Difficult Restaurant Customers

Difficult Restaurant Customers

A couple walk into a restaurant and proceeded to seat themselves, treated the staff rudely and threatened to leave negative online reviews, effectively holding the servers and the restaurant hostage.

Is it okay for a restaurant to publicly shame a customer—even a very rude one?

What you want is to build a confident and positive relationship with your customers. You also want to avoid stress from irritated employees, low staff optimism or an avalanche of lost customers.

To pilot clear of these concerns, you will need a clear and well-communicated approach for recognizing and dealing with difficult customers. Here are a few tips for doing just that:

1. Acknowledge Customers’ Feelings

It’s important to acknowledge customers’ feelings, whether you agree with their viewpoint or not. Showing them that you are listening can go a long way towards dispersing an uncomfortable situation.

First and foremost, giving your customers time and space to ‘vent’ is often all they need to help move forward towards resolution. Hearing out their complaints and peacefully explaining the reasons behind whatever is bothering them.

For example, if the service is slow, explain calmly that it’s a busy night and that each server has many tables to attend to. Then make a sensible effort to keep things moving quickly for that particular table.

While it may seem like customers like this, are customers you don’t want coming back to your restaurant again, try to consider that, “Any customer who becomes upset in your business is likely to share that bad experience with friends, family and other potential customers.”

Recognizing and acknowledging a customer’s feelings is a great first step toward soothing an anxious interaction.

2. Fix the Problem as Quickly as Possible

Next, you should take steps to resolve the problem if at all possible. This means that your servers should either be empowered to take action to remedy a situation, or a manager should be on duty at all times during service that is properly trained to handle these types of situations.

Often a problem that could have been quickly resolved is impacted because a server doesn’t have the authority to provide a free item, send a new one or offer a gift certificate or other token of apology. To avoid this, put a plan in place so that when problems arise there is a clear set of steps that can be taken to resolve it.
The main goal is to leave your displeased customer feeling gratified that they have experienced “valued customer service”, regardless of whether you feel that they were “right” or “wrong.”

3. Follow Up

You also need to follow up with customers after the fact if at all possible. If you can, get the customer’s email address or phone number so that you can follow up with them later on and be sure that their complaint was fixed acceptably.

While this may seem like a whole lot of extra work, it validates to the customer that you value their views and weren’t just trying to get them out of your restaurant as swiftly as possible.
When a customer feels valued, even if they have a bad experience, they are far more likely to return to your restaurant—and to continue to recommend it to their friends and family. Take the time to follow up, make sure the complaint has been resolved and take further action if and when necessary.

Challenging customers can be the misery of a restaurant’s existence, but the fundamental point is to have a compact action plan in place. If you acknowledge a customer’s feelings, fix the problem promptly and take the time to follow up after the dust has settled, you’re much less likely to find yourself the object of a bad review. Knowing how to deal with the inevitable conflict when it arises, will help your restaurant’s operations run more professional and efficiently.


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