How many times have you been a customer and something has caused you to feel frustrated? Think back to how you felt when you weren’t served very quickly or when your meal was cold. Many people choose the place they go to purely on the attitude of the staff and the standard of service.
Thinking about what your customers want and ensuring that the environment is safe and pleasant can go a long way to keeping your customers happy and coming back.
As already mentioned, part of your role, along with complying with all the laws, is to provide excellent customer service. This involves several aspects:
The sales person – it is important you know what products you sell and a little bit about each.
The cleaner – research has shown that people behave in a more orderly way in a tidy, clean premises. Mess can also be a source of frustration - e.g., if a person comes to the bar and, when leaning on the counter, gets his or her clothes wet or stained from spillages, it could cause complaints or conflict.
The host – many customers choose the premises they visit based on the atmosphere, the staff and the levels of service. Knowing what your regulars like and taking an interest in their stories become part of service levels.
The safety officer – while serving and circulating around the premises, you should watch for unused glassware, rubbish on tables, spillages, or bags blocking walkways and fire exits.
The police officer – this is probably the hardest part of your role. Sometimes, you will have to refuse service or ask someone to leave the premises. This should always be done politely and calmly and never using force. We will look at this in more detail next.
Seeing potential danger early and hopefully preventing it are always preferable to allowing a situation to get out of hand. Depending on the layout of your place of work, you may be able to see the whole of your premises from behind the bar / counter or you may have to work as part of a team and ensure you check around your premises regularly.
It would be unreasonable to suggest that there will never be any complaints or conflict in premises, but, depending on the type of premises, location, age group of customers, etc., this will occur to a greater or lesser degree.
Dealing with a complaint is an art in itself. If you handle it well, you will have brought the customer round from being dissatisfied to being happy. However, if dealt with badly, the customer will feel even more unhappy and is likely to tell as many people as possible about the situation, leading to a loss of potential customers.
Key points to dealing with a complaint include:
- Listen carefully to the complaint, without interrupting
- Show that you understand
- Seek a solution
It is important not to raise your voice or argue with the customer. Observe how other staff deal with issues and consult your manager.
Remember, when people are angry, they often throw insults. Do not take insults personally or retaliate, you have to remain professional.
Dealing with complaints requires you to have patience and to keep others around you calm.
Refusals of Service
Like handling complaints, refusing service should be done respectfully and professionally. The perfect refusal should not be noticed by other customers.
- Approach as early as possible
- State the law
- Let the customers know that they are welcome another night, when they can prove their age or whatever is suitable to the situation.
It may not be appropriate for you to refuse people service until you have built up some experience.
Talk to your managers if you are unsure and learn from how they deal with the situation.
If customers are angry, try to calm them down by speaking calmly and quietly. If people or property is threatened, it may be necessary to call the police. Keep your colleagues informed, and the manager will make the appropriate decision.
Remember, if customers are drunk, their brain will be affected by the alcohol, making them less inhibited and so quicker to anger and more likely to say or do things they wouldn’t normally. They may also have more difficulty in understanding you. It is especially important to speak clearly and slowly - you may have to repeat yourself several times, and try not to get angry or impatient.
Have an “escalation plan”. That is, a plan for if things get worse. This is likely to include communicating the problem to other staff and may involve calling the police.
Potential Problem Situations
It is impossible to predict everything that could cause problems, but there are some obvious scenarios that we can look at in more detail:
Large Single Sex Groups
In some types of premises, due to the “party atmosphere” and the group dynamics, single sex groups often start drinking to excess and getting boisterous, which can also upset other customers. So how should you deal with them?
- Speak to them when they first arrive and lay down ground rules (e.g., no drinking games, keep noise down, have a good night but don’t get drunk)
- Build up a relationship early on so it’s easier to speak to them later – find out what they are celebrating
- Set aside a separate area for them, if possible, to avoid upsetting other customers
- Identify the leader and make him or her responsible for the group’s behavior
- Watch the amount they are drinking
- Speak to individuals at the bar
- Make it clear that, if one person causes trouble, they will all have to leave
These are often the hardest to spot. A couple come in and are having a good night, then a row develops that has nothing to do with the venue. Whilst you can’t listen to each customer’s conversations, it is often obvious if there are ill feeling or cross words being spoken between partners or friends.
- Visit the table, ask if all is ok. The attention and the fact you have noticed are enough to make most quieten down or leave
- If it persists and / or gets louder, you will need to ask them once again if they are ok
- Suggest that this is not the place for their upset / argument
- Let them know that, if they can’t put aside their issues, they will have to leave
- Always remain impartial
- Depersonalize the situation by stating it is your job / house rules and nothing personal
Games / Sports
All games seem to have a winner and a loser. This very nature often leads to one person being upset. In premises where customers are playing games such as pool or darts, there is also the added issue of potential weapons. Issues may also arise with whose turn it is next.
