Last Updated:
July 24, 2024

When should bars and restaurants comp a meal

Comp meals wisely as a restaurant owner. Learn how to spot signs and handle situations with this guide to protect your business from unhappy customers.
When should bars and restaurants comp a meal
Bogdan Patynski
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Table of Contents

Restaurant business is a fast-paced environment that requires a high level of attention, accountability, and safety. When problems or mistakes do arise, your restaurant should always find other means to compensate loyal customers, whether it's through a discount to encourage them to return.

In this article, we'll go through the following:

  1. What comping is
  2. Why it's done, who should be able to do it
  3. How to know when to comp a meal

In addition, we'll cover the circumstances where you should and shouldn't comp a meal or an item and discuss various ways to prepare a customer's liking that you wish to make things right.

What is a comped meal?

The word 'complimentary' is abbreviated as 'comped.' A compensated meal is a complementary or free meal that your restaurants offer to either attract more customers or compensate a customer who has a bad dining experience.

What’s the Difference Between Comp and Void?

A "void" is anything that was not created or delivered and will not appear on the final ticket, e.g. if a food or beverage item order is forgotten and never made, the item should be deleted from the bill and recorded as a "void".

Contrary, a "comp" indicates that the item in question has been produced and brought to a table on purpose. This item will appear on the ticket and bill but will not be charged to the customer. Items can be comped for a variety of reasons, such as a frequent customer receiving a free meal as a birthday gift. On contrary, an unsatisfied client may have their food compensated owing to an error on the side of the restaurant or a bad customer experience

Why do you need to Comp?

The most common reason for comping is to convert dissatisfied customers into returning ones. Comping isn't always for poor dining experience. Restaurant owners or managers comped meals to satisfy more customers or build relationships with restaurant professionals.

Customers who get bad experience or feel like they wasted money in your restaurant probably will not return and may tell their friends or post an unfavorable review on your website or social media page. This may impact your restaurant's reputation and sales. According to survey results, 60% of customers claim that poor reviews discourage them from doing business with a company, and 85 % of customers trust internet reviews as much as personal recommendations.

If a manager doesn't charge guests for a poor dish or their entire payment (in more extreme circumstances), they will, at the very least, no longer feel like their money was wasted on a bad experience - and, in the best situations, they'll feel heard and understood, making them more likely to return in the future.

Another big reason to offer comp is to make customers even happier and more loyal. Every regular customer that enters your restaurant has a lifelong worth. Your goal is to create returning customers.

The Power of a Comping Policy

A well-placed comp may convert a dissatisfied guest into a loyal customers. You may empower your employees to comp meals or things as they see fit if you train them to understand the complexities of your restaurant's comping policy.

Who Should Be Entitled to a Meal Comp?

Comping abilities are often granted solely to management, however some restaurants believe that giving their waiters the ability to comp when required empowers them. This signifies that supervisors have trust in their employees to properly utilize this authority.

Incorporate comping in your training, and ensure that all employees are aware of your restaurant's policy regarding free or reduced food for family and friends.

What does it mean when a restaurant offers you a comp meal?

A manager may offer to comp a dish, or even an entire meal, in response to a guest's complaints. However, there are benefits and disadvantages in this approach.

Though every situation is different, comping is not always the solution to a difficult situation with a customer if you comp too frequently, your earnings will suffer but when done wisely and carefully, it can make all the difference.

If some cases that a customer is visibly upset, is not eating their dish, or is otherwise unhappy with their dining experience, a thoughtful comp will not only inspire them to return but also save their server's tip.

Make sure your staff understands that comping is only given to unhappy clients and communicate their dissatisfaction in a friendly and respectful manner. Any customer who yells at a server or acts violently is not someone you want back in your restaurant. Instead of placating an unpleasant customer with a complimentary item, try to talk the issue by escorting them out of the restaurant.

6 Reasons to consider when you should comp a meal

Here are several scenarios in that you might need to comp an individual item or meal:

Huge Delays

Whether there is a lengthy wait for meals – we're talking over an hour from order placed to dishes on the table - owing to unforeseen circumstances.

Anything Gross

If there is an insect, a stray hair from the kitchen, or something else in the cuisine and beverage. You're certainly doing it all possible to avoid any kitchen filth, but change the menu and certainly comp the rest of the meal if it does occur.

