August 15, 2021

When Customers Behave Badly: Ways To Respond

Customer complaints can sometimes be an unavoidable part of running a small business, but they can often be especially common in the dining industry. Almost everyone who walks into your restaurant thinks that they are a qualified food critic, and thus, diners have opinions about the job you’re doing – good or bad. Knowing how to deal with a difficult guest can turn their bad experience into a great experience.

The pandemic has altered the dining landscape. More than 10% of restaurants in the US have closed forever due to COVID restrictions. Most of the remaining restaurants have been forced to redesign their operations and make difficult compromises, cutting staff and modifying menu options. It may be challenging to meet customer expectations while doing more work with less staff and earning less revenue due to continued socially-distanced seating arrangements and constant sanitizing.

Still, it’s possible to resolve customer conflicts as they arise using the strategies outlined below. But first, it helps to understand why some customers get upset. Check-out this Infographic by Clover for a simplified version of this article.

How to Deal with a Difficult Guest

Why do some Customers Behave Badly?

Conflicts can crop up for any number of reasons, but most issues you’re likely to face stem from one of the following broad categories:

  • Frustration over personal circumstances – such as trouble at home or pandemic fatigue
  • Anger over policies – such as mask mandates, limited seating capacity, or dress codes
  • Poor quality service – such as mixed-up orders or long wait times
  • Not being heard – such as when a waiter dismisses a complaint

Although the underlying reasons might vary, the basic steps for dealing with a difficult guest are the same.

1. Listen to the Diner’s Complaint

The first step in dealing with a difficult guest is to calmly listen to everything the customer has to say. Doing so is crucial for understanding why he or she is upset – and for determining how best to resolve the issue. You’d be surprised how often letting someone vent helps to resolve problems on their own. Make attentive listening the number one priority for every member on the team. Listening is the foundation of conflict resolution.

2. Restate the Issue Clearly

The next step involves demonstrating your understanding of the situation by repeating the issue to the customer in your words. This lets the customer know you’re paying attention and that his or her voice matters. Clearly restating the problem also helps build empathy and rapport.

3. Resolve the Issue Quickly

Despite thin margins, restaurants may have some leeway when it comes to using perks to deal with a difficult guest and diffuse tense situations. Whenever possible, offer some type of compensation to satisfy angry customers – whether it’s complimentary drinks, dessert on the house, or 10% off the bill. However, sometimes these types of offers aren’t always deserved. There might be a policy in place that can’t be changed to suit a customer’s demands. For example, mask mandates were a common sticking point that many restaurants had to deal with, often for legal or regulatory reasons beyond their direct control.

In these situations, it’s best to explain why the policy exists and that your hands are tied. If it’s possible to offer perks to defuse the situation, do so. Sometimes, even this doesn’t work. You’ll have to move on to the next conflict resolution step.

4. Rely on your Managers

“I’d like to speak to your manager please,” are words no employee wants to hear. You should view this as an opportunity, since supervisors:

  • Have more training and experience in conflict resolution
  • Have more flexibility to offer freebies

Just as important, managers also have the authority to ask customers to leave if and when necessary. Sometimes, this is the only way to deal with a difficult guest. Asking a disruptive customer to leave might not be a good experience for that person, but it creates a better atmosphere for everyone else. Moreover, removing unreasonable diners allows your waitstaff to focus on the needs of those who add value to your business.

While it’s not possible to make everyone happy, you can help reduce unnecessary conflict in your restaurant by implementing the strategies above. For even more conflict resolution tips for your growing business, be sure to see the accompanying resource above.

Author bio:
Mihir Korke is Head of Acquisition at Clover Network, a leader in small business credit card processing and POS systems. Clover specializes in restaurant, retail, and personal and professional service payment solutions. With desktop and mobile POS systems, contactless payments, solutions for curbside pickup and online ordering, loyalty and rewards, Clover has multiple solutions to meet your business’s needs.

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