7 Step Guide To Handle Difficult Customers In Restaurants

December 8, 2022
8 min read
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According to a Lightspeed survey, 62% of restaurant workers believe customers are more demanding than ever. As we all know, demanding customers can lead to difficult customer service situations, but don't worry - this article will provide you with some tips on how to handle them!

We asked experienced restaurant owners and employees how they would handle difficult customers, and they generously shared their best tips and advice, which we compiled into a simple guide for you. So believe us, you'll be able to handle those difficult customers with ease if you follow these easy steps.

So don't put it off any longer; continue reading and get started on your difficult customer management strategy right away (And if you've arrived here as a result of a difficult customer situation, remember that we've all been there, and the sun has still risen the next morning).

7 Easy Tricks To Master Difficult Customer Situations

When you work in a restaurant, it's important to be able to handle difficult customers. There is a saying that if you haven't had your difficult customer situation yet, it is only just coming - no one is immune to them. Actually a percentage for a customers that are declared as difficult is between By listening carefully and avoiding interrupting the customer, you can resolve any issues that arise quickly and efficiently. Here are five tips for handling difficult customers:

1. Listen Carefully and Agree With The Problem

The best way to understand a customer's needs (and anger) is to try listen intently. Even if you feel like you should, don't jump ahead or try to correct them before they've had a chance to speak (we know, this may be the hardest part especially when you know the solution already). Let them talk until they're ready to stop, and then offer your opinion after that in a respectful manner. 

For example, if a customer is complaining about the quality of the food, listen to their concerns and ask clarifying questions to understand their specific issue and try to agree together with the customer that ok, now we have a situation that we need to fix and you are here to help them.

2. Apologize

Right after agreeing that you have a problem, it’s really important to apologize to the customer for what happened. You don’t want to start a battle with them, you want to handle the situation and that's why it is good to apologize and tell that you are sorry about it.

"I understand why you're upset. Let me see what I can do to help resolve the situation."

Once you've apologized, take responsibility for the situation

Thank them for their feedback and let them know you'll be taking steps to address their concerns in the future. Finally, let them know that they can contact you at any time if they have further issues in this situation. Say that you will handle the situation and make sure everything will be fixed for them.

‘’Taking responsibility and apologizing for the situation even though you wouldn’t yet know what went wrong will usually loosen up the customer's anger a lot.’’ - Nick - Experienced Restaurant Owner

3. Be Empathetic and Understanding

Not always the situation has something to do with your restaurant's food or any other related stuff that you can affect. Sometimes the problem and difficulties of the customer can come from the way they behave in the restaurant. Whether they're being noisy, rude, or just downright annoying, it can be hard to handle the situation calmly and diplomatically. 

Let's take a bit deeper dive into how to deal with a noisy customer in your restaurant:

When dealing with a noisy customer in a restaurant, it's important to approach the situation with empathy and understanding. Remember that the customer may not be aware of the disruption they're causing, and it's your job to help them understand the situation and find a solution that works for everyone.

One specific tip for handling a noisy customer in a restaurant is to calmly and politely explain the situation to them. For example, you could say something like, 

"I'm sorry to interrupt, but I wanted to let you know that some of our other customers are having difficulty enjoying their meals because of the volume of your conversation. Can we find a solution that works for everyone?" 

By explaining the situation in a non-confrontational manner, you can help the customer to understand the issue and work with them to find a resolution.

Additionally, it's important to be prepared to offer a compromise or solution if the customer is unwilling to lower their volume. 

For example, you could offer to relocate them to a quieter area of the restaurant. By being proactive and solution-oriented, you can help to resolve the situation and maintain a positive dining experience for all of your customers.

4. Offer a Solution

When dealing with difficult customers, it's important to remember that you need to find a solution that works for both parties. Not only for you as a restaurant, or only for the customer (even though you have to usually make a compromise on this too and make it better for the customer than your restaurant). Sometimes, a simple apology isn't enough – you may need to offer a compromise in order to resolve the issue.

