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Customer service is a huge part of the restaurant business, and front-of-house restaurant employees need to keep their people skills sharp to stay ahead in this business. Particularly, you will want to practice dealing with problematic customers. Your shift manager will appreciate your ability to deal with these folks and diffuse tense situations because they can focus on other things. Here are a few tips for dealing with problem customers.
1. Graceful Conversation Enders
Some customers don’t mean to be in the way, but they are overly friendly. They think the waiter is a captive audience or that ‘waitress’ is another word for ‘date.’ Since you are actually working and can’t spend all day listening, you will have to come up with a polite sentence or two that lets you leave the chatterbox.
Some good ones: “That’s great, I’ll have to tell my co-workers. Excuse me.” And, “You know, that is fascinating, but I had better get you your drinks now.”
What are some of your best conversation enders? Let us know on twitter @gosirvo
2. Resolving Customer Complaints
I should clarify: a customer who brings a problem to your attention isn’t immediately problematic. It’s best to take the attitude that any complaint is genuine and serious. Always respond to a complaint with an apology and an offer of a solution to their complaint.
It’s best to give them the impression that you are taking it seriously. Ideally, you are taking it seriously, even if it seems trivial to you. Practice letting them finish their complaints and paraphrasing what you heard them say before giving your own reply. This ensures that you know the problem they want to fix, and it lets them know that you really understood their position. Sometimes just allowing someone to vent and feel heard can solve whatever their complaint was!
Practice looking attentive and not crossing your arms while you listen. Body language can speak volumes to an annoyed customer.
3. Practice Keeping Calm
Develop a mantra for when you are faced with an angry customer that reminds you that everyone sometimes has a bad day and that the complaint isn’t an attack on you. Practice keeping your voice low and calm while talking people through solutions. Your keeping your cool will keep things from escalating.
Additionally, people who are ornery by nature get off on seeing others flustered. Don’t give them the satisfaction.
4. Have A List Of Potential Solutions Handy
Customers who are having a bad time tend to collect complaints until their minor irritation snowballs into general hatred. To the extent that is possible, have a list of potential solutions to potential complaints in your apron pocket so that you can head off the snowball. Typically a free drink or discount coupon will suffice.
There will be times when you won’t be able to do something to head off a complaint. In those situations, it is helpful to have a script that you memorize to explain the situation. Practice calmly saying something such as, “I’m sorry, but we are out of…” and you will be able to clearly communicate your position. This can sometimes be enough to calm a customer.
5. Follow Up On Complaints
Customers want to be treated as individuals, and they want to feel like you personally care about whether they are having a good time. Take a few moments to check in on the especially grouchy to make sure that the solution you offered worked and that they are now in a happier frame of mind.
6. Know When To Call In The Big Guns
All these steps are ways to avoid having to pull in the manager to deal with a customer, but it is sometimes unavoidable. Your manager would rather step in before things get out of hand.
- If you spilled something on a customer (we’ve all been there) and have potentially ruined not only their clothing but also their night… it’s best to call in a manager.
- If a customer is insisting that you break a restaurant policy, get a manager. If he or she decides to bend the rules, you aren’t in trouble.
- If a customer seems to be threatening or is clearly inebriated, the restaurant would prefer that you call for help in getting him or her out of there before the other customers get annoyed.
Knowing how to handle the particularly difficult FOH situations will help you stand out for your boss and further you in your restaurant career. Follow these tips to really impress with your people skills.