This post was last updated on Oct 19, 2020.
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Rudeness has some interesting effects on people. A 2017 study concluded that rudeness is, in fact, contagious. By experiencing rudeness, a person is more likely to perceive other unrelated occurrences and behaviors as rude, meaning that if you encounter one rude customer, your ability to perceive kindness dwindles.
Yes, it’s disheartening that even science says a single rude customer can ruin your day. But think of it as one more reason to stay serene in uncomfortable circumstances. In fact, encountering a rude customer doesn’t always have to be a negative experience. It can be an opportunity to learn and put your customer service skills (and patience) to the test.
So, how can you — and your team — stay cool, calm, and collected when dealing with an impolite guest? Here are six ways to work with rude customers at your restaurant.
Learning how to be a good server takes training, patience, and a few tricks up your sleeve.
Deep Breath. Then Listen.
We’re all human, and it’s natural to want to jump to our own defenses rather than listen to what the customer has to say. But defending yourself isn’t going to help the customer leave with a smile on their face.
To handle the situation as professionally as possible, actively listen to what the customer is saying. Nod your head occasionally, repeat key statements they’ve expressed, and show that you’re genuinely making an effort to understand the problem at hand.
Showing the customer that you are trying to understand their issue can go a long way.
Empathize and Apologize
Sometimes a customer is being rude because they’re just having a bad day. We all have bad days, right? It’s important to note that not every rude customer is being offensive just to make your blood boil.
Internally acknowledging that this person might be having a bad day might lower your own defenses and quell the impulse to be rude in return.
Once you’ve opened yourself to empathy, apologize to the customer. Remember to be sincere and show you care about the customer and their issue. There is no need for an all-out, drop-to-the-knees, dramatic apology. Simply saying, “I am so sorry” in an apologetic tone should work just fine.
Why apologize when it clearly wan't my fault?
The simple truth is that the customer doesn’t care whether you did something out of malice or not. They want to feel justified in being upset and know that their feedback is understood and valued.
Additionally, remember that you are the face of the restaurant, and therefore, you must uphold its reputation. With the rise in sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor, this unpleasant experience can be broadcast to millions of people online, and the customer can frame the situation however they want to. Consider this an opportunity to address the situation in-person, and make things right in real-time.
Sometimes apologies don't make the customer feel better. That brings us to the next tip.
Eric Cacciatore of Restaurant Unstoppable
Eric Cacciatore, host of Restaurant Unstoppable, discusses the power of relationships in the restaurant industry.
Be a Solution Superhero
Is that Superman? No, it’s you: the Solution Superhero.
In reality, the customer doesn't need a superhero to come save the day — and neither do you. The greatest power you possess is making them feel special. Some of the most popular methods of reconciling a situation are offering some type of comp:
50% off next time (or this time)
Free appetizer or a round of drinks
Having a solution in your back pocket will make disgruntled guests more willing to visit again and can usually curb any sort of bad attitude they might have. Just remember to check in with your manager as to what you can give away when these situations arise.
Know When to Escalate
A dreaded phrase in the restaurant industry is this: “I want to speak to your manager.” There will be times where you should be proactive and get your manager involved before the customer asks to speak to someone in charge. The key is knowing the signs.
If the customer is getting out of hand, yelling, or being inappropriate, bringing your manager in can help. Additionally, turn to your manager if you don’t know how to remedy an issue — especially if it's your first conflict at work. There’s no reason to fear getting in trouble, as your manager will understand that some customers are tougher to please. Your manager will likely be glad that you involved them before the situation escalated or before the guest left with a bad taste in their mouth (no pun intended).
Know What Not to Do
Another element of dealing with a rude customer is knowing what not to do. As evidenced by celebrity chef and TV personality, Gordon Ramsay, sinking to the rude customer’s level by being rude yourself just does not work. That is, unless you already have a TV show based on being incredibly rude to people, in which case... best of luck.
In reality, there’s nothing worse than throwing rudeness back in the customer’s face. It will only lead to more disputes. Your manager will get angry, and you’ll find your name in an online review or two.
It’s also best to avoid posting on social media about the incident. You might be surprised to see thousands of tweets about interactions with rude customers. You have to keep in mind, no matter how angry you may get, that your actions are representative of the brand you work for.
Don’t Let the Customer Bring You Down
This is the hardest tip to follow. It’s incredibly difficult to let an experience with a rude customer just roll off your back.
It’s all about getting into the right frame of mind. Remind yourself that the customer will soon be gone. Chances are, you won’t have to deal with him or her in this way again.
For some scientific-backed comfort, consider that a 2017 study in the Journal or Service Research found that when other customers witness someone being rude to an employee, they display more empathy and react by being warmer and nicer — not to mention, they often tip better.
Whether you're embarrassed from being yelled at or you’re angry about what just happened, know that countless other people have been in the same position.
Empathy is the strongest tool we have. Use empathy to help rude customers leave the restaurant happier, and let empathy be there to comfort you when the whole ordeal is over.
It's All About Patience and Wit.
Handling rude customers is not always a piece of cake. But if you’re able to keep your wits about you, be empathetic, and not take the situation personally, you’ll recover quickly and have a better handle on how to act when faced with a frustrated guest.