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By Dana Krook
Happy guests can make the difference between a restaurant’s success and failure. That means customer satisfaction is the primary goal of every restaurant owner and manager. But what happens when your guests don’t like their food, the service they received, or another aspect of their dining experience?
That’s when a comp – a complimentary meal or menu item – may come into play.
Occasionally, a manager will offer to comp a dish, or even an entire meal, in response to a guest’s complaints. However, there are both advantages and drawbacks to this approach. Read on for a closer look at restaurant comps, the factors to consider when deciding whether to offer comped meals, and how to make the most of the comps you offer.
A comped meal is when a restaurant owner or manager (or less frequently, a server) waives the cost of part or all of a guest’s meal. A comp may be offered to help offset a mistake that was made or to celebrate a special occasion, such as offering a piece of cake to a guest celebrating her birthday or glasses of champagne to a couple celebrating their anniversary.
A comped meal may be offered in the following situations:
A comp can help calm an unhappy guest, BUT comping shouldn’t be a knee-jerk reaction to a minor complaint or issue. Ideally, comping should be done thoughtfully and in accordance with your restaurant’s policy.
Without such a policy in place, your staff may approve too many comped meals, which can have a number of negative consequences for your restaurant. In excess, comps could hurt your profit margin, impact your servers’ tips, and encourage guests to have an unrealistic expectation of future comps.
Staff members with the authority to determine whether a dish or meal may be comped vary by restaurant. Many restaurants allow only managers to offer comps, while others will allow servers to offer them as well.
If you are giving servers this ability, you should have a written policy that describes when comped meals can be offered, including whether family and friends can ever be offered free or discounted meals.Your restaurant’s employee handbook should indicate whether a manager needs to approve a comped meal before the order is placed or after the dish has been served (in the event the comp is offered because the guest was unhappy with the dish). These permissions should also be reflected in your restaurant’s POS.
TouchBistro’s POS system lets you easily customize these security settings to reflect your restaurant’s policy, so you can control and monitor how many dishes and meals are being comped. If you are concerned that allowing servers to offer comps will hurt profits, consider monitoring theft before deciding.
Your employee handbook is a valuable tool to successful onboarding. Download your template now to start your own handbook for your restaurant!
There are a number of factors to consider when deciding whether to comp a meal. If you’re comping a dish or a meal because a guest is unhappy, consider the reaction of the guest and the severity of what happened.
Here are some examples of when you’ll want to comp an individual item or meal:
Not every mistake or misstep warrants a comp, however. Consider these situations when a comp may not be your best go-to:
As you can see, not every unhappy guest should be offered a comp. There are other ways to handle these issues, including offering a gift card or a discount on a future meal. Providing a future discount may make the guest more likely to return to your restaurant than if you comp today’s meal, giving you another opportunity to gain a happy, satisfied diner.
The idea behind comping is relatively simple. It’s to transform an unhappy guest into a happy one, or to make an already happy guest even happier!
However, in an ideal world, you won’t need to offer many comps to address service or food complaints. How can you accomplish this? By ensuring better quality service from your team and regularly checking in with guests while they’re at your restaurant.
That means instructing your servers and/or managers to touch base with your guests throughout their dining experience. This may include after drinks or appetizers are served, not only after the main course is served. Your servers may be in the habit of checking in at that point – but too often this happens before guests have had a chance to try their food.
Train your servers to ask if guests are happy after they’ve eaten some of the meal, and address any complaints or concerns then. Something as simple as adding a forgotten “extra” to a main dish or reheating a dish to a guest’s temperature preference may be all it takes to satisfy the person. But when you miss that opportunity, even a small issue may morph into a more significant one.
An unhappy guest typically is looking to be heard and understood, first off. A server or manager who listens, apologizes, and makes it clear that they’re willing to address mistakes is the first line of defense in keeping comps low. Keep the lines of communication open and try to establish rapport with the guest while you determine how to respond.
Taking the next step of comping a dish (or less frequently, a meal) can appease a guest and make it more likely they’ll return. But just as important is the manager’s attitude and demeanor during that conversation.
Keep in mind, however, that if a guest is unhappy enough with the food or service, the guest is likely to complain – and complain to more than one person. Online reviews can have a tremendous impact on your restaurant’s success, and the best time to address guest’s concerns is when they occur, face to face, not through an online portal.
If you do happen to get a negative online review, be sure to take the time to respond to it. Express your appreciation for the review, apologize, and ask the guest to give you an opportunity to do better next time. Your proactive response may encourage that guest to return, while also making a positive impression on future readers of the review.
Often, more focus is placed on comping as a way of pacifying a dissatisfied guest. But don’t overlook the impact of a positive, or thank you comp.
Whether you choose to comp a regular’s dessert or send a round of free appetizers to a group of coworkers who frequent your restaurant, you are creating loyal guests. And they’re not only likely to return but also to spread the word about your restaurant. That’s an investment in good will that can be hard to quantify.
So, when it comes to comping, should you or shouldn’t you?
The short answer: It depends.
Having a policy that clearly delineates your stance on comping, including discounting food for friends and family, is critical. Training your managers (and servers, if they are given the authority to do so) about when and how to comp also is important. However, don’t forget that focusing on service and continual communication with your guests is likely to decrease the number of guest complaints.
It’s important to keep in mind that comping is only a gesture. It represents the attitude your restaurant should embrace when it comes to service and satisfaction – that you truly care about your guests and their dining experience. When your staff communicates this message and your guests believe it, they’re likely to be happier overall, regardless of the comps you offer.
Dana is the former Content Marketing Manager at TouchBistro, sharing tips for and stories of restaurateurs turning their passion into success. She loves homemade hot sauce, deep fried pickles and finding excuses to consume real maple syrup.
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