Dealing with customers is one of the most stressful jobs that almost all employees in the restaurant industry have to go through.
The stress of dealing with rude customers is one of the main reasons that contribute to employee turnover. What’s worse, as the uncertainty and fear of the pandemic bled over to people’s daily lives, the brunt of it was felt by restaurant employees.
Increased tensions agitated customers, leading to more instances of customer misbehavior. Add to that the lack of manpower, supply chain problems, and other pandemic-related problems, and it’s no surprise that many employees no longer want to return to the restaurant industry.
Although we admit that there’s very little that a single person can do about the pandemic, restaurant owners can still focus on making their establishment a safe place to be – both for their customers and their employees.
One of the best ways to make that happen is through learning how to deal with difficult customers, which we will tackle in the article below.
8 Types of Difficult Customers and How to Deal With Them
In times of conflict, the best way to create a safe place for your employees and customers is to understand the source of the stress. Once you know where it’s coming from, you’ll know how to better take care of it.
In this case, understanding the individual’s behavior pattern is the first step to dealing with them. This section will discuss the eight main types of difficult customers.
The Rude Customer
We’ve all experienced rude customers at one point or another. They’re either yelling and disrespecting everyone or angrily demanding something from your staff and attacking them verbally.
Rude customers might also harass other customers and your employees and generally create an uncomfortable atmosphere around them.
What to do
Rudeness is contagious. An experiment conducted last 2017 revealed when an individual witnesses or experiences rudeness, their will perceive more rudeness throughout their workday.
This leads to slower progress and reduced performance quality. Overall, it’s not good for your restaurant operations.
Dealing with rude customers should be all about minimizing the display and de-escalation. You can do this by training your employees in de-escalation techniques, such as active empathy, maintaining composure, and solving the guest’s problems.
Additionally, make sure you train your employees to recognize when the situation is getting out of hand and when they should involve higher management in the issue.
The Loud Customer
These are the types of customers that are speaking in inappropriately loud volumes. Many times, loud customers simply don’t realize how loud they are. Occasionally, though, you may have guests who are purposefully loud – making a scene and disturbing other guests.
What to do
Although normal and even joyful conversation is always encouraged in every restaurant establishment, there’s always a point when things can become too loud. Not only can this disturb your operations, but it can also push your other guests to leave or for prospective guests to look elsewhere.
The best thing to do would be to call their attention through interventions. This needs to come in stages. First a polite request, then a firm warning. If the customers don’t settle down, don’t hesitate to ask them to sit further away from other patrons or, in the worst-case scenario, to leave the establishment.
The Angry Customer
Angry customers are the rude and loud types all in one package. When someone is agitated, they tend to become loud, aggressive, and unreasonable. If worse comes to worst, you might even get customers that start becoming physically abusive toward the people around them.
What to do
Physical outbursts and verbal abuse will tend to make your staff call you in for support. When this happens, knowing what to do can help you create the best possible outcome out of a bad situation.
The first thing that you should do is to not lose your cool. Angry customers will often become bullies, and it can become difficult to remain poised when faced with a verbally aggressive individual.
Nevertheless, matching the customer’s aggressiveness is just adding fuel to the flame. It will not solve anything and will only serve to escalate the situation. Always stay calm, no matter how difficult it may be.
Next, you need to learn how to de-escalate an angry encounter. You can do this by making the angry person feel heard. Angry people often manifest extreme behaviors to “signal” what they want. If they don’t feel understood, they will escalate their signals.
Apologize unreservedly and without being patronizing. Many times, these customers cannot be logically reasoned with, and they may not care even if they are at fault. The best thing you can do is to offer potential solutions or even material apologies such as discount coupons or a free round of drinks.
If they still refuse to cooperate and are causing a big scene, you can involve security or the authorities. This is why it helps to have security cameras in your establishment in case something like this happens.
Lastly, never take anything personally. Angry customers have the tendency to put others, particularly employees, down. You have to consciously remind yourself and your staff that the negative experience was not a reflection of their character and that they shouldn’t dwell on it..
