CustomerOperationsRestaurant ExperienceServerStaff Education

Special Requests – How Does Your Restaurant Handle Them?

Stew Leonard’s, a small chain of grocery stores in CT/NY/NJ has a very simple customer service policy that is posted at the entrance of each store:“Rule 1: The customer is always right!
Rule 2: If the customer is ever wrong, reread Rule 1!”

( 7/30/19)


A good experience keeps them coming back.

Good customer service is a key tenant of the service industry, and people are coming to restaurants on the expectation that they will be treated well. Frequently customers have special requests. It is the handling of these requests, great and small, that make or break a customer’s experience. Establishing a set of guidelines and having a set policy so that waitstaff know how to manage and react to customer requests, goes a long way in eliminating a potential conflict.


I recently went for tea with the mother of a friend. She has been going to this place for quite some years, and had a very innocuous request for an additional pot of hot water. She explained to the waitress that she likes to add the hot water to refresh the heat of the tea and to dilute it as it steeps. Seemed pretty simple. The waitress immediately launched into why it would probably not be possible due to only having so many teapots and most of them were out on tables. I scanned the various seating areas that were all less than a third full or entirely empty. The solution is, I am sure obvious to most, just bring an extra pot of water and make this lady’s experience a good one.

Ok, extra teapot, simple answer.
What do you do when the answer is not so apparent? By discussing the customer request policy ahead of time, you divert potentially upsetting situations. Refer to the Stew Leonard Rules at the top of the page. While there are some requests that are beyond resolve, many are ones that being flexible on can lead to a happy customer. Some restaurants state the policy of special requests at the top or bottom of the menu. To take the burden of decision off of the waitstaff many restaurants have staff check with the kitchen prior to approving a request.

The hope is that most customers are coming to your restaurant because they want to eat the dish as it has been created and for the whole experience.  When a patron goes to a sit-down restaurant, be it a diner or a white tablecloth bedecked establishment, there is an expectation that they can ask for the dressing on the side or to have the asparagus left off of the salad. If they are asking to have the Bleu Cheese Wedge served without the bleu cheese, bacon and creamy dressing, perhaps recommend that they choose a different salad that might be more to their liking. How? Ask them what they like and make some recommendations. Most customers take quite well to being guided towards a choice or option.

Divert conflict. Be flexible where possible, and the customer will come back again and again, and possibly post a favorable review.

Some go to an extreme on special requests.

Watch the old movie, When Harry Met Sally, to see the extreme of special requests and you will understand that most requests made by your customers are readily solvable.


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