Bartender serving cocktail to customer at bar

Bar Skills: How To Handle Customer Complaints

Handling complaints effectively can make or break a business. These situations will always arise in the course of business but if they are handled with empathy, understanding and genuine attempts to resolve the matter, we may be able to turn their experience around and learn for the future.  

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

It’s never comfortable when customers complain. Whether the issue centres around a particular product, an aspect of the service, or the overall experience - hearing that something didn't meet expectations can be tough. But in this discomfort lies a valuable opportunity— the chance to tap into hospitality skills and enhance our interactions. Rather than avoiding these moments, take them.

Customer Complaints

Customer complaints are something many bar professionals dread. However, a guest’s critique should be seen as a gift; this is a vital opportunity to rectify a problem and potentially, completely change the perception of the guest’s experience. It’s essential to remember that how the complaint is handled is the lasting memory rather than the complaint itself 

Many guests will resort to leaving a negative review online rather than facing the uncomfortable situation of complaining in person. On average, customers will tell 9 people about a good experience but 16 about a negative one. Therefore, a complaint made in person should be treated as a golden opportunity to rescue the situation. 

Ensure every staff member is properly trained on how to accept a complaint, whether they are waiting staff, a bartender or manager. Ultimately, whilst a customer may not always be right, it is our job to take their perception as reality and ensure each individual has the best possible experience.


Handling a complaint can be a challenge and it’s all too easy to take a guest’s words too personally when your work is being critiqued. To handle a complaint successfully follow the H.E.A.T principles as laid out below: 

  • H Hear the complaint. Actively listen to your guest, make consistent eye contact, and give them your complete undivided attention. 
  • EEmpathise with the guest. Most guests will find complaining an uncomfortable experience, make this as easy as possible for them by reassuring them this feedback is helpful, understood, and wanted. 
  • A Apologise to the guest. As staff we want everyone to have a great experience in our venue, if a guest hasn’t, a clear and genuine apology can go a long way to rectifying the situation.  
  • TTake action. Rectify the situation as quickly as possible. Come up with a solution whether this is remaking a drink or otherwise. If the issue cannot be fixed, take immediate action to avoid the mistake being made in future, this is a benefit not only to the guest but also your team. 

Handling Complaints Online

Some customers prefer to post their complaints online rather than in person at a venue. However, this situation can still be effectively addressed by taking steps to bring the guest back to the venue for a more positive experience. 

It's important to thoroughly read and understand the review before responding, be sure to empathise with the guest and understand their perspective. Write an apologetic response that not only acknowledges the complaints but also extends an offer to call or message the customer privately to further resolve the situation. The objective is to take the conversation off a public forum as quickly as possible. Post your initial response publicly to showcase your commitment to addressing issues and demonstrate your genuine care for customer satisfaction.

Common Mistakes

If a guest has had a bad experience the situation can only get worse if their complaint isn’t handled well. Be wary of these common mistakes when handling a guest complaint: 

Taking the complaint personally – if someone doesn’t like a meal, drink, or product, it’s not a personal attack on your ability, it can just be their preference. Be conscious of acting confrontational or placing blame on the guest. 

Don’t get defensive – Guests can see through excuses regardless of whether they are valid or not. It’s irrelevant to the guest if the venue is busy or understaffed, they still expect the same level of service they would receive at any other time. 

Don’t over promise – some things you can fix, some things you can’t. When offering solutions don’t promise something you won’t be able to deliver, this will only result in future complaints. 

“A customers perception must be our reality” – embrace this principle. Complaints are not about right or wrong, they are simply about creating a great experience for each individual guest. You may make a drink perfectly to spec however this may not suit a customer’s preferences, remaking the drink to their liking can turn a poor experience into a positive one.

Successful Service Recovery

Complaints are a gift that allow hospitality venues to grow, learn and develop. Remember, it’s often as awkward for the customer to complain as it is for us to try and handle the complaint. If we recognise this and approach the complaint with a collaborative approach, we can diffuse that awkwardness and truly help our guests.  

By following the H.E.A.T principles we can make sure our guests feel heard, they feel our empathy, receive a sincere apology, and see the actions we are willing to take to turn their experience around. When guests see us genuinely trying to rectify a complaint it can turn a negative experience a full 180 and turn customers into loyal regulars. 

Handling complaints effectively can make or break a business. Of course, no business intends for things to go wrong or for a guest to be unhappy but sometimes personal preference, uncontrollable circumstance or mistakes can be made. However, if these issues are handled with empathy, understanding and genuine attempts to resolve the matter, most of the time this is appreciated by the guest.

Key Takeaways

  • Customer complaints are an opportunity to understand the perception of your venue and service, and identify potential improvements. 
  • Solving complaints effectively, at the moment they occur, can be an opportunity to deliver an exceptional experience for a guest – and avoid negative online reviews or word-of-mouth criticisms that can spread quickly. 
  • Every member of the team should understand how to respond to a complaint. 
  • Complaints are often emotionally charged, for both the customer and team, but following the H.E.A.T principles ensures the guest feels listened to, and appropriate action is taken. 
  • Respond to online complaints or reviews publicly – but offering to call or message the customer allows you to take further conversation offline. 

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