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"The Customer is always right"........Right? - Reflections of a Reluctant Landlady

Updated: Apr 17

In the world of hospitality, the adage "the customer is always right" can sometimes ring hollow. In our business, placing the customer at the forefront was our guiding principle. This commitment led to a rapid turnaround of the reputation of the pub and an influx of positive Trip Advisor reviews. But the journey was a masterclass in understanding human nature and how far they might go to get something for free!


Navigating customer complaints is a delicate balance of empathy and discernment. While the vast majority of our guests (99% to be exact) left content, there was a small fraction who could rival Houdini in escapology, particularly when it came to evading their bill.

Over time, I became adept at identifying serial complainers - those in pursuit of a complimentary meal. These individuals often cited dubious reasons for dissatisfaction, despite clean plates and positive feedback during service check-backs.


A particularly memorable incident involved my son unusually barring a customer for what I'd describe as 'creative feedback'. She insisted her meal was incorrect at the first check-back, despite clear evidence to the contrary,but we dutifully changed it. She then swapped her fresh glass for a used one to claim it was given to her dirty. She failed to raise any issues when she received her second check-back. After cleaning her plate, she declared her meal inedible, loudly demanded a full refund or she would write a bad Trip Advisor review and became increasingly disruptive when we politely refused. Her exit from the pub was met with applause from other customers!


She wasn’t the only one to threaten us with bad Trip Advisor Reviews if we did not give her the meal for free.  At first, I used to worry about getting a bad review, but I learned to just remind them that we had the right to reply.


And we were not alone in these frustrating encounters. The recent national news story of a woman caught on camera adding an unusual ingredient - her own hair - to her meal highlights the lengths some will go to.

From these experiences, we fine-tuned our approach to customer service:


  • Training staff to repeat orders back, minimising misunderstandings.

  • Conducting prompt check-backs post-serving, addressing issues swiftly.

  • Assigning staff to specific sections, enhancing customer rapport (and avoiding the annoying continual check-backs when you have a mouth full of food).

  • Establishing clear policies on discounts and refunds, with shift managers leading complaint resolution. Our standard offer was a 10% reduction, unless we really had messed up the order.

  • Not succumbing to the pressure of negative reviews threats for unwarranted refunds.

  • Addressing negative on-line reviews by replying, or on occasion asking Trip Advisor to remove the more vexatious ones.


For those in the hospitality industry, whether veterans or newcomers, it's important to remember: the customer may not always be right, but every interaction is a chance to learn and evolve. It is also key that you do what you can to minimise complaints, deal with serial complainers effectively and still keep excellent customer service at the heart of what you do.


A poster with the words The Customer is Always Right ....Right.  Next to the words there is a busy waitress at the sweet trolley and below a nice looking reception.

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