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How to Know When to Comp Meals

comped restaurant meal

Meal comps are a natural part of owning a restaurant. There are a ton of reasons why you’d need to comp a meal, and knowing the right time to do it can help you avoid hemorrhaging profits. While it can be appealing to comp meals when you’re feeling on top, it’s important to keep yourself and your staff in check, or you’ll end up comping yourself all the way out of business. We’ll go over what exactly a comped meal is, why they’re unavoidable, and the right time to comp a meal. 

What is a Comped Meal?

A comped meal, or “complimentary meal”, is a meal that’s “on the house”. You’re essentially giving away free food. It’s a way of apologizing, giving thanks, or getting ahead of a sticky situation. 

Comped vs Voided Meals. 

A voided meal is just a meal created in error, whether it's your front-of-house staff miss-entering an order or a customer cancelation. It’s not at all the same as a comped meal as one is intentionally incurring loss and the other generally isn’t.

Why Do You Need to Comp Meals?

As we mentioned before, there are a lot of important reasons to comp meals. Some of what might seem like obvious reasons to comp a meal can also be remedied with other solutions first, so don’t assume that any problem should be met with a meal comp. The purpose of meal comps is to maintain your integrity as a business and what you don’t want to do is gain a reputation for giving away free food at the drop of a hat.

Reasons to Comp a Meal

  • There’s a fly in my soup! These things happen, but they’re never pleasant when they do. Since your guest is likely to not want to continue their meal or want it sent back, it’s your responsibility to make sure they’re comped for that meal.
  • Celebrations. For birthdays and anniversaries, it’s customary to comp a dessert or something similar. It’s just another way to enhance your guest’s experience at your restaurant and build a positive relationship with them.
  • Big kitchen errors. Cooking the steak incorrectly is one thing, but if someone tells you they have a specific allergy to tomatoes, for example, they shouldn’t find tomatoes on their plate. God forbid a customer finds out they have an allergen in their food after eating it. Any big kitchen errors should be remedied through a meal comp.
  • Employee meals. This is a great way to combat food stealing in your restaurant and a way of saying “thanks” for working with you. Turnover rates are high in the service industry so taking care of your staff helps break that cycle.

Reasons Not to Comp a Meal

  • Small complaints or picky guests. You can mediate this without comping a full meal. Offering discounts on future purchases, vouchers, or small discounts on the check can help bridge the gap. Picky eating or “lukewarm broccoli” isn’t a reason to comp an entire meal.
  • Famous people/influencers. Not only does this encourage anyone with a little internet clout to come in and get free food from you, it hurts your staff’s tips. Famous people are people just like us at the end of the day. If you feel compelled to comp a drink or a dessert for someone special that’s fine, but it’s not appropriate to comp an entire meal in this situation.
  • Just for asking. This isn’t a secret code or a hack, you’re a business and giving free food away will hurt your profits. It’ll also give you a reputation of being a pushover.

Who Gets a Comped Meal?

In general, honest customers who’ve been genuinely wronged should always be eligible for a comped meal. It’s up to your discretion on how you’d like to handle VIPs. You can also offer friend discounts and meal comps for family members, but be sure not to be flippant about these kinds of comps. It can easily become a slippery slope and you should set limits on how often people can receive comped meals. For example, staff family members can have one free meal a week or something like that. 

Keeping Track of Comps

Keeping good track of your comps ensures you account for those lost profits. Most modern POS systems have the ability to apply specific discounts and you can sort tickets based on those discounts. You can even segment your comps by type, like having an “employee meal” button for employee meals, or “VIP meal comps” for specific people. The customization and specificity help you understand where most of your comps come from. If you notice a lot of a specific type of comp, you can learn more about how your service is going. Mitigating service issues as they start helps you stay on top of your profits.

How Provi Can Help You Manage Your Losses with Comps

Provi’s inventory tracking and beverage ordering system allows you to get a fully integrated view of your inventory. You can easily see past orders and inventory and compare it to your profits to determine how much you’re losing on comps. As we said previously, some loss is normal, but since you have your inventory and ordering all in one place, you make sure it never gets out of control. If you’re interested in learning more about how Provi can help you keep track of your comps and inventory, make a free account today.

Ryan Philemon


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