The case of an NBA All-Star and the endless taco wait

May 10, 2018

Business owners know that when you deal with the public, complaints are inevitable. And on social media, complaints can spin into a windstorm of bad reviews fast.

But how can merchants prevent a complaint from spiraling out of control—especially when it could mean losing customers? How can businesses turn a bad situation around even when it’s their mess-up? A Milwaukee business recently had that opportunity when an NBA All-Star player, fresh off of a playoff game where he put down the game-winning shot, walked through its doors.

Worth at least a few tacos.


It was a Sunday afternoon in Milwaukee, around 5 p.m. The Milwaukee Bucks had just tied the series with Boston Celtics at 2-2, thanks to Giannis Antetokounmpo. Milwaukee fans celebrated. Some dined out, and some diners at BelAir Cantina spotted the Bucks’ hero waiting for a table. And waiting…and waiting.

After about 10 minutes with no table and no word from staff, Giannis left the restaurant. Did a Milwaukee restaurant really just snub their hometown game-winner? How could they not find a table for the celebrated athlete who had just thrown the game-winning shot?

That incident had the makings of a social mess for BelAir Cantina. That is, until they took control of the narrative, posted a message on Facebook, and began to turn the conversation around.

What They Did Right

When it comes to handling customer complaints, thoughtfulness matters. Recently, we offered 5 questions to ask yourself when a customer complains. A merchant’s response to a customer’s complaint can make or break the relationship with that customer—and maybe others. While no response is perfect and no outcome guaranteed, BelAir Cantina did five things that spring Sunday that transformed a bad situation into an opportunity.

1. Listen to feedback, take it seriously, and act promptly.

It would have been easy to dismiss the complaints about not seating a local sports hero fast enough as mere noise. Not BelAir Cantina. They paid attention to the feedback, took time to understand the issues, and offered a timely response and solution. Within two hours, they posted a response on their Facebook page.

2. Apologize simply.

If you or your team mess up, admit it, and apologize simply. BelAir Cantina’s management took ownership of the incident and offered a simple apology: We are very sorry we weren’t able to seat Giannis Antetokounmpo in as timely of a manner as we would have hoped.”

3. Resist the urge to over-explain, place blame, or make excuses.

When addressing a complaint, too much information and too many details can seem insincere or like you’re passing the buck. Instead, explain briefly and positively. The BelAir Cantina team did just that. They articulated the context for the incident concisely and thoughtfully: “The Milwaukee Bucks big win, thanks to [Giannis’] tip in and the team’s great play, combined with today’s spring weather had people turn out in droves to celebrate and we had quite a wait. We were honored he came in for a celebratory meal, and wish we could have accommodated him right away.”

4. Offer a solution that extends beyond the scope of the incident.

Complaints have a way of multiplying—especially on social media. One customer incident can have a cascading impact on other customers and prospects. Be willing to offer a solution that extends past a single incident, reaches others customers, and delights everyone.

BelAir Cantina proposed a solution that benefitted Giannis, Bucks supporters, and patrons of all their restaurants: “We welcome [Giannis] back Thursday after another Bucks win and will hold open a table. And to turn this into a positive for everyone, we are pledging that if the Bucks win the series Thursday night in Milwaukee, we will provide all Bucks fans with a free taco with any purchase all day Friday at all our locations! #GoBucks #BucksIn6

5. Use the power of social media.

Negative feedback on social media, even if based on perceptions, can have real and broad impacts on your customer base. BelAir Cantina understood the power of social media as a customer service tool and used it. Leveraging social media to address customer problems can be tricky, so we’ve offered a few tips for what to do and not to do in social media.  

Could BelAir Cantina have handled the incident better? Sure. Preventing a problem is better than addressing it after the fact. Although their seating stumble caused an outcry, BelAir Cantina’s customer listening and timely response helped them regain control of the narrative. An initial misstep need not be fatal, but it does have to be addressed swiftly and intelligently with a solution that satisfies the customer’s issue and demonstrates a crystal-clear commitment to service.

Offering outstanding customer experiences is an investment of time, attention, and intelligence, but it can pay dividends throughout the life of a business in customer loyalty. Peruse 6 ideas for creating standout customer service.

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