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To Comp or Not to Comp, That Is the Question

Errors happen in restaurants, it’s a part of the business. But how restaurateurs turn it around is what matters and is what the customer will remember. One of the most common ways restaurateurs try to turn around a bad customer experience is by comping.

While restaurant comps are normal in our business and are one of the things that sets us apart from all other customer service experiences, it is important to remember when and when not to comp. The most common reason to comp is to create returning customers out of ones that were not satisfied. However, as a restaurateur, you should remember that comping is not always done in response to a poor dining experience. Restaurant managers should remember to comp items for all sorts of reasons, whether it be to impress a loyal customer, or even to make friends with restaurant owners or industry professionals.

Speaking of loyal customers. A big reason to comp is to make happy and loyal customers even happier and more loyal. Every customer that steps into your establishment, has a customer lifetime value. It is important to maintain the value of your customers, especially the devoted ones. If comping an item or meal here or there, for something that may be important to your loyal customer (birthday, promotions, anniversary etc.) it will keep them coming back week after week.  The lifetime value of this customer will grow exponentially, and you’ll offset the cost of the comps with your customer constantly returning. Another benefit, these customers will become restaurant ambassadors to their friends and community.

On the other hand, it is not always practical or cost savvy to comp customers.  You can avoid having to comp meals (without wanting to) quite easily. Make sure a manager or staff member is constantly checking in throughout the meal. That way, if there’s an issue, it can be addressed immediately! Nip the issue in the bud and avoid a major disaster. Asking guests’ feedback throughout their dining experience allows staff to take care of issues that arise right away.  It will also prove to your customers that you care and are on top of your game.

So when should you comp and not comp?  

To comp:

  • Huge delays on table seating or food
  • Major kitchen error
  • Something in the food
  • Bad service
  • Your regulars and restaurant advocates

Not to comp:

  1. Picky guests
  2. Celebrities or influencers
  3. Small mistakes
  4. If a customer doesn’t like the meal


Most importantly, make sure you are tracking all of your comps. What’s your rule of thumb for comping?  Let us know in the comments below!


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