Tips for Using Comps Correctly

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While complimentary food and drinks (comps) can convert a bad dining experience into a good one, make a regular customer a raving fan, or allow our staff to dine with us without breaking the bank, a comp is real money. When you comp a $50 ticket because you blew it, understand that is $50 you don’t have for payroll, to pay bills or to keep as profit.

While comping is normal practice in the restaurant and bar industry, the best way to do it is within a budget. Don’t allow more than three to four per cent discounting (comping) each month. This would include taking care of a regular customer, fixing a kitchen or service mistake, employee and manager meal discounting, and some small amount of discount marketing.

You can also look at your marketing budget and move a few percentage points over to discounting if you use discount promotions as a major component to your marketing plan. For example, I recommend a marketing budget of two to four per cent per month. If you want to use all of that for discounting, you would have a target comping budget percentage as high as eight per cent.

In addition to setting a budget, train your management team on your expectations. Make sure everyone knows the rules for comping, how it affects business and alternative ways to satisfy a customer. 

Here are a few suggestions for comping to protect your cash flow and stay within budget.

Free meals: When a guest does not like his or her food, instead of immediately jumping to buy the meal, consider whether a replacement item and a comped dessert might do the job. This is where it becomes important to discuss with your management team each comp so you can provide guidance on how you want that similar situation handled in the future if they didn’t handle it the way you would have wanted them to.

Discount promotions: Use discount marketing to drive new customers in and require them to sign up for your loyalty/VIP programs. This means you will make a little money on a new guest and can now market to them to bring them back. Discounting should not cheapen your brand or make it so that your customers wait for the coupon before they come through your door.

Buying drinks: Give your bartenders the ability to give away a couple drinks each shift. This gives them freedom within boundaries — say two comped drinks per shift — to build business without breaking the bank. If they’ve given away their two comp drinks and someone has a bad experience, at that point they can ask the manager on duty if they are able to buy the customer a drink over their quota.

With these things in mind, your comping can be used to deliver a great dining experience, bond with your guests and employees, and still put you on a path to make money.

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