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  • M. Villarreal

How to train and protect your staff during difficult confrontations

We're all well aware that working in a restaurant's not bread & butter. It's not as tricky as working in a coal mine or something. However, at least you don't have to deal with angry or downright aggressive customers deep inside the mine (maybe you'd be better off running a restaurant hood cleaning business); it will most probably happen if you're a restaurant staff member. So, how do professionals deal with these situations? Is there some strategy you could implement to "put out the fire" without much effort? In the article you're about to read, we'll show you a little guide on how to train and protect your staff during difficult confrontations. Keeping your staff safe is a great way to attract and retain great restaurant employees.

1. Set up a so-called CMP (Conflict Management Plan)

Okay, so the first thing you'll want to do is to set up a Conflict Management Plan. A CMP will guide your staff on how to handle a conflict and help you train and protect your staff during difficult confrontations. What does a CMP include? Well, it will need to contain your restaurant's policy, values, objectives, and, above all, an in-detail explanation of just how to address an issue with a customer. As a manager, you'll need to ensure each employee gets a printed copy of your restaurant's CMP, at least for all of your employees that face customers. The first objective in handling a conflict is preventing the escalation of the problem. So, yeah, the issue will need to be tackled ASAP.

And that's not all! Your staff members will need to go through training to enhance their communication and, of course, conflict management skills.

Your restaurant's CMP will play a crucial role in the training. All in all: you'll need to make sure that each team member understands the manual and can use it once an issue appears.

Lastly, don't think that CMP's set in stone. You'll need to evaluate and update it regularly.

2. Refrain from taking sides

If a conflict with a customer happens, whether it is with your waiter or a kitchen staff member, you shouldn't take sides. You'll have to be neutral. That way, you'll have a better chance of helping both parties cool off and relax. Also, there's a good chance you'll want to kindly ask your employee to leave you alone with the dissatisfied customer to hear their side of the conflict carefully. Afterward, talk to your employee to get their version of the happening.

3. Find the source

Let's you've noticed that a particular issue constantly appears, even if we consider the ever-shifting restaurant guest preferences. You'd probably have no trouble identifying the source of the problem. However, you'll still need to dig around a bit to uncover the true source of the issue. Maybe the professional kitchen cleaning service providers you’ve recently hired haven’t cleaned everything and now there’s a foul smell coming from there your customers surely notice. Okay, that’s also fairly easy to find out. Anyway, the best way to do it is to identify similar structures and patterns that conflict with your customers. That way, you'll reach the so-called root of the problem and better understand the cause-effect relationship in terms of customer conflicts. All in all: keep your eyes on the cause of the issue and its key drivers in order to reach a satisfactory solution. You will sometimes find there is a source of conflict within your employees. It can be at minimum disruptive, but often can spread and cause havoc within your team and business. When you find the source, address it immediately.

4. Play it cool (don't play the blame game)

The next thing you can do is to teach your employees to leave their emotions aside when a customer conflict occurs. Also, they should refrain from playing the usual blame game. That's because it's somehow pointless to play it under the obvious circumstances. It won't get you anywhere near a solution. Anyway, your employees' main objective should be to not take a certain conflict way too personally. Even if a scenario in which an angry customer was to insult a member of your staff, the other person shouldn't utilize hostile language or an angry tone with the customer. Your employees will need to be the so-called cool-headed "adults in the room." To conclude: it's your responsibility to calm the situation down. When you remain calm it allows the situation to de-escalate and gives no additional fuel to the conflict.

5. Let your customers vent

One of the best ways you can defuse the situation (or train your employees to do so) is to enable your customers to vent, so advise the experts from This allows them to get their grievance out and usually begin to calm down. Don't interrupt them or try to contradict what they're saying, even if you think that what they're saying is wrong, as that will lead to further confrontation and the escalation of the conflict. While your guests explain, listen to their complaints with great care and patience. You'll need to understand the real issue and why it made them so upset in the first place. That will help you reach a solution both sides are happy with. Also, here's a terrific suggestion: obtain some pen & paper and write down the complaint while your customer's explaining the issue. This will give your guests a sense that their complaint is acknowledged.

6. It doesn't hurt to apologize

Once the customer's finished with their complaint, you (or your employees) will have to apologize for not receiving the kind of service they expected. If you are going to apologize, know what you are apologizing for. Even if you (strongly) disagree with them or something, you'll need to make sure that the apology is sincere. However, there's a little twist to this tale: in some cases, you shouldn't apologize, as that could worsen things. For instance, in case of injury, you'll need to discuss the topic with your legal team first. Imagine a customer wrongly stating that the soup burned them.

7. Find a solution and thank the customer

Whether we're talking about offering your customers a refund or a new dish, it doesn't matter. You'll need to find a solution to end the conflict: have your guests make small decisions or ask them if they're alright with the proposed solution to give them something you'd call a sense of control. Once you've agreed on something, offer your customers a complimentary dessert to ensure they won't leave your place with a frown on their faces. In other words, you'll guarantee that, besides everything, your restaurant has made a positive impression. Afterward, thank your customers for pinpointing specific issues inside your restaurant. If your customers have complained about the smell coming form your kitchen, maybe it’s time you think about hiring commercial kitchen deep cleaning services.

That's about all you should know from this guide on how to train and protect your staff during difficult confrontations. Once you've gone through a single confrontation process, make sure you share the info with all your staff members. Talk about what went well and where there may be opportunity for improvement

If the problem is quality of atmosphere due to smoke, smells or improper commercial kitchen cleaning, give us a call and let us see how we can help. Cornerstone Commercial Services is the recognized leader in vent hood exhaust cleaning, commercial kitchen deep cleaning and commercial power washing needs.

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