Speak out: How to deal with customer complaints

worried woman with a plate of foodThe Speak Out campaign is designed to address food hygiene issues by providing you and your staff with tips and guidance on dealing with customer concerns.

Recent research has revealed that 53% of consumers feel reluctant to speak out if they are unhappy about food hygiene standards in food premises."

The Speak Out campaign aims to promote a dialogue between customers and food businesses by providing restaurants with information materials including a staff poster, a customer poster and customer feedback cards.

In addition, safefood has produced guidance for businesses on how to become more customer-focused by developing a Customer Charter.

So why should you get involved?

It makes good business sense to encourage your customers to talk to you directly about any food safety concerns they may have so that you can respond appropriately. The majority of unsatisfied customers will not give a business a second chance and may tell others of their bad experiences. In a difficult business climate, word of mouth is a very powerful tool and you want your customers saying all the right things about your business.

To support food businesses safefood has produced free information packs which contain guidance for food businesses on how to best respond to customer concerns, and information for staff on how to deal with consumers. But for this campaign to be a true success we will need your active support in the frontline of the industry. By encouraging customers to speak out you can ensure that any problems that arise will be dealt with in your premises, thus avoiding any of the bad publicity or negative word-of-mouth that comes from an unhappy and unsatisfied customer.

Dealing with customer comments

waitress taking an orderWhat do you say when a customer has a complaint or an issue with hygiene? Here are some tips that could save their custom. 

1. Thank the customer
You should be thankful that the customer is prepared to give up their time to let you know they have a problem instead of just walking away.

2. Apologise
It’s is not an admission of guilt, just good manners.

3. Put yourself in their place
This will help you both find a solution faster.

4. Treat any negative feedback as legitimate
There are some professional complainers out there, but most people don’t like complaining.

5. Get all the facts first
This will help you to fully understand the situation and, if they are emotional, will give them time to calm down.

6. Gifts aren’t always the answer
They’re just a quick fix, and may lead to more complaints if the problem hasn’t been resolved.

7. Have a continuous improvement culture
Check customer satisfaction regularly, as well as the quality of the goods being sold.

8. Always respond
Make sure that everyone who offers feedback gets a rapid response.

9. Learn from customer feedback
All of the above points are not really valid if you don’t learn from your mistakes and fix the problem.

10. It’s good to talk. Better to listen
Do you really know what your customers think of you?



These stickers show customers that you are participating in the campaign and can be placed in areas where customers will see them such as a bathroom mirror.

Staff training poster

This poster tells staff about the Speak Out campaign and offers them advice on how best to deal with any issues raised by customers about food hygiene.

Feedback card

This feedback card informs customers about what they should expect when on your premises, and allow them to record any comments they may have. They could be left on the counter. A feedback box is also available from safefood.

Customer poster

This poster will increase customer awareness of the campaign, and advise on how best to raise a concern. These could be placed in your bathrooms, corridors or waiting areas.