What Would You Do?

What Would You Do: Is the Customer Always Right?

customer service, service industry, service oriented

“The customer is always right,” the saying goes. But is that always true? Consider the following two scenarios, both of which I witnessed while on vacation last week:

  1. A customer ordered an appetizer of crab dip which came with a side of large fried pita chips to dunk in the dip. The customer complained that the pita chips were chewy and stale, and asked for a fresh batch. The server complied, and a few minutes later a new appetizer was delivered with apologies.
  2. A customer ordered a drink from a restaurant’s specialty drink menu. When the drink came, however, the customer didn’t like it. When the server returned to check on the table, the customer stated her dislike of the drink to the server who proceeded to ask if she would like something else instead. An alternate drink was ordered, and the first one was removed from the table.

In the first scenario, the quality of the food is sub par, and the customer is simply asking to get the item the way it was meant to be served. In the second scenario, however, the drink may well have been prepared exactly as intended, the customer simply didn’t like the product.


Image courtesy of imagerymajestic / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I witnessed both of these situations because they happened to my wife. I’m not much for confrontation. In the first scenario I would have just eaten the chips and chalked it up to, “not the best crab dip I’ve ever had.” For the second scenario I would have slammed the drink and taken note to not order that specific drink again. This sort of thing happens occasionally, as my wife likes to try specialty drinks when visiting new restaurants. I typically just take the unwanted drink and she orders something different. But in this case, I was driving and guzzling alcohol wasn’t a good idea.

So how about it, Clever Friends, is the customer always right? Should a customer be allowed to return a drink, or any food item, simply because they don’t like it?

Brought to you courtesy of Brock

About the author

Brock Kernin


  • Having waited tables / tended bar for many, many years….neither of these scenarios is surprising. They are also no big deal for the restaurant. Restaurants want satisfied customers, and if you don’t like what you ordered for any reason, they are usually more than happy to make it right. But I’m with you. I rarely if ever return anything to the kitchen. One time my salad had a dead fly in it – that went back. Food that is spoiled will go back, but we probably wouldn’t stay to order something else.

  • In scenario two, I’ve seen this happen a few times (not always with drinks, but maybe even with food), and it surprises me that the restaurant always takes it away and seems happy to bring something else. I think they just want happy customers and for the end result to be positive. If someone walks away thinking that they didn’t like what they had, chances are they won’t come back, even if it was not the way it was prepared. Restaurants always want you to come back.

  • @Cathie – Yucks…yeah I’d definitely send back the dead fly. LOL. I understand the whole “restaurant wants happy customers,” but I also compare it to buying something from the grocery store – if I buy a new food item and don’t like it, I don’t return it – why would a restaurant be different. My wife doesn’t have a problem with it though…if she doesn’t like her drink or food, she makes sure the server knows it. 🙂

  • @MoneyBeagle – True….even if they have to eat the cost (pun intended), it’s probably worth it to get the customer to come back, as well as spread positive remarks to their friends. Word of mouth is a powerful thing. Thanks for commenting!

  • Well… I think I can understand the first scenario, since it’s probably the restaurant’s fault. For the second one, to be honest, I don’t think it’s fair for the restaurant if the customer wants something else just because they don’t like the food/drink they order, unless they have to pay for it eventually… I personally will come back to a restaurant even though they don’t really serve nice food and give them a second chance. If the second chance still results in sub-par food, I’ll make sure I won’t come back.

  • I agree that the customer should be able to return the chips since they were not right, and that is a quality issue. I would not be one to send a drink back because I made the wrong choice and didn’t like it; it’s a personal preference and it does seem a bit unfair to me to the restaurant to have to comp it. Like you, I would have slammed it and not ordered it again.

  • @suburbanfinance – I agree with you….if a restaurant doesn’t do a good job, then I’m done. I do give establishments extra credit for hooking me up even when they could just say “I’m sorry you don’t like it….but that’s how it’s supposed to be.”

  • @Daisy – I’m not sure if my wife expects them to take it back…but she makes sure that they know she didn’t like it – just to see what they’ll do. On the chance that they’ll replace it, my wife just figures it’s all about keeping her happy. 🙂

  • @Marie – It’s true that some customers will be unreasonable, and even others will try to be dishonest. I would bet the servers have some discretion to refuse to accommodate those kinds of situations….thanks for your comment!

  • I think the customer is always right – especially if I’m the customer 🙂 In reality the customer is always right because you want the customer to come back and buy more. When I was working in retail sales I had to grin and bear it several times a day when it came to customer service. If the customer was unhappy they wouldn’t come back and then I wouldn’t have a job.

  • @Tahnya – LOL, yes especially if YOU’RE the customer. I think you’re right though, replacing a $6 drink is totally worth it if it results in the customer becoming a repeat customer!

  • @John – If the customer is going to act like that, then the business doesn’t care if they come back or not – so likely no special favors for them! Thanks for your comment!

  • The customer is NOT always right. Typically, 10% of the customers will cause you 80% of the headaches. Sometimes, it makes better business sense to “fire” those customers and move on.

    Usually for restaurants, it’s best to just correct the problem and move on. You don’t want upset customers because they will spread their tales to everyone they know!

  • @moneyAhoy – from a good business perspective the customer is always right….but yeah, I know what you mean, there are customers that are just out in left field. The business may do *something* to help appease them, but I would bet they won’t go to the same lengths as they would someone that is being reasonable.

  • Scenario #1: Absolutely, if it bothers you, don’t eat another bite and get what you are paying for. The restaurant should be following proper procedures so that it isn’t serving stale chips. Why would this minute level of confrontation bother anyone? Do you leave the house in the morning?

    Scenarios #2: This one is harder. I don’t believe the restaurant is under any obligation whatsoever to take the drink back or to take it off the bill, but chances are the cost of the ingredients in that drink are so small in comparison to having a happy customer, that it would be in the restaurant’s interest to just go ahead and replace the drink with something else. If they had a pitcher of the drink already, they could offer tastes beforehand.

  • @Matt – interesting enough, my wife has started asking for samples of drinks before ordering now. Not necessarily mixed drinks – as they’d have to make one to have her sample it. But for wine she’s been asking for samples, and to my surprise, they are more than happy to give her one. She hasn’t been turned down once! It makes a great impression on the customer, and really doesn’t cost the business much money.

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