January 7, 2016
Posted in: Culinary Arts

4 Ways All Chefs Can Handle Bothersome Customers

Chefs must develop certain abilities to handle angry or unruly customers.

Chefs must develop certain abilities to handle angry or unruly customers.

In a previous post, we discussed several ways that chefs can help bolster customer interaction. And while steps like improving visuals between cooks and customers are helpful, it’s important to recognize that you won’t be able to win over every single dinner guest. There will be those individuals that, despite your efforts, simply aren’t fans of what you’ve attempted in the kitchen. Rather than getting angry yourself, though, this is a perfect chance to learn how to deal with these extra-irritated patrons. Here are a few tips and tricks:

1. Be an active listener
Listening is so much more than paying attention to what someone else is saying, according to Mind Tools. Active listening transcends what someone says, and you’re encouraged to pay attention to their demeanor and body language to decipher the complete message. That means divorcing yourself from your emotions and opinions; instead, it’s all about absorbing the entirety of a situation, and trying to put yourself into the head space of another person. When it comes to the restaurant business, this is just another tool you can use to understand your clients better. They may be saying one thing – like how bad the salmon is – but their body language may say something else entirely. Active listening can help you key in on that discrepancy and the underlying issues.

2. Don’t sink to anyone’s level
In 2013, a diner at England’s Bladebone Inn took to TripAdvisor.com to post a nasty review of an especially unpleasant meal. Among the complaints were extra tough ribs, bad food handling and a rude wait staff. In response, patron and chef Kiren Puri posted his own review, defending each and every point in depth. While some in the kitchen community celebrated Puri for his efforts, Web Marketing Today suggested a few more effective ways to handle bad reviews. Rather than post your own vitriol online for others to see, contact the reviewer yourself and deal with the issue offline. If you must respond, though, do so in a polite and straightforward manner. Posting negativity online not only hurts your reputation, but it can waste time and precious energy better spent on other tasks.

3. Focus on solutions
Let’s say that one day, during dinner service, you’re called out of the kitchen by a member of the wait staff. There, you speak with a guest who found his steak under-prepared and particularly non-enjoyable. Rather than focusing on the negatives of the situation, most experts will tell you to instead emphasize the positives of this potentially stressful interaction. For one, you can still turn this meal around, and thus ensure the customer leaves happy, by replacing the meal. Some customers won’t even want the actual meal, and an apology or in-person meeting can be enough to satiate even the most unruly customer. While this kind of experience can prove emotionally harmful, don’t allow it to be. Use this feedback as a chance to learn and grow as a chef.

4. Always be prepared
Ron Eyester is the executive chef and owner of the Rosebud Restaurant in Atlanta, Georgia. Speaking with CNN’s Eatocracy blog, he outlined six ways that customers tick off chefs. These include moving around dining room furniture and tables, showing up late for a reservation and calling with lengthy questions during inopportune times. Perhaps you share Eyester’s anger over these behaviors, or you have your own list of annoyances. Regardless, it’s important to recognize these customer traits as best as you can. By doing so, you can prepare yourself for the accompanying stress and find ways to better formulate certain solutions. You may not feel any less annoyed, but you’ll be more capable of overcoming these issues and focusing on the task at hand.