There is no way to completely avoid conflict in life, particularly in the restaurant industry. Restaurant life is fast-paced and high-stakes. Although routine and in some instances mundane, meal service can escalate quickly to a high degree of intensity. Just picture a guest exposed to a known allergen. That is a potentially life-threatening and career-ending scenario. Rather than just hoping for the best, instill certain practices in your staff to ensure that they are capable of navigating complex situations.
Make Eye Contact
Eye contact is a crucial element to effective interpersonal interaction. In high stakes situations, it’s important to maintain proper eye contact to communicate receptivity and empathy. Failure to make proper eye contact signals a multitude of negative messages, all of which are to be avoided. Most often, lack of eye contact communicates dismissiveness or submissiveness. Neither of these are desirable. People in high stress situations experience emotions to a heightened degree. Your server’s demeanor will dictate, to a large extent, the trajectory of your guest’s emotions.
If an issue arises with a guest, it is paramount that your staff appears sympathetic. The key to effective sympathy is active listening. Train your staff to identify the root issues of complaints and to act accordingly. Further, that does not mean that your staff always assumes culpability or apologizes. Guests can often have unreasonable expectations. In these types of situations, the goal is to maintain the contrast between your staff’s calm professionalism compared to the irrationality of your guest’s complaints. Overall, appearing sympathetic is always appropriate. But it should be tempered to suit the situation. When your staff are truly in error, apologies are appropriate. Yet, it’s important that apologizing is not your staff’s default. Your restaurant should not assume more culpability than is right or necessary.
You never want your guests to feel as though their complaints have fallen on deaf ears. A dissatisfied guest is an opportunity in disguise. Meeting their dissatisfaction with an agreeable resolution is a good way to win loyalty. Any small offerings, such as comping part or all of a meal, communicates genuine investment in your guest’s experience. People will forget what you say or what you look like, but they won’t forget how you make them feel. When things go awry, do everything within reason to restore a sense of goodwill between parties.
The incidence of conflicts is among one of the few certainties in life. Preparation and strategy are essential for your staff to ride through conflict unscathed. Before sending your staff into the fray, ensure that they are adequately equipped with the basics for diffusing high-stress situations. Above all, don’t abandon your staff in difficult situations. You are on the same team.
Challenge: Practice these techniques with a server.
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