Top 10 Rules for Handling Disruptive Restaurant Guests

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Regardless of the type of restaurant one may work in, there will always be a guest that occasionally gets aggressively upset over anything from waiting too long for their food, to slipping and falling in the restroom. Although there are many ways a guest can display their unhappiness, here we will focus on those guests who choose to express their anger in a public display of shouting at managers, employees, or other guests.

Although predicting where and when a guest will become irate is impossible, how one deals with the irate guest is paramount to keeping the incident from escalating. Finding a resolution that calms a disruptive guest while making sure your restaurant and other guests are happy is not an easy task. But it’s not impossible.

Here are ten rules to keep in mind that will put you and your restaurant in the best possible position to peacefully resolve a disruptive dispute.

1. Listen. Truly Listen.

All credible experts start with this most important rule. Many complaints get resolved simply by listening to the upset guest’s concerns. They often want to not only be heard but also understood as well. While listening, experts say it is important to show you are listening. This means that if you are standing there with your arms crossed and displaying other attributes that signal annoyance, things are likely to escalate.

Unfolding your arms and truly listening to the guest’s perspective will go a long way toward getting an irate guest to calm down and resume their visit peacefully.
Basically, step one is to calmly approach and listen to their concern.

2. Stay Neutral

Getting defensive is a recipe for disaster. Keep your tone, attitude and body language neutral while an angry guest is communicating their issue. This is critical to showing them you are taking their concern seriously. It is imperative you never argue back, even if you believe the guest is lying, wrong, or has somehow misinterpreted the facts that sparked the situation.

Since de-escalation is the goal, be sure to never match their angry emotions with angry emotions. By remaining calm, your irate guests will be more likely to match your emotion and calm down too.

3. Empathize

Make sure to let the guest know that you understand why they are upset. Showing understanding, or empathy, goes a long way toward calming down your guest. However, it’s also important to limit your empathy to a reasonable level. This is so you don’t come across as faking your empathy. Keeping a calm, maintaining an even tone and continually displaying neutral facial expressions and body language will help prevent the irate guest from misinterpreting your demeanor as arrogant and condescending.

4. Refer to the Guest by Their Name

If the guest’s name is known, then call them by their name when responding to their concern. Doing so shows sincerity and understanding toward the guest’s plight.

Referring to all involved by their respective names not only personalizes the conversation, but it also decreases the likelihood of them wanting to objectify your employees. This approach, along with always asking open-ended questions, tends to quickly de-escalate tension.

5. Keep Your Voice Low

Behavioral experts continually find that during discussions of two or more people, voices will raise or lower in order to match the volume of whomever they are speaking with. By speaking calmly with a lowered tone, an angry guest may begin to lower their own voice.

6. Repeat the Issue

After intently listening to the complaint and gaining a full understanding of the issue, repeat the concern back to them in simple and clear terms. By repeating the concern calmly, with all of the emotion removed, the guest is likely to respond calmly when they acknowledge you understand the issue. This also gives the guest an opportunity to correct any part of their concern you may have misunderstood. Remember, it is imperative for a successful resolution that both parties have a complete and accurate understanding of the issue at hand.

7. Offer a Solution

It’s an important to offer the angry guest a solution to their concern, even if it’s not the actual solution to the problem. For example, the solution to an irate guest who is upset you are out of stock on ground beef is not, “I’ll tell the manager to order more next time,” even though this may be the solution needed.

Coming up with a solution that satisfies your guest’s immediate need is all that’s called for in the moment. Be sure to confirm that the solution you are offering to your guest satisfies them.

8. Be Aware of Your Other Guests

Sometimes an irate guest is so unpleasant, it infringes on the dining experience of other guests. When this occurs, your solution for the situation should not end with just one person.

Experts recommend that managers have their servers check on other guests who may be in earshot of what just happened. Giving those guests a little extra attention may help them forget about the unpleasant part of their experience, and they’ll be more apt to return another day.

If the incident was particularly loud and unpleasant, consider providing a free dessert or beverage to your other guests along with an apology for the disruption.

9. Maintain acceptable limits.

Although we’ve all been taught “the customer is always right,” this certainly doesn’t mean any type of behavior is to be tolerated. Managers should never let their employees be subjected to abuse by irate guests, neither physical nor verbal, just to appease a guest.

If a guest is displaying signs of drunkenness or any other form of intoxication while displaying irate behavior, immediately have them removed from the premises. The safety of your employees and other guests is the priority. Having the disruptive guest removed immediately helps reinforce to your employees that you will always protect them the best you can.

10. Don’t Take it Personally

Whenever disruptive situations occur in a public setting, it’s easy to replay the events in your head and second-guess how it was handled. Even if your reflection upon the incident reveals that mistakes were made, it’s important to learn from them and move on. It is very important not to let negative situations take a toll on your morale.

Low morale and negativity caused by an irate guest can fester for a long time if you let it. It’s important not to take it personally. Simply move on and start the new day serving your guests with a fresh new outlook!

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