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No matter how tight a ship you run in the restaurant business, you can’t please everyone. Some customers will get upset, irritable, or downright irate. It’s never fun to deal with these situations – but it is important for your business. The way your staff responds to angry customers can affect your business’ reputation for better or worse.

Here are nine tips for dealing with angry customers and protecting your business’ reputation.

Get on a First-Name Basis

When you approach the customer, introduce yourself and ask for their name. This simple action can have an impact on de-escalating the customer’s frustration. By using names, it helps shift the interaction from being between a customer and an employee or manager to between two individuals.

A customer might have very few issues with being rude to their server, but might have second thoughts about treating Jane that way. When the significance of the customer/manager roles are reduced, it may help the customer to be more calm and understanding.

Listen (Actively)

Listen to the customer. And when we say listen, we mean it. Don’t interrupt; don’t tune them out as you prepare your response; and stifle any urge to roll your eyes. Really take in what they’re saying and get a feeling for why they’re upset, and how upset they are.

When it’s time to respond, make sure your body language and tone are aligned with your goal of resolving the problem. Avoid raising your voice to meet theirs. Instead, keep your voice calm and low. Similarly, don’t overdo it and adopt a patronizing tone with the customer—that is not likely to help, either.

Clarify the Problem

When you take an order over the phone, you repeat the order back to the customer to make sure you’ve heard everything correctly. Doing the same thing—clarifying the customer’s problem—shows the customer you understand what’s wrong. Clarifying the issue with the customer achieves two beneficial things:

  • First, it demonstrates that you’ve really been listening to their problem, and that you genuinely care.
  • Secondly, by repeating the issue back to the customer, you give them the chance to correct you before you find a solution to their problem.

Clarification is crucial because if you’re not on the same page, you could make the situation even worse, and waste time doing so.

Fix The Customer’s Problem

The operative phrase here is the customer’s problem. It’s an important distinction to make, because the customer probably doesn’t care much about your problem; they want theirs fixed. So if they came to try your specialty but you’re sold out, don’t bother telling them about how your supplier ran short this week—it’s not their problem. Instead, find a way to either solve their problem or make it up to them.

Apologize in Earnest

After you’ve fixed their problem, make sure to give an earnest apology. Try to avoid using the word ‘sorry,’ as it can come across as trite and worn out. Instead, try using phrases like the following:

  • “I regret the inconvenience…”
  • “I apologize for the mistake…”
  • “Thanks for your patience…”

This simple act can go a long way. A proper apology can help the customer feel justified in being upset and gives them closure for the experience as a whole. When they see that you’ve truly empathized with them and have made it your duty to improve their experience, it doesn’t go unnoticed.

Check in on Other Customers

Attention shouldn’t be like pie: more for one customer doesn’t need to mean less for the others. Depending on how intense the situation with the upset customer was, it could have a negative impact on the other guests’ experiences. Therefore, it’s important that after you’ve fixed the main problem that you or your staff check in on the surrounding tables, giving them a bit of extra attention so they know they’re valued, appreciated, and haven’t been forgotten about.

Follow Up

Before the customer leaves, make sure you check in with them once more. Like many of these steps, following up a final time demonstrates that you’re not just focused on getting them out of your hair, but that you’re invested in providing a great experience. This also provides one more chance to make things right if they’re still upset.

Additionally, don’t forget to follow up and check in with your staff who may have also dealt with the angry customer before or after you. Make sure they know they have your support.

Develop Standard Operating Procedures for Upset Customers

Part of what makes dealing with upset customers so difficult is how each time seems completely novel. However, by developing standard operating procedures for when you’re dealing with upset customers can make things more straightforward, and increase the level of success you have in improving guests’ experiences. Consider having plans for when your restaurant does the following:

  • When should your staff escalate to the manager? What tools does your staff have for dealing with angry customers, and what support can you give them to be confident in doing so?
  • In what instances should food or beverages be comped? How will you ensure that when you comp food and beverages it’s making an impact and not being seen as a thinly-veiled attempt to appease the customer?
  • How do you determine when the customer is out of line, and what steps should be taken in that case? While we want to believe the customer is always right, it’s not always the case. If a customer’s actions are completely unacceptable, having a plan in place to remove them will make doing so much easier than winging it at the moment.

Take a Moment for Yourself

Sometimes it may seem like you absorb a customer’s anger by fixing their problem. Take a moment to yourself and let go of that negativity. Remind yourself why it’s so important to make the situation right even if it pains you to do so, and that the customer was upset with their experience—not you, personally.

Nobody gets into the food and beverage industry to deal with unhappy customers, but it comes with the territory. By following these tips, you can do your part to please even the most picky guests and protect your reputation—and your livelihood.

Society Insurance Has Your Back

Society’s comprehensive restaurant insurance and bar insurance is always tailored to the unique needs of your business. To learn more, get in touch with your local Society agent today.