Despite your best efforts, you will encounter disgruntled guests and employees from time to time. Mistakes and unforeseen circumstances are a part of life. The best approach to handling these situations is adopting preventative measures. These practices can also be extended to mitigate tensions in escalating circumstances. Keep in mind the wise old adage: this too shall pass.
One of the most difficult things to do in exasperating situations is to rein in your impulses to get defensive and cover your back. The instinct for self-defense is natural, but making excuses is actually not in your best interest. Listening calmly is one of the most disarming approaches you can pursue, whether you are dealing with customers, employees, or contractors. The surest way to irritate someone further is to try and shut them down when they are determined to communicate the source of their anger. Let them talk. Let the frustration run its course. Then, move on.
Further, actively listen. If you stand there quietly while they rant but don’t register the essence of what they’re saying, you are being patronizing rather than sympathetic. If you actually want to diffuse the situation, note key points of what they’re saying and try to assess the underlying issue. Sometimes, it’s clear that an irate guest is just having a bad day and you are an easy target. Other times, there really was some negligence that occurred. Both situations require a calm, collected response; however, the form of your response might change. You might only apologize in the former situation while you should offer some type of restitution in the latter. Essentially, use your reason. When someone is coming at you with a high level of emotion, it’s important to meet them with empathy backed by sound reason.
Practice Open Communication
Many issues are the result of misunderstandings. Trust must be the foundation of employer/employee relations, as well as restaurateur and guest relations. Trust is fostered through open and genuine communication. Employers should require regular check-ins with their employees to ensure that there are no festering issues. Often times, servers and staff can identify issues which are invisible to management. Everyone benefits when the lines of communication are clear and inviting.
In terms of guest communications, staff must be kind and accommodating. That doesn’t mean that servers present a disingenuous or servile front. Rather, it is important to adopt a certain demeanor of gratitude towards the people who choose to patron your restaurant. The fact is, your competition is tremendous. Further, studies have shown that grateful people are happier people. Encouraging a spirit of gratitude within your staff can only benefit them, professionally and personally. This doesn’t mean you say “be grateful”. Rather, take opportunities to highlight positive occurrences or best moments of the day. You spend most of your life working. The environment should be conducive to personal development.
There is no formula to prevent every difficult situation that can arise. However, what you can do is develop a demeanor and environment that is prepared to meet difficulties as they arise, as well as prevent them from occurring. It’s also helpful to remember that nothing in life lasts forever, not even the effects of an angry rant you bore the brunt of today. Life goes on and you are made of tough stuff. Keep moving forward.
Challenge: have a conversation you’ve been avoiding and clear the air.
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