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How to Deal with Difficult Diners

How to Deal with Difficult Diners

Peter Vogt | MonsterTRAK Career Coach

He doesn’t like where he’s sitting. He orders something not even remotely on the menu. His food is too cold, too spicy or both. He wants what he wants, he wants it now, and he’ll be vocal to get it if necessary — even if it means causing a scene.

He’s the quintessential difficult diner, and whether you’re a member of the waitstaff, a manager or even the owner, you’ll be seeing him in your restaurant soon enough, if you haven’t already. How you react — or don’t — will determine whether you and your establishment’s other patrons have a miserable experience.

“Customers become diners from hell when the restaurant staff handles the situation poorly,” says Lynda Ford, president of HR consulting firm The Ford Group in Rome, New York, and a 15-year veteran of the restaurant industry who is now a human resources expert and trainer. “It takes some skill and finesse, but most customers can be won over. It’s the attitude and actions of the staff that tend to inflame a situation to the point of no return.”

These tips will help you defuse your difficult diners:

Maintain Your Professionalism, No Matter What

“You have virtually no control over what a patron might do or say, but you have the ultimate control over what you will do or say,” says Phillip Van Hooser, an expert on customer service and author of Willie’s Way: 6 Secrets for Wooing, Wowing, and Winning Customers and Their Loyalty.

Granted, it may not be easy to maintain that control when you’re faced with a rude and obnoxious patron. But the alternative — challenging the diner to a battle of insults, for example, or repeatedly trying to shift the blame to your coworkers or the restaurant itself — will only make things worse.

“Regardless of how the situation unfolds, your primary objective is to handle what comes in a professional manner,” says Van Hooser. “Remember: Other [patrons] are probably watching.”