To help reduce potential problems:
- As rules differ from area to area, have a set of house rules for everyone to play by
- Put a clear, fair system in place for how to book games and how to determine who plays next
- Ensure the area is well staffed or has frequent staff presence to spot any potential problems
- Put in place a deposit system or some other method, so all darts / cues / etc. are returned to staff after each game
Understanding body language can be very helpful in seeing trouble and dealing with it effectively. The table below shows the signs to look out for if someone is getting aggressive. You also need to think about your own body language. When dealing with the situation, you need to be assertive if you want people to do as you say.
|Body Language |
| ||AGGRESSIVE (angry)||ASSERTIVE (in control)||PASSIVE (weak)|
|Posture||Leaning forward||Upright / straight||Shrinking|
|Head||Chin jutting out||Firm, not rigid||Head down|
|Eyes||Strongly focused, staring, often piercing or glaring eye contact||Good, regular eye contact||Glancing away or downwards, little eye contact|
|Face||Set or firm||Expression fits the words||Smiling even when upset|
|Voice||Loud and emphatic||Well modulated to
fit content||Hesitant or soft, trailing off at ends of words or sentences|
|Arms / Hands||Hands on hips, fists, sharp
gestures, pointing, jabbing||Relaxed / moving easily,
open palms||Aimless / still|
|Movement / Walking||Slow and pounding or
fast, deliberate||Measured pace suited|
to the situation
|Slow and hesitant or fast and jerky|
How to get it right
It’s not easy to get it right. You must try to be assertive, not aggressive or passive.
Don’t give up. If you think carefully about your voice, your movements and being calm, everything else tends to follow.
You’ll probably be aware that each person has a certain amount of “personal space”. If a stranger stands too close, it is uncomfortable. In conflict situations, standing too close may be seen as a threat, so keep a comfortable distance from the person you’re speaking to. Remember also that a person from a different country or culture may prefer a different amount of personal space (e.g., they may like to stand closer or further away than you do).
A barrier of some kind, such as a table, can help to keep this distance. The bar or counter itself is a barrier. You may have found that you feel more comfortable speaking with people when you are behind the bar or counter than when you are out on your own. This is because the physical barrier acts as a psychological barrier as well.
Reacting to Trouble
Most conflict can be prevented or controlled in the early stages. However, if a situation has gotten to a heated stage before you arrive, it can be much more difficult. Remember your own and others’ safety:
- Keep calm and try to slow things down
- Try to find out what the problem is, making sure you listen
A good way to keep in mind all the essential stages is to use the word REACT.
- R Request – ask the conflicting parties to calm down or leave
- E Explain – that their behavior is unacceptable and list any rule or law that has been broken
- A Appeal – say “please”, turn it around and say things like, “You don’t want me to get into trouble” or “If you keep this up, I won’t be able to serve you” or “I don’t want to call the police but will have to if you don’t back down”
- C Confirm – if the customers still refuse to abandon the confrontation, repeat any potential consequences and ask them if there is anything you can do to get them to stop misbehaving
- T Take Action – here you will have to ask them to leave again. If they refuse to do so, you will have to call the police. Physical force is the last resort and should never be used if you are on your own. Lead someone towards the door, but be careful about using any force and be aware of your own safety.
Once the trouble is over, it is important to apologize to other customers for any disruption and reassure them that everything is back to normal. Recognize that you have been through a difficult situation and take a break, if possible, to regain your composure.
It is also good practice to record the incident accurately, while information is still fresh in your mind.
You should record all incidents for a variety of reasons:
- It can be used as a learning tool and can assist in communication between staff and management
- It provides an accurate record for police, company or insurance purposes
- It can help prevent similar incidents from happening again
The record should include the following:
- What happened
- Who was involved
- How it was dealt with
- Whether police were called
- You may also wish to record the names of any witnesses and their contact information.
A skillful server will be able to work as part of a team to provide an efficient service, which makes customers feel noticed and welcome. This will include contributing to the good standards of a premises and creating the right atmosphere, so customers are aware that bad behavior will not be tolerated.
Servers will have to enforce their legal responsibilities and think about social responsibilities.
In refusal of service or conflict situations, you will need a lot of patience. Try to learn from your more experienced colleagues and observe what they do and say in different situations. Practice also helps you to get it right. Reading this information is a good first step, but putting it into practice and learning from your successes and mistakes are what this course is really about!
Summary / Action Points
- Write down 3 key phrases you can use when refusing service to someone who is underage
- Write down 3 key phrases you can use when refusing service to someone who is drunk
- Speak to friends and colleagues about their experience of situations that have gotten out of hand and how they dealt with them. Would you deal with them differently now that you have read this guide?
- Set up an incident book for your workplace or make sure you know where the current one is kept