Being Short Staffed Is No Excuse for Poor Customer Service

It has been a rough two-plus years for the restaurant industry.

Devastated by COVID, indoor dinning coming to an abrupt ending, employees being laid-off, others put on reduced schedules, and way too many restaurants closing.  Even now, as pandemic numbers are reduced and diners are returning, inflation, the cost of food and worries of a recession are ominous warning signs.

And now, as the pandemic subsides, and customers return to restaurants in growing numbers, owners and managers are dealing with another crisis: being short staffed. But being short staffed, even though it’s a legitimate excuse, is not justification for poor customer service. Other than the quality of a meal, customer service is key to attracting customers and keeping them coming back.

There are ways restaurants short on staff can still provide excellent service. Here are a few suggestions 

Proper Training Is Paramount

First, and most important, what type of customer service training have you given your employees? If you need to think about it, you have failed. Too few restaurants train their employees how to interact and satisfy their customers. Customer service training should be mandatory to overcome the issues that come with being short staffed.

Even when short staffed, customers entering a restaurant should be greeted immediately. You have one chance at making a positive impression. The greeter or host must have some training. If they are not attentive, it will leave a lasting negative impression. Smiling is a particularly important part of the greeting and is mostly the difference between a warm, welcoming hello and a merely courteous hello. Most people appreciate a friendly greeting. Be polite but strike a familiarity with the way you greet your guests.

Never tell your customer that you are short staffed. Your customers do not want to hear it. And it should be no excuse for poor service. They want to know that you will serve them courteously and promptly. Telling customers you are understaffed will have a lasting negative effect.

When lack of staffing leads to making a customer wait for a table longer than usual, or a delay in the meal, a round of drinks on the house offered in a friendly way normally does the trick. But certainly, offer a sincere explanation of what’s going on. Try not to make excuses. 

If a Problem Arises

It’s impossible to run a restaurant without experiencing a service glitch. The problem becomes even greater when you are short on staff. When a customer complains, a quick resolution is necessary. Be it food preparation or a delayed order, solve problems quickly and immediately. It will make your customers feel like you acknowledge them and care about them. Freebies or a refund may be necessary if there’s a colossal failure in service. But don’t blame it on being understaffed.

At the end of the meal, be sure to not only say goodbye, but there is nothing that makes a customer happier with a restaurant’s customer service than the owners or manager asking for their comments. It makes them feel that their opinion matters and if they faced any grievance it will be resolved.

If a customer takes a customer service complaint online and writes negatively about your restaurant there are two ways to properly respond. If it’s anonymous complaint on a website or on social media, you can re-post an apology, offer your contacts, and ask the person to contact you directly. If you know who is complaining, and you can find the diner’s address, respond with a letter, an e-mail or a phone call as soon as possible. Think about a gift certificate to your restaurant as well. It’s a small but powerful token of appreciation and apology.

Remember, short staffed  should not mean short on service.