, 67% of restaurant guests complained about the appearance or the hygiene of the staff!

When it comes to things like clean bathrooms, clean surroundings, and staff hygiene, the solution is simple. As an owner or manager, you might not always be in the restaurant, so ask your bussers (or the employee in charge of cleaning the bathrooms), “ What prevents you from doing this task?” The answer might surprise you. For example, an evening busser might explain that the morning bussers don’t refill supplies from the supply closet, and then the manager leaves with the key to the supply closet before they get a chance to clean! That’s an easy solution.

However, that might not always be the case. You might learn that bussers and dishwashers feel overwhelmed and don’t have time to do their work thoroughly, which means a neglected bathroom, tables that aren’t cleaned properly, and silverware with surprises. This might mean you need to readjust your scheduling practices, increasing the number of bussers or introducing new methods to the dishroom.

Training matters for all cleanliness issues. Providing clear policies for the cleanliness level you expect in your restaurant, and reiterating these policies several times a year, will ensure that employees remember that cleanliness matters, from the bathroom, to the tables, to their own hygiene. When it comes to staff dress codes, make sure to provide feedback to staff—and if you see an employee obviously breaking the dress code, you need to explain why they’re out of code and how it can affect their tips.

Server Behavior

When it comes to servers, your guests have high standards. 24% of consumers polled said they had complained about servers who use pet names, such as “honey”, “sweetie”, or “dear.” While these may seem like terms of endearment, and aren’t said with malice, servers need proper training to understand that this level of familiarity isn’t appropriate for guests.

One of the biggest complaints among consumers was impolite or condescending behavior, with 72% of guests saying they had complained about their server’s attitude. Everyone knows that being a server isn’t always easy, but with training in place, you can remind your servers that your restaurant’s reputation, and their tips, are dependent on maintaining a positive and polite attitude even in the toughest circumstances.

Other little complaints about servers include plates or beverages being removed before the guest is finished (59% have complained) and servers not bringing water or drink refills when asked (27% have complained). As well, 61% of restaurant guests have complained about feeling rushed to finish or leave. All of these complaints can again be remedied with continual training and reminders of the proper sequence of serving and server behavior. Pre-shift meetings might be a good place to do this. It’s also important to remind other employees, such as food runners and bussers who may assist servers, of these policies as well. You don’t want a great server to be punished when a busser or food runner forgets the steps of service!


What about the back of the house and management? Sometimes guest complaints make it seem like everything can be aimed at servers, bartenders, and bussers… but some complaints often aren’t their fault.

Many complaints are in relation to food, as well as the menu. One of the most confusing complaints is related to nutritional information: 14% of guests have complained about a lack of nutritional information on the menu… but 16% of guests have complained about too much nutritional information! What’s the right answer? If too much nutritional information turns some guests off, but not enough makes guests unwilling to visit your restaurant, it can feel like there is no right answer. The solution may be somewhere in the middle, for instance providing a second menu or brochure upon request that features more detailed nutritional information.

Other complaints include poorly situated tables (38% have complained) and food that doesn’t look or taste as described on the menu (54% have complained).

Poorly situated tables, like those located right across from server stations or right in front of the kitchen doors, might be necessary to allow more diners… but the result is often that the guest feels rushed or awkward from being too close to “behind the scenes” restaurant situations! Walk through your restaurant and identify any problem tables and remove them.

When it comes to food that doesn’t look or taste as it was described on the menu, this boils down to training. Make sure that your back of house staff is aware of recipes and plating descriptions, and ensure they’re following them no matter how busy they get! On-going training to remind back of house staff of the importance of beautiful, appetizing dishes will ensure that guests receive exactly what they expect.

Training as a Solution

You may notice a theme when it comes to the above complaints and solutions: in most cases, increased training and reinforcement of policies and procedures will lead to a reduction in complaints in regard to cleanliness, service, and food. Here at Waitrainer+, we know training. Our Content Store provides options for training that address all of the above issues. The Waitrainer+ system ensures on-going training is simple to set in place and measure as employees are hired and stay on board. If you’d like to learn more about Waitrainer+, and how training can reduce complaints at your restaurant, contact us here.