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Key Ingredients to Writing Refund Policies for Your Restaurant

While you strive to ensure that 100 percent of your customers are happy 

100 percent of the time, unexpected events and challenges occur in the restaurant business to paint a different picture. Whether you provide dine-in, carry-out, or delivery service, preserving customer relationships is vital to your restaurant’s success. 

Because your menu plays a lead role in setting the stage for customer satisfaction, make sure it fully details the ingredients and preparation methods for every dish. This helps guests, especially those with allergies, choose their meals wisely. Further, your wait staff should always be receptive to (and be able to answer) questions from customers who want more information about the dishes you serve. The more your guests know about a meal before they order, the better chance you’ll have at pleasing their palates. 

As your team takes pride and considerable care to properly describe, prepare, serve, and deliver meals each day, an occasional employee error and dissatisfied customer are inescapable. For the times when a customer is unhappy—or when a staff member fumbles a dish—a well-defined refund policy can help retain temporarily disgruntled customers and uphold your reputation in the industry.

The Top Six Refund (and Non-Refund) Issues

There is no one-size-fits-all refund policy that meets the needs of every restaurant in every country. However, a good policy addresses how to manage these six key issues and turn an unhappy customer into a happy one: 

  • Food order errors
  • Food dissatisfaction
  • Spice level issues
  • Pick-up orders and packaging
  • Undeliverable orders
  • Service dissatisfaction

Food Order Errors

If a dine-in or carry-out customer receives food that is different from what they ordered—or their meal is missing an item—they should notify a staff member or waitperson immediately so that you can correct the mistake. Make it right with the customer and remove the incorrect item from their bill. 

For delivery orders, if a customer receives food that is different from the receipt, they should contact your restaurant immediately. They can then choose to either have your driver deliver the correct item (and pick up the incorrect one) or receive a credit. 

Many restaurants stipulate that if a customer consumes more than 25 percent of a meal before notifying a staff member of an error, they will not exchange the meal. You decide whether this should be part of your policy.

Food Dissatisfaction

If a customer is dissatisfied with their food, do you automatically offer a refund or exchange? It depends. If a dish is overly spiced (for example, a very salty soup), not fresh, overcooked, or contains a foreign object, you should offer an exchange or full refund. But if a customer simply doesn’t like the taste of what they ordered, refunds are not typically provided. Try offering the guest a small, complimentary sample of another dish, and if they like it, you have a good shot at retaining that customer!

Spice Level Issues

If you offer a choice of spice levels (mild, medium, hot), keep in mind that a medium dish to one person can be hot to another. Suggest that new customers err on the side of caution and choose a lower spice level with their first order. If they find that the lower spice level isn’t enough, offer a complimentary side of spice so they can add it to their meal as desired.

If a customer declines your advice to choose a lower spice level and finds that the medium or hot meal they ordered is too spicy, discounts or refunds aren’t usually given. 

Pick-up Orders and Packaging

Pick-up food is packaged into containers that keep it at an appropriate temperature and level of freshness for a certain amount of time. But there’s a limit to what those paper or plastic containers can retain. To preserve the quality of pick-up food, advise customers to arrive at the scheduled pick-up time. And if they cannot arrive at the confirmed time, have them contact you at least 10 minutes before the pick-up time so you can keep the waiting food properly warmed or chilled. If a customer arrives after the pick-up time without notifying you, refunds are not typically provided.

Undeliverable Orders

If a prepaid order is made and your delivery person arrived at a customer’s address during the specified timeframe but couldn’t reach them, the order should not be refundable. To reduce the occurrence of undeliverable orders, instruct your staff to inform customers that they must be home during the expected delivery timeframe. 

Service Dissatisfaction

Unexpected events in the foodservice industry are unavoidable. Food or drinks might be accidentally spilled on a guest’s sport coat, a waitperson may be under personal duress and act rudely, or the service during a particular timeframe is very slow. While events like these can result in customer dissatisfaction, they’re certainly recoverable. 

Start with a sincere apology for whatever happened, and then go a step further. While restaurants don’t usually offer a refund for service dissatisfaction, you can take measures to resolve a customer complaint so that they come back. If a guest’s clothing is stained due to an accidental spill, offer to cover their meal and pay the dry-cleaning cost. If a customer complains that the service is slow, help them to understand why. Perhaps they’re dining during a peak timeframe or you are momentarily short-staffed. Always thank these customers for their patience during rush hour. 

Simpay Can Help

A restaurant is a business like any other—it must be well managed to survive. Having a fair refund policy is just one component that a restaurant needs for success. Along with overseeing its daily operations, managing staff, and watching your competition, you’re continually analyzing food costs, labor costs, gross margins, and profits. Running a restaurant is a tough business. If you need guidance in making key decisions and honing important skills, see our Simpay Academy page. It can help you navigate challenging times and run a profitable, sustainable restaurant. 

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