A survey of 802 travelers found a connection between the mechanism that restaurant guests use to voice complaints and the nature and severity of the problems that motivate those complaints. Guests bring the most severe problems to management’s attention in one of two ways. As one might expect, most complaints about severe problems are made face-to-face, but contrary to expectations, some guests are just as likely to write a letter. The respondents viewed food issues and failures in food and service combined as the worst failures, but these also gave restaurateurs the best chance to cure the situation, earn the guest’s satisfaction, and improve the prospects for a repeat purchase. The guests tended to raise issues relating just to service directly with the server, again giving the restaurant the chance for a rapid recovery. Most puzzling were complaints relating to other factors, such as atmosphere, that are not related to food or to service. Although the respondents generally considered failures in those issues to be the least severe, these were also the complaints that were most likely to cause the guest to decide never to return to the restaurant, even when the problem had been addressed to the customer’s satisfaction.
Susskind, A. M. (2008). Complaint communication: How complaint severity and service recovery influence guests’ preferences and attitudes [Electronic article]. Cornell Hospitality Report, 8(7), 6-12.