How To Deal With Angry Customers At A Restaurant

Harry Gordon Selfridge, the founder of Selfridges department store in London, is famously credited with saying, “The customer is always right.” Regardless of Selfridge’s original intention, we usually think of that phrase when dealing with an irate customer. While the adage may be true most of the time, sometimes customers get bent out of shape for all the wrong reasons. And regardless of whether the person is actually right or wrong, you are going to have to deal with angry customers at your restaurant.

But what’s the best way to defuse the situation without completely alienating your customer? The experts at Sling will answer that question. In this article, we’ll show you how to deal with angry customers at your restaurant and reveal 15 simple strategies for handling any problem you may face.

How To Deal With Angry Customers

1) Assume The Customer Has A Right To Be Angry

The most common response to an angry customer is to evaluate the merit of the complaint. Essentially, you want to know if their emotion is justified. This response is so ingrained in your human nature that you might not even know it’s happening.

But the best way to deal with an angry customer at your restaurant is to put that response aside and assume that the person has a right to be angry.

2) Stay Calm

Do your best to remain calm at all times. You will gain nothing by getting angry and yelling back. In fact, allowing your emotions to get the better of you may lead to more problems—and could even cost you your job.

If you feel your anger rising, take deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth. This will help keep your body as relaxed as possible.

3) Let The Person Vent

Sometimes, an angry customer at a restaurant may not be looking for a solution. Instead, they just want to be heard. Unfortunately, they don’t know any other way than to yell and scream.

Instead of trying to calm the customer down—which may lead to even more yelling—take them somewhere private (if possible) and let them vent. When they’ve gotten it all out and hopefully calmed down, you can begin to set matters right.

4) Listen to The Customer

Worker at a restaurant dealing with an angry customer

While the angry customer is talking, listen attentively and try to pick out the important points. When they’re finished, summarize their complaint and ask any follow-up questions to clarify. Remember, an angry customer often just wants to be heard. You can defuse many a problem just by listening to what the customer has to say.

5) Don’t Take It Personally

This one may be difficult to do in the face of an angry customer at your restaurant, but keep in mind that they are not angry with you specifically. They are unhappy with your product or the quality of your service, so don’t take it personally.

When you realize that the customer’s anger isn’t directed at you, it’s easier to remain calm and really hear what the person has to say.

6) Speak With A Soft Tone Of Voice

When it’s your turn to speak, do so with a soft tone of voice. This will help to further reduce the anger the customer feels. If you raise your voice, the customer is going to get defensive again.

7) Express Sympathy For Their Feelings

Show angry customers that you understand their feelings and point of view by expressing sympathy for the issue. Doing so in a respectful way can go a long way toward resolving the problem.

8) Smile When You Talk

Customers at an outdoor restaurant

Smiling, even just slightly, helps soften your expression and shows the customer that you want to help. It may be difficult to smile when an angry customer is yelling at you, but it can keep the discussion calm.

9) Use The Person’s Name

When you use the customer’s name in your discussion, rather than “ma’am” or “sir,” you immediately put the conversation on a more personal level. Similarly, those impersonal pronouns (ma’am and sir) sound much more formal—and less sincere—than a name.

So, if you want to convince angry customers that you are there to help, use their names whenever possible.

10) Take Responsibility

It may be tempting to distance yourself from the problem by denying responsibility. Do your best to avoid that. It really doesn’t matter who or what caused the problem. The customer is dealing with you now. You need to reassure the person that you will take responsibility and make the situation right.

11) Put The Customer First, The Problem Second

Most problems are composed of two issues:

  • The customer’s emotional distress
  • The problem that caused the emotional distress

Always acknowledge the customer’s emotional distress first. If you skip straight to the problem, you make the person feel like they’re not worthy of your attention.

12) Apologize

Too often, busy managers skip right to the solution step and forget to apologize for the customer’s discomfort. If you want this person to remain a customer, you need to apologize for the issue—even if the complaint is unjustified.

Often, a simple but sincere, “I’m very sorry you’re unhappy,” will get the conversation moving in the right direction.

13) Find A Solution

Once you fully understand why the customer is unhappy, work together to find a solution. Depending on the original problem, you can either offer your own solution or ask the customer what they feel should be done.

As part of the solution you come up with, reassure the customer that you will also work to correct the original problem and keep it from happening again.

14) Take A Few Minutes For Yourself

Dealing with angry customers in your restaurant is a stressful experience. Even if you stayed calm, found a solution, and handled the situation as professionally as possible, you’ll still feel some tension and strain.

After the customer leaves, take a few minutes for yourself to let the tension out. That way, the stress won’t “pile up” inside you and cause you to lose your cool should another angry customer approach you.

15) Follow Up

Customers going into a restaurant

Following up with an angry customer isn’t always necessary, but it is appreciated. If you can get the customer’s contact information, call, email, or text to let them know that you are working to prevent the problem from recurring, and ask them if there is anything else you can do.

When you make it a point to follow up with an angry customer from your restaurant, you lay the groundwork to retain the individual as a customer—and maybe earn a few new ones. That’s good for the customer, for you, and for your business.

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This content is for informational purposes and is not intended as legal, tax, HR, or any other professional advice. Please contact an attorney or other professional for specific advice.

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