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We all know that COVID-19 has changed the restaurant industry forever, but did you know it also changed patrons? 

Customers who have been cooped up at home for the past two years are anxious to get back to dining out. At the same time, with the rise of takeout and food delivery, they have become accustomed to a different kind of dining experience. 

With the labor shortage and supply disruptions in the background, it’s no wonder that some diners are quick to get frustrated with slow service or missing menu items. Unfortunately, there are those who are taking the situation to the extreme and even those who are simply being outright rude or inappropriate. 

This type of behavior is troubling, to say the least. Mostly, because it makes it difficult for operators to ensure a safe and respectful working environment for their staff. This affects your reputation as an employee, which in turn affects employee retention and your bottom line.

As we get back to eating together, this is one gap that needs to be bridged. Here are our top tips for supporting your employees in dealing with frustrated patrons and standing up to unruly customers.

Indoor Dining Gives Rise to Rude Customers

The pandemic triggered a boost in digital food delivery, via mainstream and alternative apps. This accustomed diners to seamless digital ordering and fast deliveries with next to zero human interaction. 

Now that restaurants are welcoming back guests for indoor dining, some patrons are feeling restless about the speed and quality of service, as well as Covid-19 health requirements. 

Whether it’s a disproportionate reaction to being asked to wear a mask or not getting the table they want, many diners are simply ‘losing it’. The WSJ recently covered reports of humiliations, harassment, shouting and swearing coming in from across the country.

Why Patrons Are Restless

Although diners are flocking to eat-out after two years at home, the labor shortage in the restaurant industry is far from over. The National Restaurant Association’s recent numbers say the majority of restaurants are understaffed, with 63% of restaurants understaffed by over 15%. 

Unfortunately service is not as swift or efficient as everyone would like it to be. Understaffing is creating mishaps and increasing tension. 

Patrons are also frustrated when items are repeatedly crossed off the menu. They are simply not aware of the supply chain issues still tormenting our industry making ingredients unavailable from major broadliners

Risks to Your Restaurant Bottom Line

Four important stakeholders suffer when a guest lashes out: your restaurant as a business, your staff, the other diners present and future diners. 

Unreasonably rude guests have always found a voice on the internet. Today, even common hiccups, uneventful pre-pandemic, are increasingly resulting in negative Yelp reviews, potentially affecting customer loyalty and trust. 

Your other customers also prefer a calm environment, especially those with kids. One untamed incident can turn into a snowball if other diners are affected.

Risks to Your Employer Reputation

Rude customers affect your reputation as an employer by making your restaurant an unsafe working environment and exacerbating labor issues. 

According to the OFW, a research center out of UC Berkeley, over 70% of women have been sexually harassed in the restaurant industry, more than any other industry. If that wasn’t bad enough, since COVID-19 hit, 43% of surveyed women were the target of, or witnessed, mask related harassment. 

Staff have every right to demand their boss has their backs when they are being harassed or harshly criticized. As operator, it is your basic responsibility to ensure staff are physically and emotionally safe at their workplace. That means taking steps to reduce tension before it arises, training staff, and stepping in when needed. 

5 Tips for Reducing Diner Tension & Increasing Employee Retention

  1. Post signs at the entrance to your restaurant that name and shame unwanted situations. Use humor, rhymes or graphics to catch the eye, like this one from Ellen’s Restaurant in Texas or these printable social distancing and facemask signs for restaurants
  2. Discuss the issue openly on social media. A well written post can help you communicate the challenges your business is facing at the moment and ask for patrons’ patience and understanding.
  3. Mitigate delays by rethinking how long it takes to prepare tables and what you start people off with. Even a low cost home-made lemonade and cheap nibble will set them at ease. Have QR menus elegantly placed on the table and around the waiting line so people can prepare themselves to order. 
  4. Take it one step further with a server-less ordering system that will reduce time to table and compensate for understaffed shifts. 
  5. Predict moments of friction and prepare your staff with an appropriate response to each.

        For example: 

  • A guest requests an unavailable dish or cocktail → (1) say sorry, (2) explain that there are shortages, and (3) promise a healthy vegan dessert like a ‘chocolate ball’ in the house. 
  • A guest refuses to wear a mask → (1) Refer to your sign stating zero-tolerance and requirements, (2) offer a free fun mask branded with your logo (3) get shift manager.
  • A guest walks in → Always offer guests to choose from the available tables. That way, they feel in control. 

Stay tuned for our upcoming article on how to manage your restaurant’s online reputation. We will be bringing in an expert to discuss how to deal with bad reviews, specifically on Yelp. 

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