The Impatient Customer
Impatient customers are never impressed with your service. They don’t think you’re working fast enough to make their orders, they don’t believe you when you say something is unavailable, and they can’t accept the fact that you can’t prioritize them above everyone else.
What to do
Dealing with an impatient customer can be unpleasant, but it’s not something that managers are often called into for – unless they become angry and belligerent. Most of the time, it’s your staff that’s going to be dealing with these types of customers.
Your customers deserve the best service you can give, but there are simply things that you can’t change.
When a customer begins to ask for the impossible, your staff should be trained to handle their demands. One of the first things they can do is to calmly inform them of the situation. They need to be transparent about the availability of ingredients, wait times, and any issues that their order might be facing.
It’s also helpful to help impatient customers resolve their issues by shifting them to other options.
For example, if they’re being very impatient about a product’s availability, have your staff suggest some possible alternatives. If they feel like the order is taking too long, serve them complimentary bread or appetizers to fill the wait time. These tricks serve to improve customer satisfaction and can also appease an impatient one.
Of course, don’t forget to apologize for the delay and thank them for their patience once the issue is resolved.
The Complaining Customer
Like any other type of customer feedback, receiving complaints in your restaurant can be considered a positive thing. After all, they’re a good source of constructive feedback that you can use to improve your business. However, there are always difficult people around – and one of the most common problems you can find in a restaurant is habitual complainers.
These are people who can’t be satisfied. They complain about everything, and it seems impossible to please them.
What to do
Habitual complainers tend to be people who are simply frustrated with something else in their day. They can’t help but bring their frustration to your establishment, and it manifests as them being too critical of your restaurant.
The best way to address them is with extreme patience.
Just like most of the troublesome personalities on the list, one of the first things your staff needs to do is to engage calmly. Have them make the customer understand that their complaints are heard and that you will do your best to solve their problems as soon as possible.
Customers like these aren’t likely to become satisfied immediately, but at least you tried. More importantly, everyone else in your restaurant would see the lengths you’d go for a customer. Once again, exercise extreme patience, and remind your staff not to take anything personally.
The Indecisive Customer
Although indecisive customers are by far the most harmless bunch on the list, they can still present a significant hindrance to your team’s productivity, particularly in terms of wasted time and effort. Indecisive people will ask and ask, comparing prices, asking questions, and everything else but buying your product.
What to do
Your team’s salesmanship will shine through when dealing with indecisive customers. These types of people want to get the best deals – but they don’t know what to get, and they’re not afraid to take their time.
When dealing with indecisive customers, your team needs to “lead” the conversation.
Have them answer the questions properly, but if a sufficient amount of time has passed by and the guest still hasn’t made a decision, your staff should take the lead. Have them ask what exactly the customer is looking for. Is it quality? Are they looking for best sellers? Are they very price-sensitive?
Throughout the conversation, the attending staff needs to lead the customer to decide by presenting them with appealing products, sweet deals, upsells, etc.
As a last resort, your wait staff needs to leave their table and attend to other customers, with the assurance that they will be back when the guests are ready to order.
The Drunk Customer
We’ve all faced customers who’ve had too much fun before coming into your restaurant or are steadily becoming inebriated while in your establishment. Drunk people need no introduction – in fact, they’re a lot more likely to introduce themselves to everyone else in your restaurant.
What to do
The best thing to do with a drunk customer is the same as any other drunk individual: refuse to give them anything alcoholic. Instead, offer them something else, like a plate of snacks, iced tea, or coffee.
Some drunk people merely become disorderly, but others turn belligerent and start crossing boundaries.
When this happens, it’s best to have your security on alert as you call the drunk customer a cab. You can even tell the individual that you’re closing soon or that they need to leave and that a car is outside waiting to take them home.
Additional Tips When Dealing With Difficult Customers
There are many types of difficult individuals that you and your staff will encounter over the years. However, many tried-and-true tips will do you good in all of them. In this section, we’ll discuss the most important ones.
1. Stay Calm
One of the most difficult skills to master when dealing with a difficult customer is staying calm. After all, it can be challenging to remain calm when a person is yelling at your face or testing your patience, but it’s the most productive method to solve the issue.
