How to Handle Disruptive Customers

You may have heard the uproar from Trump administration officials about being harassed at restaurants. If you work in the industry, such stories may leave you scratching your head. Those doing the disrupting certainly have the right to voice their opinion. But, what are restaurant workers supposed to do when these scenes happen at their restaurant? How do they quell the disruption without ruining the customer experience for the rest of the patrons? Let’s look at a few ways to handle such disruptions.

Managers: Tell your team it’s not personal

Whether you’re dealing with a disgruntled customer or a crowd chanting epithets at a politician, it’s important to remember that though the disruptor may be talking to you, they’re most likely not talking about you. Tell the team there’s no way to know what happened in that customer’s day to make them so agitated. Have a meeting with your crew and practice some situations on how to deal with an unruly customer. The more practice your staff has in this situation, the easier they will handle it.

Develop a policy

The worst position a restaurant can be in is a defensive one. Backtracking and clarifying the actions of employees can lead to lost sales and reputation. To avoid these problems, develop a policy for dealing with disgruntled customers before one walks into your business. Make sure you plan for individual instances of disruption and larger demonstrations. This will save you a lot of headaches in the future.

Speak in a low volume and tone

Fighting fire with fire only creates a more destructive fire. When a customer is upset, be sure you keep yourself calm and speak to them just as you would with any other customer. Listening with patience and showing empathy will go a long way to handling the situation without escalation.

Be as polite as possible

It’s entirely possible that an unruly customer won’t know they’re disrupting other customers. If you notice other customers are disturbed by the customer’s outbursts, offer them crayons to distract their children. Or, if they’re friendly enough, offer them a little light-hearted conversation. Gently reminding the disgruntled customer that others want to enjoy their meals can help assuage the situation as well. 

Develop a documentation system

A documentation system is a great way to communicate information to managers and staff that work on opposite shifts. When it comes to customer disturbances, it can help you find trends and patterns. If a particular customer is always complaining about a specific item or asking for free things, you have documentation when it comes time to confront that customer. But, as always, be respectful about it.


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