Restaurant 101: It’s Complicated

It’s a contentious question in the operation of a restaurant, when to comp or not to comp? Is it better to send an appetizer or dessert to a guest who dines with you frequently, or to bank those freebies to compensate for errors made during service?
Each restaurant is different. Sometimes, the policy is to make new guests and regulars feel incredibly welcome, by:
·      Sending a complimentary amuse bouche or appetizer to first time diners
·      Sending complimentary appetizer, or additional new dish to regulars to get their opinion on it.
·      Getting a freebie dessert on the table for birthdays or anniversaries (see more on that here)
It’s a preventative, positive reinforcement method. Other restaurants feel that consistently great food and service are enough to hit the right note of warmth and welcome.
So they reserve their comps to smooth over any multitude of kerfluffles that can occur tableside. With any human invention, errors are inevitable from time to time. When, in the course of human events, any of the following occurs,
·      The order ticket gets lost in the kitchen (yes, this does happen sometimes)
·      The establishment is out of the wine (dessert, entrée) the guest ordered
·      A guest waited more than 5 minutes for a table when they had a reservation
·      the server is rude, (awkward, sick, inattentive, overly familiar, etc.)
·      the busboy throws away the ½ of a $40 ribeye steak that you wanted to take home and cook up as steak and eggs in the morning
There should be some icing spread over the top of that awkward cake.

And that ‘something’ can take the form of a round of drinks, all the way up to comping the entire check. For the incidents above, respectively:
·      comping the entrees, or the entire check, (depending on how long it takes for the food to actually hit the table)
·      A round drinks, or 50% off a different bottle of wine (dessert, entree, etc.)
·      Appetizers on the house, or a round of drinks
·      Re-assign the table to another server, send apps or desserts, all the way up to taking care of the whole check (depending on how bad it got)
·      Gift card, or an entire new steak to-go (depending on how long the guest is comfortable waiting)
Then there are comps as bouncebacks—things that bring the guest back in, to experience the food and service that are more indicative of the establishment under normal conditions. These are things such as:
·      a promise to take care of drinks or desserts next time around (usually accompanied by the manager’s business card)
·      a giftcard or coupon for a discount when the guests return
So, if the owner or management of a restaurant is serious about guest satisfaction, there are myriad options for them to rectify the situation.  It gets really touchy as a manager, though, when you have done everything you can to catch a situation as it develops in the restaurant, to acknowledge the errors, and to compensate for them, only to be dinged later on Yelp, or similar review sites.
The guests leave happy, accept all the comps and adjustments you send, then go home to write a terrible review. Those reviews always fail to mention that the errors were acknowledged and compensated for by the restaurant.  It’s completely within these guests’ rights to do– free speech and all that– but it stings when we see it on the other side.
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