What should I do for a customer who returns a bad entrée?

bad entree
Comp the meal or give some free drinks or a dessert when the salad is bad, says Advice Guy. | Photo: Shutterstock.


Dear Advice Guy,

I had a table send back a salad because the chicken was undercooked. Gross. I told the kitchen, rang it in again, and asked my manager to void the bad one and comp the good one. He refused the comp because he said they got what they paid for. It turned out they tipped fine, but I was worried they would be mad and it would affect my tip, even though I had nothing to do with the problem. Who is right?

– Server


While in the end, the guests got what they paid for—a salad with properly cooked chicken on it—they did not pay for the experience of trying and rejecting the improperly cooked dish, flagging you down to complain, or waiting for the replacement.

Guest service is all about meeting or exceeding expectations. In this case, the guest expects that for their money they will receive a tasty, attractively presented and properly cooked dish in a reasonable amount of time. While it’s great that you were able to deliver that eventually, you failed to meet the guest’s expectations.

When I teach service recovery, I use the formula “Fix +1” as a guide. What they asked for was the salad—and they eventually got that, but not without frustration. That was the fix. To compensate for their frustration and keep them coming back, they need a “+1” commensurate with their frustration. This might be the comp, as you suggest, or a round of drinks and/or a round of desserts. I also always advise one perk or comp for their return visit to send the message that you invite them to see your operation do better next time.

You are right that your tip would likely have been enhanced had you had the freedom to properly compensate for this miscue. But the operation would also benefit as a small investment in food cost might build long-term loyalty.

More on managing guest complaints here.