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Training staff to handle bad customers w/ de-escalation

Last updated November 15, 2023 · By Dylan Blake

Darian Everding manages London Underground, a craft beer and whisk(e)y bar in Ames, IA.

Along with so many others in the industry, Darian has seen more angry, disruptive customers than before the pandemic. Ours is an era of rage, a recent article from the New York Times wrote, and the data bears that claim out: London Underground has had to ban more customers in the last year than in all of the previous five years combined.

So how do you teach staff to deal with these situations? The answer for Darian is communicating with staff and using de-escalation training:

  • Sometimes staff don't bring up difficult customers because they feel like it's their problem, not the business's. That's not true, of course. If one staff member has had trouble with a particular customer, then others usually have as well. So the key is to get staff feeling safe about sharing.
  • Communicate regularly about problem customers with staff. This is how you get staff feeling safe enough to share. If you use a team messaging app like Crew or Slack, create a channel about difficult customers. If you have regular staff meetings, make time in each of those meetings to ask staff if there's been any trouble. If you don't currently have a space to discuss this stuff, then make one.
  • Consider being on call for staff if they run into a situation they can't deal with. You'll sometimes have to go to the bar at 10pm on a Friday, which sucks, but what would suck more is your staff feeling like you don't have their back or having a dangerous situation arise.
  • Hold de-escalation training with staff. In a majority of 1-on-1 meetings with staff this year, Darian's staff has independently asked for more practice with de-escalation training. They want it, so Darian provides it.
  • But what is de-escalation training? This isn't a technical definition, but de-escalation is a set of skills you use to slow a situation down so that it doesn't escalate into a violence or danger. If someone is headed for violence, de-escalation stops that from happening.
  • What resources does Darian use? Darian recommends checking out SAFE Bar Network, Right To Be and Healthy Pour.

The interview clips from this discussion aren't long (about 15 minutes total) and are very insightful. Do yourself—and your staff—a favor and watch them.

Video 1:

Video 2: