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How to Deal with Difficult Diners

How to Deal with Difficult Diners

Practice Active Listening

It’s one thing to hear a complaining customer; it’s another to really listen to him — to use words and body language that tell him you understand what he’s saying, even if you don’t necessarily agree.

Active listening alone can often calm a customer. So pay close attention to what the customer is telling you, paraphrasing the gist of his complaint, repeating it back to him and maintaining solid eye contact throughout the interaction.

“It’s important that you understand why the customer is upset,” says Ford. Van Hooser adds that it’s just as critical to give the customer “time to vent. Give the person a chance to get their feelings out.”

Think Solution or Transfer

Once you’ve figured out the customer’s main problem, “negotiate a solution or a transfer,” says Van Hooser.

Negotiating a solution, he says, might look like this:

“Ma’am, I’m sorry for your displeasure with your meal. Is there something I can do to correct the situation?”

“Listen carefully to the customer’s response to see if it is realistic or not,” Van Hooser says. “If it is, fix the problem without any further fanfare.”

If it isn’t, consider negotiating a transfer, which might look like this:

“Ma’am, I’m sorry, but I don’t have the authority to comp your meal. Would you like me to arrange for you to speak with the manager or chef?”

“This is not simply a case of passing the buck but rather of putting the patron in contact with the person best positioned to remedy their complaint,” Van Hooser says.

Naturally, you can’t make every diner happy. “The customer is not always right, nor are you or I,” says Van Hooser. “But as someone before me has said, ‘The customer may not always be right, but they are still the customer.’”

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