Managing Catering Service Breakdowns

Anyone who has worked in the food service business for longer than a week has had to deal with a client complaint. It is as much a part of the business as washing the dishes. Like most other tasks in your job, education, training and experience helps you get better at this subtle craft. 

Sometimes people think I am crazy when I say this but I love complaints. Yes, can they be hard, even unpleasant at some times, for sure!  But think about the alternative, a client that is upset but never says anything, and then doesn’t order again. Which would you rather have?  

If you do this right, you are able to turn a negative into a positive and further deepen the trust you have with them.  Remember that we are talking about income streams not single transactions, always keep that in mind. We will now review our process for helping you make the most of challenging interactions. 

To start, I want to cover some basic guidelines that apply to all service breakdown conservations. 

  • Create a standard service recover chart 
  • Gather all the facts from your team
  • When you do speak with the client, listen fully to their remarks before you respond
  •  Don’t make excuses or become defensive
  • Accept Responsibility
  • Get the client back!

My number one recommendation is you need to have some basic service recovery guidelines.  It is important to set this up so that you have some guidelines.  Also, if you and your team have agreed to these, they have a lot of room to manage the calls without worrying about going out of bounds.

When you are made aware of an issue, gather information from your ops team. You don’t want to be caught by surprise in such a delicate situation or be unsure of the facts. When you do speak with the client, listen fully to their remarks before you respond. One of the biggest mistakes made is to preempt the complaint by approaching the client with a collection of apologies and excuses.  Always remember that you are dealing with a client’s perception of the situation, not necessarily the exact reality. If your client has determined there is a problem, then you must deal with the problem, as they perceive it, even if you think they have some things incorrect.

Now, I want to give you a formula called the 4 A’s for handling service breakdowns.

  • Acknowledge 
  • Apologize 
  • Action
  • Address

Take a second, relax, and listen. On occasion a complaining client will be rude, angry, and use vulgar language, stay the course and remain calm and level headed. Show sincere concern for the problem and find out all the details of the actual complaint. Thank them for contacting you and telling you what happened.  

The first A is Acknowledge – Ask questions to make sure that you understand the issue and tell the client about the process that will be taken to resolve the complaint. When the client is done venting; in a calm, non-judgmental tone, repeat their problem. “What I hear you saying is….”

The second A is Apologize – Always apologize even if you did nothing wrong. From your clients’ perspective, they have a legitimate complaint, and they expect an apology. It could be as simple as “I’m sorry we’ve inconvenienced you.” or “I’m sorry, I know how frustrating it is to buy lunch for the office, only to find an item is missing when I get there” A sincere apology will usually diffuse a lot of frustration that the client has. 

Now to the third A is Action – Advise the client of the steps you are going to take to resolve the problem.  This is where your recovery guide comes in handy, you have some ready made solutions matched against your most common issues.  Provide the suggested solution and then ask if they feel this is an appropriate action?  Focus on empathy,and  understanding as you offer the solution.  Provide details on how the issue will be addressed beyond yourself.  In most cases this will be the end of the issue and you can then provide feedback to the team. 

If this doesn’t take care of the issue then let the client know that you will report the issue to your superior, or person in charge, and they will be receiving a call from him/her as quickly as possible.  Thank them again for taking the time to tell us about what happened and giving us an opportunity to fix the problem.  This is very important as many clients just don’t order again and you never know there was a problem.

The last A is Address – Make sure to recap your conversation in your CRM or client portal or via email, wherever you maintain your client data. Assign the follow up or email and assign it to the appropriate manager. Regardless of whether you completely resolved the problem with the customer or not, a follow up call from another is important and solidifies that your team cares about the relationship with the client. Plus it ensures that any resolutions that you and the client agreed to are truly satisfactory.

Good luck and let’s talk catering!


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