Matching the customers’ aggression is just going to make them even more difficult. Worse, it can even prolong the encounter or escalate the situation.
Always remind your team to stay poised, polite, and courteous at all times. The best way to ensure this is to let them know upper management will have their back. Train them to know when and how to redirect the customer’s ire to someone more qualified to solve the guests’ problems – whether that’s management or security.
2. Don’t Take It Personally
The next critical skill you and your team will have to master is mental fortitude. You can cultivate a truly excellent team and do everything you can for a guest, but bad days will happen. A customer can easily call you names or act rudely towards you. It comes with the territory of running a customer-facing business.
Fortunately, this is a trainable skill, and you can easily implement workshops and training for these types of situations.
3. Be a Champion Problem Solver
Often, customers aren’t really difficult people by nature. Most likely than not, their negative behavior simply manifested because of a negative experience they had during or prior to their time in your establishment.
They might have been forced to do unexpected overtime. They might have just broken up with their significant other. Additionally, a server could’ve messed up their order, or they might have been made to wait for their order for far too long.
If the problem was caused by your team, you must know how to cut straight to the chase and solve the root cause.
Don’t deny that there’s an issue, and don’t cover up a problem to save face – especially in front of other customers. Work together with the customer to understand what the issue is, and if the guest is too distressed, ask other witnesses.
When you know what the problem is, you know how to solve them.
These solutions could be the specific request that the customer made. They could be discount coupons, a gift certificate, complimentary items, or even a simple apology. As a manager, you need to implement policies that empower your wait staff to employ these solutions.
4. Take Responsibility and Apologize
The old adage, “Customer is king,” might be a bitter pill to swallow, especially if you’re new to the restaurant industry. However, nothing could be farther from the truth. Customers don’t care if they’re being unreasonable.
Therefore, the burden is on you and your team to take the high road and apologize for their discomfort. In fact, sometimes, an apology is all that is needed to satisfy the guest.
Of course, just because their feelings take a higher priority doesn’t mean they’re right. Your apology simply means taking responsibility and showing a willingness to move forward with the conversation.
An apology shows that you’re willing to meet the customer where they stand by recognizing that there’s something to apologize for, so be generous with your apologies.
5. Master Non-Verbal Communication
It’s critical to master the skill of smiling and being at ease, even when there’s very little cause to do so. Experiments have shown that non-verbal communication has an essential role in customers’ perception of service encounters.
Customers are very likely to react to your posture, tone of voice, and image. This is both a blessing and a curse.
On one hand, you know that positive non-verbal cues and mannerisms can impact your customers’ aggressive manner. On the other, they’re also likely to be more agitated if you have cues that they don’t like.
Thus, you and your staff need to keep calm at all costs. Be open, polite, and talk softly. Most importantly, learn to give a smile that diffuses tension.
6. Staff Training
The most crucial part of dealing with a difficult customer happens after. Now that you’ve solved the problem or ushered the angry customer out of the establishment, it’s important to ensure that it doesn’t happen again – or at least that you and your team react better once it does.
You can do this with continuous staff training. Pre-launch training, employee onboarding, and upskilling should include customer service strategies that specifically deal with problematic customers. The right protocols should also be written on your employee handbook or code of conduct.
This way, you can ensure that everyone is getting better at handling difficult situations.
Dealing With Difficult Customers the Right Way
Difficult customers come with the territory of managing an establishment in the restaurant industry. In fact, it can be one of the most stressful aspects of the job. Too many negative experiences with customers can result not just in bad reviews, but also resignation letters from your staff.
In this tight labor market, you need to balance your customers’ interests with your staff’s capabilities. Make sure that your employees know there’s someone they can count on, and continue providing opportunities for them to train their skills in managing high-stress encounters.
One of the best ways that you can manage this is to monitor your floor 24/7. When you know what’s happening on the floor, you can notice the signs of a troublesome encounter with customers and prevent damage to your establishment and your staff’s morale.
You might also want to consider a video analysis software like Glimpse. This video auditing software can help you catch possible theft or identify which employees may be underperforming..
Contact Glimpse today for a demo!