Brave New Bar 6: The 5-step process for handling angry guests in 2023

Last updated January 12, 2023 · By Dylan Blake

Having an angry guest is a difficult situation. They're unhappy. Your server or bartender isn't happy. You're not happy.

It sucks when no one's happy.

Add to that the fact that everybody's stress level has been ratcheted up these last 2.75 Covid years and you're looking at a tinderbox. When you intervene, you really do need to thread a needle.

Josh Hurst, industry veteran and current Director of Operations and Hospitality Josh Hurst for Pies & Pints has a playbook for threading this needle, whether the angry customers have complaints in-store or via their website or social media.

Check out the post and clips below to learn all about Josh's process.

The 5-step process for handling angry guests

Here are the steps Josh trains his team on (more detail in the below video clip):

  1. Recognize that guests are angry for a reason. It's not your job or the job of your team to determine whether or not that anger is justified. You just need to understand they're upset and for them that feeling is real. (This can be hard.)
  2. Remove defensiveness by apologizing before you do anything else. A genuine "I'm sorry this happened" can go a super long way—for Josh and his team, a sincere apology turns the situation in a positive direction about 75% of the time. (Prior to Covid this % was higher.)
  3. Ask the guest an important question: what can we do to make things right? It's sometimes helpful to position this as something you're asking not just for their sake, but also for everyone who comes through the door after them.
  4. Follow through on what they request. Give them a new pizza on the house. Discount their meal. Provide a gift certificate for a future visit. It's almost certainly worth it, since they'll be more likely to return.
  5. Figure out what went wrong on your side. Put in as much effort as you need to figure out what happened—sometimes Josh will spend several hours figuring out what went wrong in a single case. And when you figure it out, use the situation as a teaching opportunity (not a punitive one).

Also in this clip: how the last 2.75 years have changed complaints:

  • Some of the complaints that come in just don't make sense.
  • Some just aren't true: they aren't corroborated by receipts, POS histories, or security cameras.
  • Scams have become both more common and more sophisticated.
  • The two goals you have when a guest is upset—and how you have to keep them separate

    If a guest is upset, you should have two goals:

    • Make that guest happy, or at least not upset any longer.
    • Try to figure out what happened

    As a manager or owner, it's tempting to get upset—at the situation, at your server, the kitchen, or even the guest. But that's unproductive on a bunch of levels.

    Instead, focus on making the customer happy—get them a replacement drink or food product, give them a gift certificate for a return visit, whatever.

    After that's done, then turn to figuring out what went wrong.

    When you do this, make sure screwups are always a teaching opportunity and never a punitive conversation. There's no need to blame and no need to get mad. It's not productive for the server's performance, and it sure as heck isn't good for your blood pressure.

    Josh shares more detail about this in the clip below:

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