Major Kitchen Errors

If a menu was absolutely wrongly cooked, have the chef redo it and compensate for that item. Consider comping the entire menu if it was cooked unsafely, like an undercooked chicken.

Rude Service

Complimenting a menu could be justified in an issue with the server. Even in the best-case scenario, you may have a customer service representative who is abrasive toward them. Paying for the meal or beverages and devise a plan for the server's future.

For Celebrations

As per OpenTable, customers prefer free birthday or anniversary cake. It's a nice gesture that won't cost you much, and the whole table will keep in mind your restaurant as a place to celebrate important events for their next visit, which is suitable for your bottom line.

For Your Best Regulars and Brand Advocates

Rewarding a loyal customer by comping an extra treat, or drink can help establish your restaurant as one that values its customers on a personal and business level.

When You Shouldn’t Comp A Meal

Not every mistake or mishap is grounds for a compensation. Consider the following scenarios where a comp may not be your best option:

Big Names

Never comp dishes for a celebrity. If you give a high-profile visitor a freebie to increase their visit, comp a beverage or dessert, not the whole payment. It's likely more extensive than average, and they can pay for it. Comping a comprehensive check could hurt a server's pay if your restaurant is tip-based.

Picky or Unsatisfied Guests

If a guest ordered wrong and didn't like the cuisine (but it was prepared correctly), don't comp. It's impossible to impress every guest, and giving away dishes and drinks to those who didn't like a dish will hurt your profits.

Small Complaints

If a client finds the diner too uncomfortable or hot, or if the waiting period is extended than expected, you don't have to comp a meal. As shown in other ways to turn a dissatisfied customer into an advocate without offering a beverage.

If Someone Asks Without a Good Reason

Unfortunately, some people will take benefit of your excellent services. If anyone asks for free drinks and snacks because of a small claim, consider strongly if you want to set a precedent by conceding.

For Critics

If you see a critic in your diner, don't comp their meal; it would be a bribe. Naturally, you should take extra care to prepare and serve their food, but don't send them free stuff. Since their employer will pay for the meal, it's not a personal favor.

Common ways to apologize

There are other options to apologize if a guest is displeased but comping isn't appropriate.

Future Discounts Gift Cards

According to Mobile Cuisine, comping a meal doesn't guarantee a guest will return, but offering a gift certificate does.

A Follow-Up Email with a Solution

You can follow up after a problem is fixed if you have the customers' contact info from a digital receipt. For instance, they thought the dish was undercooked: Sending them an email saying you've reworked the recipe and hope they'll try it again shows you listened to their concerns. Also, they may return.

Respond to Negative Reviews and Invite Them Back

When responding to criticism, thank the client for the reviews, apologize genuinely, and open the door to more discussion. A discount for their next visit is a nice touch.

Keep Track of All Comps

Keep track of a comped beverage, or food stuff: don't try to sort out where those $200 went last Wednesday night.

Your POS system can help you see where you need to improve your business by tracking all of these things.

Is it better to comp or not to comp?

While comping is a common practice in the restaurants and bar industry, the best method to do it is on a budget. Don't allow more than 3 to 4% per discounting (comping) each month.

You can easily avoid comp meals. Check on diners frequently during the seating experience. Asking diners for feedback and what they expect allows the staff member to address issues immediately. It shows customers you care and are on top of things.

How much should you tip if your meal is comped?

The tip for a comped meal is the same as the meal you paid for 15%-20% of the fee (minus sales tax). For instance, some people deduct the tip when expensive wine is involved, pondering that $30-$40 extra on the tipper's $200 bottle of wine that the wait staff uncorks and pours is excessive.

The same for a 2-for-1 coupon on a meal: the toke is 15%-20% of the retail value.


It is vital to have a policy that clearly defines your stance on comping, including discounts for friends and family. It is also critical to train your managers (and servers, if given the authority) on when and how to comp. Focusing on service and maintaining a constant connection with your visitors is likely to reduce the number of client complaints. It is important to note that comping is merely a gesture. When your team conveys this message and your visitors believe it, they are more likely to be satisfied regardless of the comps you provide.

See your ROI prosper as you refine your comping practices in bars and restaurants. Your commitment to fairness and calculated generosity is not just about comping meals; it's about shaping the financial health of your establishment.


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