Geoffrey Paris Gives His Take On The 'Is The Customer Always Right?' Adage

By Emily Hourican
Geoffrey Paris Gives His Take On The 'Is The Customer Always Right?' Adage

Cockroaches, cleaver-wielding chefs, drunk porters and random naked guests – Geoffrey Paris has seen it all! With more than four decades of working in hospitality, Paris (author of More Sauce Madam?) gives us his personal take on the old adage.

This article was originally published in the Summer 2022 issue of Hospitality Ireland Magazine, in July of 2022.

As a professional, you might tell your staff that the customer is always right, but, deep down, you know they can sometimes be a pain in the butt, wasting precious time and money, and occasionally vindictive.

Don’t misunderstand me – we all do our best for the customer, in terms of F&B, accommodation, leisure and so on. Nonetheless, sometimes things do go wrong. So, firstly, I’d like to say that if a customer does complain about something – and it is obvious that we are at fault – then rectify it immediately. Don’t talk to the customer in public, try to take them somewhere private, and listen to their complaint. If it’s clear that they want a refund, try instead to issue them a voucher for another occasion, giving them an opportunity to ‘restore their faith in us’. It is also an opportunity for extra and/or future sales.

I was once on the pass in the kitchen of a busy hotel bistro, when a young waiter came in, saying that Table 15 wasn’t happy with their vegetables. I shouted, ‘Go tell them to go f**k themselves,’ upon which, to my horror, the waiter did exactly that, and the customer demanded my immediate attention! I had to go out and sheepishly say I was referring to a chef, and I sorted out their problem ASAP!


It is imperative to sort out a genuine mistake as soon as possible. Customers will gossip to one another if not happy about something, or – more to the point – to the reaction of staff and management to their issue. I learnt my lesson once with this. In the same hotel bistro as deputy manager, I gave someone a partial refund at the table because I was ‘up the wall’ and didn’t have the time to discuss it any further. Surrounding tables, seeing how flustered I was, jumped on the bandwagon, so further ‘complaints’ ensued, with subsequent refunds – a dreadful evening!

A Cautionary Tale

We expect the customer to behave in a manner appropriate to the establishment – especially in a manner not offensive to us. We expect guests to do as they’re told, be polite, engage in a bit of conversation, and use ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. I was told of one customer about to go into dinner at a hotel. He demanded a particular window table (sigh), and even expected the current occupants to move to another table, midway through their dinner. The old-colonel type, sitting proudly at his prime window table, must have looked at his dutiful wife in horror at the calamity going on. The abusive guest kept making so much of a scene that the MD had to be called, but he wasn’t going to get his window table! After maybe half an hour of ranting, he had a heart attack and promptly died!

How To Spot A Potential Complainer

A couple arrive for a weekend away. It’s sunny outside, their body language is good, and they look you in the eye, and are happy. The chances are they will be ideal guests.

But what if it has been raining when the couple arrive, and they’ve had an argument on the way down, they don’t look happy, don’t communicate positively with each other? The chances are that they are going to continue in the same miserable vein. Brace yourself for complaints that ‘their room hasn’t the right view’ or ‘the bathroom is dirty’ or ‘we want another room’ – in other words, they are expecting a complimentary upgrade, or the partner doesn’t like the type of room booked by the opposite partner.

‘Pet’ Peeves

When a customer uses the word ‘want’ to me, I instantly see red! A customer in a restaurant might be used to clicking their fingers for (immediate) attention. Dreadful behaviour. At the long restaurant of a 70+ bedroomed hotel, a customer did just that. The restaurant manager, being at the other end of the room, got down on his hands and knees, crawled along the floor, and barked ‘Woof, woof!’ at the offending customer. I was aghast, but his actions were well appreciated by other guests.


There are also the customers who are just determined not to enjoy themselves! Perhaps they have not been given the restaurant table they’d hoped for, or they are miffed about some other issue that is beyond your control. It won’t be long until you hear them muttering to themselves, and they will tend to find fault in everything.

There are three main types of complainers in my book:

  1. First are people who politely ask if something could be done about ‘x’. As they’ve been nice to you, you will gladly help, even going the extra mile.
  2. Secondly, there are those who ‘demand’ something be done about ‘x’, probably with raised voices, creating a scene. You will help, of course, but they are ‘marked’ by you as being a pain in the proverbial. You might not go the extra mile.
  3. Thirdly – and, in my opinion, the worst – are those who, despite a positive checkback at the table regarding their food and the service, send an email the next day, saying that they didn’t want to say something in front of my friends, but ‘x’ wasn’t very good. I’ve got no time for this. You can’t do anything about it a day later! (Photo: Geoff off duty at the barbecue.)

However, in my experience, the vast majority of customers and guests do enjoy the experience, the food, and the service – and show their appreciation.

Geoffrey Paris.

Geoff Paris

Guests Are ‘Experts’ Nowadays

Back in the early 1980s, when I started my management career, guests didn’t have much of an idea about restaurant food and menus. Nowadays, thanks to the Internet and ease of travelling, all guests are culinary experts – or think they are. Just because a person who has seen, say, a TV chef recipe being cooked on a cookery programme and subsequently cooks it, to the delight of their visiting friends (who wouldn’t dare complain!), doesn’t mean that’s the way it should be cooked anywhere else.

That’s just reminded me of an occasion at a hotel. We were serving the Christmas desserts for a local charitable organisation, who were enjoying their Christmas dinner dance. Out went the Xmas pudding with brandy sauce. Out went the other desserts. Job done. Then we began to get some complaints about the brandy sauce. Upon investigation, it turned out the chef had grabbed a bucket of white sauce from the fridge – except he’d grabbed cheese sauce. OMG! We had to quickly heat up and get out 50-odd portions of Xmas pudding with the correct sauce. Some guests, however – to my amazement – seemed to like the cheese sauce with Xmas pudding!

There are many things that can ‘flip’ an otherwise normal customer. It works both ways. Don’t forget that the customer also expects us to behave in a certain manner. A warm welcome, smiling, chatting, eye contact, positive vibes, professional knowledge, being in control of the situation, attentive service, etc. are all paramount. Drop one of these and you can turn a customer. So, in that sense, no – I don’t blame the customer! The little things count. Are the toilets clean? Are the staff uniforms clean? Are the management visible? Do the staff look happy? Are they stressed? Do they engage positively with the customer? Have they been trained well?

The customer may not always be right, but, at the end of the day, repeat business is vital. Customers and guests will spread recommendations to others, aka free marketing. Get it right, look after them, and they will return. The pleasure of positive feedback from happy customers far outweighs the odd upset.

Geoffrey Paris is the author of More Sauce Madam? The Adventures of a Hotel Manager, a candid, behindthe-scenes account of working in hotels, restaurants and pubs. The book is published by Mereo Books (paperback, £12.99) and available through bookshops and Internet booksellers.




Read More: Hospitality Ireland Summer 2022: Read The Latest Issue Online!