How to spot a scammer

scam alert


I’ve empowered my staff to respond to customer concerns and make things right without needing my approval, but was recently burned by a scammer who went restaurant to restaurant demanding refunds, claiming she ordered takeout and found hair in her food! Where’s the balance?


– Fast casual, Philadelphia


Unfortunately, wherever there is a system, there will be someone trying to take advantage of it. It’s great you empower your staff to solve problems directly. Even though you are feeling the sting of this thief, I would suspect that the positive service recoveries you’ve made by enabling your staff to solve problems far outweigh the cost of the occasional bad actor.

That said, in the same way you train staff to problem-solve, you may be able to train them to detect a scammer.

Scams like these share some characteristics:

  • They often happen during a busy lunch or dinner rush when the employee (or manager) just wants to get the problem solved as quickly as possible.
  • They often are disruptive and make threats like calling the health department, posting a video, or posting to social media or review sites.
  • They often decline to answer specifics regarding their order or experience, covering their lack of knowledge with mock outrage.

While a real disgruntled customer may share that outrage, they usually want the restaurateur to understand the problem, both to empathize with their shock and to prevent future problems. A good technique to sniff out a scammer is, rather than dismissing their concern, to push them to help you understand the problem, as a real guest with a concern would do.

Some techniques:

  • Slow down. Ask the guest to speak about this at a time when they have your undivided attention.
  • Audit. Ask for specifics that you can check against the POS so that you can truly understand the problem and learn more about who was involved, what was ordered and served, and when.
  • Interview. Gather details about the food, timing and service that only someone who has been to your operation would know.

If you follow this process and get satisfactory answers, you’ll have benefitted by getting more information to learn whether, in fact, you had a problem, how to make it right to retain that guest, and how to prevent future problems. If you get unsatisfactory answers, call the police.

More on spotting scammers here.

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