Top 10 Customer Complaints of 2012: #5 – Place Isn’t Clean

We are now passed the half way point and moving right along with our countdown of the Top 10 Customer Complaints of 2012! If you are just joining us, or need to catch up, check out the first half of our countdown: #10, #9, #8, #7, and #6. And now, moving on to…

#5 – The Place Isn’t Clean


Out of all the complaints on our countdown thus far, “the place isn’t clean” complaint is one that you would think all restaurants would strive to avoid. While it’s semi-accepted that some restaurants get away with ignoring noise issues, #10, or be making customers endure excessive wait times, #6, cleanliness is something that, either due to personal standards or due to law, you would think no restaurant could ignore. However, the unfortunate truth is that enough restaurants out there have not yet successfully solved issues with cleanliness helping land this complaint in our #5 spot.

Upon a more detailed examination of 2012 feedback, it was found that restaurant cleanliness complaints varied widely in terms of severity. First, we are going to address mild cleanliness complaints and then move on to some more serious issues.

Mild Cleanliness Complaints

We classify “mild cleanliness” complaints as complaints that do not affect the health and safety of patrons. This can include a number of issues such as paper clutter on the counter or near the register, sidewalks just outside the doorway not being clear of debris such as leaves, or staff members themselves not looking so put together. While these issues don’t affect the health and safety of patrons, they can greatly impact customer experience and customer retention. 

“I enjoy your food but the tables outside are a bit dirty and need to be wiped down or cleaned – I can’t return to work after a lunch where I get dirt on my white shirt!”. – customer
“I just saw your bartender squeeze a lemon into my iced tea after handling cash with his bare hands!” – customer

This customer feedback with image was sent directly to the owner with OwnerListens instead of being posted publicly online.

Generally speaking, mild cleanliness issues can be most easily addressed with a little common sense. After food and beverages, surfaces are what your patrons will pay attention to the most so make sure they are as clear as possible. Additionally communicate with employees, enforce a staff dress code, and hold you employees up to appropriate standards with respect to their overall presentation – after all they are the face of your establishment. Finally, make sure your entry ways and exits are tidy as well – you want your customers feeling great on their way in and their way out. 

Sever Cleanliness Complaints

Now let’s look into some of the dirty details of the serious cleanliness issues. For restaurants (and retail), this problem can have severe consequences with respect to customer attention and long term business. Additionally, the health and safety of employees and customers may be at risk when a restaurant does not follow standard guidelines. For reference, check out FDA regulations for your state.

When examining 2012 feedback, we found both casual and fine dining establishments received reports of serious health violations through OwnerListens. This includes issues such as dirty bathrooms, service personnel not observing proper food handling techniques, and other unsanitary mistakes.

Check out this feedback with a picture sent by a customer:

Such more serious cleanliness issues can impact a restaurant well beyond customer experience and retention. Critical health violations can lead to a devastating loss of customers or even result in closure.

Whether mild or serious, any cleanliness issue can have serious negative consequences if made public by customers. Check out this Dateline exposé on the Cleanliness of Fast Food Chains

Beyond FDA standards with which every restaurant should be familiar, it’s important to know what your customers are expecting as far as cleanliness, check out this eHow guideline for how customers can evaluate restaurant cleanliness.

Using OwnerListens can mitigate the risk of a cleanliness complaint negatively affecting your business by enabling customers to send you feedback directly and privately so you may address an issue before it could go public. If you haven’t done so already, sign up for OwnerListens now.

Owners – Have a good guide or checklist you use to keep your restaurant looking nice and tidy? Share it here!

Consumers – Have a cleanliness complaint for a local business near you? Let the owner help before you yelp by using the OwnerListens app!

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