What Kind of Refund Can a Restaurant Provide as a Compromise for a Dissatisfied Customer?

For example, if a customer is angry about the quality of the food, you could offer them a discount on their next meal. If they're upset about the service, you could offer to send them a complimentary dessert or drink. If your restaurant has a loyalty program, you can also offer them an upgrade on your loyalty tiers (or stamps on their punch card), or a bigger cash back percentage for their next purchases in a certain amount of time.

When offering a compromise or refund to a customer who is unhappy with their meal, it's important to consider the cost of the meal and the extent of the issue. In some cases, offering a prorated refund (e.g., a refund for a portion of the cost of the meal) may be more appropriate than offering a fixed-dollar discount. 

For example, if a customer is dissatisfied with an $80 meal, offering a $2 discount or free coffee may not be seen as a fair or reasonable compromise. In this situation, it may be more appropriate to offer a prorated refund, such as a refund of 50% (20% at least) of the cost of the meal. This would provide the customer with a more significant financial benefit and show that you're willing to make a reasonable effort to resolve their issue. 

Unfortunately, sometimes the customer's demands may be unreasonable. Then you don't have to always agree with them – but be sure to explain why you're unable to fulfill their request. Once again, remember that the goal is to find a solution that works for both parties and keeps the customer happy.

man with a blue shirt compaining about the food for the waitress in a restaurant

5. Stay Patient And Calm - Even Thought The Customer Is Angry 

It may seem impossible, but try your best not to get angry yourself. If you do become angry, take a deep breath and control your words carefully. Try not to raise your voice or resort to insults – these will only make the situation worse. 

For example, if a customer is yelling at you, remain calm and polite, and try to de-escalate the situation by offering to help them resolve the issue.

The oldest trick from the book that we all have heard is still pretty valid in these situations, so try to take a deep breath and count to three before responding. Even though it may feel weird, this will give you time to calm down and collect your thoughts.

6. Do Not Take The Customer's Complaints Personally  

Remember that every customer has different expectations and desires when it comes time for food or service delivery (or anything else for that matter, from behaviour to temperature of your drinks). Just because one customer is unhappy doesn't mean that all of your other customers are also unhappy – focus on resolving the issue as quickly as possible instead of dwelling on the negative feedback received from this one individual alone. 

It is extremely important to remember that complaints are a great way to learn, so approach them that way. Later, analyze the situation and consider what you could have done differently or how you could improve something related to the situation and you know that you will be more prepared for the next difficult situation.‍

7. Follow Up After the Encounter

Now you've successfully handled a difficult customer situation. First of all - congrats on that!

Now it's important to follow up with the customer to ensure that they're really satisfied with the outcome. This could involve sending them an email or calling them to check in and see if they're happy with the solution you offered.

Following up is a great way to demonstrate that you care about your customers and are willing to go above and beyond to ensure their satisfaction. It also allows you to address any additional concerns the customer may have and ensure that they are satisfied with the solution you've provided.‍

Conclusion - How To Handle Difficult Customers

In conclusion, dealing with difficult customers in a restaurant could be a real pain – but luckily not anymore, because now you know how to handle them like a pro! 

So, regardless of how difficult the situation or customer is, by following the tips and strategies outlined in this article, you'll be able to handle any difficult customer situation with ease and keep your restaurant running as smoothly as a smoothie machine (but now like McDonalds ice cream machine, because I guess we all know that they are always broken). ‍

  1. Listen Carefully and Agree With The Problem
  2. Apologize
  3. Be Empathetic and Understanding
  4. Offer a Solution
  5. Stay Patient And Calm - Even Thought The Customer Is Angry 
  6. Do Not Take The Customer's Complaints Personally 
  7. Follow Up After the Encounter

And if all else fails, just smile and remember what the great comedian George Carlin said: "Never argue with an idiot. They'll only bring you down to their level and beat you with experience." 


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