Some tips on dealing with sticky situations
You want your friends to be trustworthy, honest and helpful, so why would you expect any less from businesses? They’re great traits to have when it’s business as usual, but even more so when things go a little off track. We all know that you can’t bake an omelet without breaking a few eggs, and most mistakes are easy to solve. But what do you do when things get a little more complex? Here are some tips on dealing with sticky situations offline, and some inspiration on how to reply to trouble online!
Overlooked… and overbooked
Did you get your counting wrong and do you have more guests with a reservation than places to seat them? Sometimes, this problem will solve itself, as overbooked guests can be offset by cancellations and no-shows. However, if worse comes to worst, you need to provide a good solution. If a table is about to open up, you could offer your guests a drink or appetiser on the house while they wait. If you’re forced to cancel, though, you’re in more serious trouble. Start off with your heartfelt apologies and act as soon as possible. You could offer booking a your guests a table in a different restaurant with a similar cuisine or style. Alternatively, you can offer a voucher for a discounted meal in the future. Most importantly: do everything you can to reach out in advance and don’t wait for your guests to show up!
Guest: “Ah, yes, I’d like the risotto please”
Waiter: “Oh, I’m sorry… we’re out of pumpkin, so…”
Guest: “… In that case, I’ll have the lamb stew”
Waiter: “Hmm, sorry, I think we just sold the last one…”
Anyone who’s ever been there, knows how these conversations can ruin your experience.
At the same time, it’s not uncommon to run out of a particular dish, especially if you’re on a tight budget. So, what can you do? First off, try to let guests know ASAP. Update your digital menu regularly or tell guests which dishes aren’t available when you hand them the menu.
If possible, suggest an alternative. That way, your guests won’t feel like you’re leaving them hanging, and you keep your waiters happy as well!
Still, some people are hard to satisfy, especially if they feel entitled to a discount. No matter what happens, even a minor mistake can get you in a sticky situation. When push comes to shove, use all your kindness… it’ll work like a fire blanket.
First off, make sure to really listen. Always assume the guest is right and don’t ever interrupt. Ensure that they feel heard. Be humble and acknowledge their complaint in a friendly, professional way, even if you feel the complaint is unjustified. Always address their feelings first, as this generally helps people to shift their focus towards a solution.
Addressing the problem first can make people feel like you don’t want to pay personal attention to them.
Next, you have to come up with a solution. Go-to solutions include a replacement meal, free drinks, or a discount. However, feel free to ask your guest what they would like you to do. Don’t forget to make sure the guest is happy with the solution you offer. And, last but not least: go the extra mile! Offer a free coffee after dessert, or a discount for their next visit. That way, you’ll get rid of any leftover resentment. And if you do it well, you might even turn the whole situation around!
Sudden staff shortage
Hailey and Tim just called in sick and Justin isn’t available… And it’s a busy night. Your other staff members will have to give it their all if you are to give guests the experience they’re looking for. First off, prep your staff about managing expectations. Inform your guests about waiting times if possible and tell them the reason why. Ask people if they’re okay with waiting and offer a solution if they’re not. Sometimes it’s better to give people a to-go box, or even let them allow them to go somewhere else, instead of having them stress out at one of your tables. If you realise that you’ve left a table waiting, apologise for the delay and communicate, communicate, communicate! “That table is waiting for their drinks, so I’m just quickly heading over there and then I’ll take your order, all right?” “One of our chefs called in sick, so our waiting time is currently about 40 minutes, but the kitchen staff is working as hard as they can to get your order out as soon as possible.” Offer a drink if waiting times are longer than expected and pay attention to the table order. There’s nothing more annoying than waiting while someone else jumps the queue!
Kids aren’t known to be great at waiting, so if you have guests with kids, help them entertain their kids. It may be as simple as giving them a colouring picture and some pencils. If you’re creative: design a special scavenger hunt based on things they can spot in your restaurant, or, for older kids, print a game of dots and boxes with the rules.
Of course, there are many other situations that require you to take action to prevent further escalation. Fortunately, good communication will get you in the clear most of the time. However, there are also mistakes where there’s no best-case scenario and damage control is your only option. Serious food safety issues, for instance. Or forgetting about allergies. If these things happen, they need to be handled with extreme care, as they can truly cost you your business. In an American survey on foodborne illness outbreaks in restaurant chains, 44.3% of consumers reported they would either ‘never visit again’ or ‘would be inclined to avoid eating at that chain for six months to a year’. And no matter the scale, it affects all branches.* Why? Because a bad rep spreads like wildfire!
Remember that it’s always better to prevent problems than solve them. But at least you now have some online and offline inspiration on how to handle any issues you encounter!