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Steps of Handling Complaints in Hotels and Restaurants | SOP


Hotel and Restaurant customers are very sensitive to their needs. Their expectations are high and the competition is fierce. Your ability or inability to handle complaints can make or break your hotel or restaurant business.


As a hotel or restaurant owner or manager, your prime duty is to ensure customer satisfaction. If you are able to resolve complaints, you have high chances of running a successful business. If complaints are unresolved, customers are quick to rush to the internet and you know what that means - you will lose business.


Here are the steps on handling complaints in hotels and restaurants:


This is probably the most important step in handling customer complaints. So what does HEAT stand for?

  • Hear - Let me "give off steam". If you do not allow your customer to speak or you keep interjecting, your success in resolving the matter is close to none! Don’t interrupt or argue with the customer. Let them express their frustrations / let off steam – however you are not there to be verbally or physical abused by the customer and you must challenge this poor behaviour towards you or others. Do ask questions and clarify to ensure you get to the real issue.

  • Empathize - "I understand exactly why you are frustrated..."

  • Apologize - "This is not the standard of Sam Hotels and I sincerely apologize for the inconvenience"

  • Take responsibility and put things right. Make sure that whatever the customer is complaining about gets resolves as soon as possible. 

  • Take them away from other customers if possible. It is easier to deal with the with the complaint away from other customers. The customer also feel that you are giving them your undivided attention. If this is not possible, try to lower your voice so that the conversation is not overheard by other customers.


The Pleasing Principle 

  • P – Always be polite
  • L – Listen attentively
  • E – Empathise and ensure feedback
  • A – Ask questions and display a good attitude
  • S – Smile
  • I – Show genuine interest
  • N – Never say “No” upfront, reword negatives and offer alternatives
  • G – Go far and settle in the situation


  • Identifying the Nature of the Complaint or Incident - Throughout the interaction, you should communicate in a way that promotes goodwill and understanding between the guest and the company. Speak quietly and calmly, and make sure that your body language is calming. Do not react to any aggressive body language that the guest might be displaying.

  • Do not show fear or anxiety – it is important to show confidence because the guest needs to know that you can handle the situation.

  • Once the guest has finished speaking, state your understanding of the problem. 

  • If the complaint is a telephonic one, transfer the call to another telephone where you can give the guest your undivided attention without disturbing other colleagues or guests. Establish the facts and use good questioning skills. 


Reassure the guest

Thank the guest for bringing the problem to your attention. 

  • Never blame another person or department for causing the problem – it is unprofessional and disloyal to the company which you represent.  Do not make excuses.


Evaluate the complaint

  • The importance of evaluating customer complaints and taking appropriate corrective action is critical to the success of a business as a complaint ignored, is a customer/guest lost forever.

    This directly impacts on the profitability of the organisation and could result in loss of employment.

    The statistics and the pie chart below further indicates why customers do not return:

    1% Die

    3% Move away from the area

    5% Make other business contacts

    9% Say prices are too high

    14% Say merchandise purchased was inferior

    68% Say they switched to the competitor because of the attitude of the personnel.


Problems meeting the guest requirements

  • If you are unable to meet the guest’s requirements, it is important to explain this to the guest, and to give a reason. If the guest knows the reason why you are unable to meet his or her requirements, he or she is likely to be far more amenable than if you simply say that something cannot be done. This is true, even if the request may have seemed somewhat bizarre to you. You could say something like:

  • “Ms. ______ I am unable to give you a sea-facing room as they are all occupied.”

  • If possible, you could then offer an alternative. For example:

  • “I see you will be with us for another three nights. I can move you to a sea-facing room for the last two nights. Would that satisfy you?”

  • If a guest asks you for information which you don’t have and are unable to find through your usual resources, explain this to the guest. If appropriate, suggest an alternative.

  • It is also important to explain any delays to the guest concerned. As long as guests know what is going on and why they are being kept waiting, they can make the choice either to wait or to do something else. The more information they have, the more they feel in control because they can still make choices about what they do.


Following up requests

  • If you have assisted a guest by providing information or a service, it is important that you follow-up and check whether the guest is satisfied with the information or service that he/she received.

  • On most occasions you can ask whether the guest is satisfied immediately, while the guest is still in front of you or on the telephone. On such occasions, you could ask such questions as:

    “Is there anything else I can do for you?”


    “Does that meet your needs?”

  • There will be other occasions when you need to revert to the guest at a later stage to check satisfaction, especially if the required action took some time to complete. On such occasions, you should contact the guest by telephone to check if he or she is satisfied with the action taken.

  • If the guest is not satisfied, it is essential to solve the problem, or take further action until the guest is satisfied. 

  • Take every opportunity to ask if guests are satisfied with the facilities and service in the hotel. Such opportunities include:

    When checking out a guest.

    When in a lift with a guest.

    When providing a guest with a bill to sign

  • When the guest responds to your question, listen carefully to what the guest is saying, and ask questions to ensure that you understand.

  • Thank the guest for his/her comments. 

  • Inform your Head of Department of what the guest has said, and if necessary or in your scope of responsibility, write the information in the handover book. 


Customer complaints procedure

If the complaint or incident is something which you can handle, then it is your responsibility to take appropriate action as follows:


Step# 1 – Discuss Action & Agree

Discuss with the guest what action should be taken, and come to a definite agreement on what will be done and by when. 


Step# 2 – Take Necessary Action

Take the necessary action.  Don’t waste time.


Step# 3 – Do Not Overcommit

Do not offer something the establishment cannot provide.


Step# 4 – Get Staff Members To Resolve Complaints

The following complaints can usually be resolved by the staff members involvement:

  • Lack of supplies
  • Wrong order
  • Misunderstandings
  • Delays in service
  • Spills or breakage’s
  • Lost property


Step# 5 – Get Someone in Authority

At every level of staff, complaints can be handled. If the solution is something that the employee can do without the permission of his or her manager, then the employee has the authority to solve the complaint, and should do so.


Step# 6 – Involve Managment

If the solution is something that requires a higher level of authority, then it is at that level of authority that the responsibility for resolving the complaint lies.  As a manager, it is your responsibility to step in and assist subordinates to handle complaints that are outside the scope of their jobs which they don’t have the authority to resolve, or which they feel uncomfortable about handling.


Step# 7 – Follow Up

It is still the responsibility of the employee who first heard the complaint to follow up and check that the guest is satisfied with the solution.


Step# 8 – Set the Right Example

It is important that you set the right example to your team.  If you avoid handling complaints, you will lose the respect of your team, and service problems will worsen.


Step# 9 – Be Effective

By handling complaints effectively you are setting the correct example for your team, and they will learn from watching you in action. 


Step# 10 – Use Negotiation Skills

It is valuable to use negotiation skills when handling complaints because:

  • When seeking an appropriate solution to the complaint, it is important to meet both the expectations of the guest and the needs of the company.
  • Negotiation skills are used when it is necessary to reach a compromise between what the guest wants and what company policy allows you to do.
  • The objective of negotiating is to reach a solution that represents a win: win – that is, the guest is happy and so is the company.


Step# 11

You have the following options available for resolving complaints:

  • Correct the mistake and give the guest what was requested or expected.
  • If appropriate, you could pass a “no charge” for the item or service that was the subject of the complaint – for example, the customer found hair in the meal. 
  • Replace the problem product – for example, offer another menu item.
  • Give the guest a complimentary item – for example, a liqueur coffee on the house. 


Are you in the hospitality industry? Did these tips help you? I would like to hear from you. Please leave a comment. 


Warm Regards, 


Mr. Samkeliso Nkwanyane (Hospitality Coach, Speaker and Consultant)