Emma Underwood asks: Is the customer always right?

The  Staff Canteen

Do you think the customer is always right? Restaurant Manager and blogger, Emma Underwood explores why this isn't always a black and white answer.

In her latest blog with The Staff Canteen, Emma discusses why the customer is not always right and how to deal with the most common issues with restaurant customers.


Is the customer always right?

‘The customer is always right’, right? This question gets asked in restaurants all over the country, with the answer not always a straight-forward ‘yes’.

Certain bad behaviours from guests has led to an increasing level of mistrust between chefs, front of house and their diners. From inventing allergies to avoid a particularly disliked food, to failing to show up to bookings, there are a myriad of ways in which our guests can cause seemingly insurmountable problems in our restaurants.

Why the restaurant game is tough
The restaurant game is tough. Razor thin profit margins are being stretched to their absolute limit by a swiftly impending Brexit, making economic pressures keener than ever.

The difference between a busy, and not-so-busy day are so crucial to breaking even, meaning that many are being pushed to the brink by guests not fulfilling their bookings. And those that do turn up often bring with them problems of another kind in the form of complicated dietary requirements designed to push an already stretched kitchen to its absolute limit.

Many of which will disappear, depending on what is on offer for dessert, as we have all seen that vegan / gluten free / dairy free diner abandon their diets in favour of a chocolate tart. The answer, for many of us, is to vent our grievances to as many as possible. The post-service frustrations flood social media, complaints of no-shows and false allergies filling our timelines. The way so many of us are now talking about our guests is putting us in great danger of becoming inhospitable, which is supposed to be the essence of our industry.

Espresso chocolate tart with cholocate sauce
Chocolate Tart

Remaining engaged with our guests
It is without a doubt that these issues are horrendously damaging to our businesses, but it is so important that they are dealt with in a manner that is still welcoming and generous.

The culture that is swiftly being fostered creates such a distance between ourselves and our guests that we are in danger of losing sight of what is essential: hospitality.

The dining experience no longer starts and finishes within the restaurant, as the role of social media has extended to the point that our guest's impressions are now formulated through their timelines, and their interactions with us are more personal than ever before.

It is vital that we, as a restaurant community, don’t become closed to the people that we need the most: our diners.

Certainly, our frustrations are all justified, and it is not surprising that they are so often vented in such manners, but we should be endeavouring now to solve these problems without viewing our guests as enemies.

No Shows
There are no such thing as ideal solutions to the issues mentioned here, the no show problem is something that will never be fully rectified, but we should all start to try and fix them while keeping a sense of hospitality in mind. Despite how it can often feel, our guests are not here to deliberately make our lives difficult, they simply want to come and enjoy our restaurants, and it is our job to facilitate this with as few gripes as possible.

Blog by Emma Underwood, Restaurant Manager, Stem

Emma Underwood blog image
Emma Underwood

Emma Underwood is the restaurant manager of Stem, in Mayfair, having previously worked at Where the Light Gets In, based in Stockport and Burnt Truffle in Heswall, part of Gary Usher’s ever-expanding restaurant empire.

Emma started working with Gary in 2012 when she joined the Sticky Walnut team as a waitress before moving to the sister restaurant, Burnt Truffle as the general manager.

Emma is also part of the TMRW Project along with food writer Anna Sulan Masing which was set up in 2015.

The project acts as a platform for people starting out early in their career to help them grow, learn and connect with each other. It hosts the Chefs of Tomorrow Dinners, the front of house initiative The Switch, and a series of talks and panel discussions.

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 10th April 2018

Emma Underwood asks: Is the customer always right?