5 Tips For Handling Out-Of-Line Cafe Customers

When customers in your café cause problems and get loud and obnoxious, that can affect your other customers as well as your employees.

This ultimately can affect your bottom line.

In this article, we look at five tips for handling out-of-line café customers.

As we dive into this article, we’re reminded of a quote from Dwight D. Eisenhower, “Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.”

It’s a good idea to make a plan for handling out-of-line customers so you aren’t trying to deal with them on the fly. You want to make sure your employees are well-versed in the plan. You can even role play situations so everyone is prepared when a café customer gets unruly.

On to the five tips…

#1 Remain Calm and Listen

The first thing you should do when your café customer gets out-of-line, is to breathe, take a mental step back and remain calm.

It’s no fun when a customer gets angry and starts a confrontation in the middle of your café. But, remember, there are lots of people watching.

You have to stay calm no matter how badly you want to throw a few anger-filled words back. If you succumb to the instinct to fight, you’ll escalate the problem, and you won’t get near a solution.

As you work to remain calm, you also want to be authentic. Don’t fake your response because that might lead to sarcasm on the customer’s part. It’s very hard to fight sarcasm.

Once you’ve calmed down, it’s time to really listen to your customer. Give your customer your full attention. Clear your mind of any judgement so you can actively engage with your heart and your mind.

Tune out the rest of the room and actively listen. You may find that your customer just wants someone to listen to him.

This is not the time to be glancing about the room or nodding at a member of your wait staff. This customer gets your undivided attention.

You need to pay attention here, because this is where you get your clues as to how to solve the problem. Listen for these things:

  • Why is the customer upset?
  • What do they want?
  • Is there a solution to the problem?

#2 Identify the Problem

The next step is to empathize with your out-of-line café customer. Whether you agree with him or not, it’s time to rename the problem and let him know you understand.

The first step to empathy is to put yourself in the customer’s place. For example, let’s say he waited over an hour in line only to be told you were out of the daily special. For most people, they might have handled this with grace, ordering something different.

But, for this day, your unhappy café customer reacted badly. Perhaps he has a child in the hospital, or he just got fired. You can’t know. What you can do is empathize with his anger and frustration.

You’ll go a long way towards diffusing the volatile situation with a handful of empathy.


#3 Validate the Issue

Your validation comes in the form of acceptance. This is where you accept the customer’s problem and give it validity.

Even if you strongly believe your customer is wrong, you don’t want him to know that. By validating his anger, he just might relax.

One trick to help you validate the issue is to repeat the customer’s concerns when they are done explaining them.

This helps ensure you have the story right, and it shows your customer that you were listening.

When validating the customer, begin your sentence with, “I understand that you are upset because...”

#4 Show Respect and Apologize

It can be hard to apologize, especially if you don’t think your café did anything wrong.

Do apologize. It goes hand in hand with showing empathy and can help cool down a hot customer.

#5 Negotiate the Outcome

Now it’s time to solve the problem and negotiate the outcome.

By remaining calm, listening and showing respect and empathy, you’ve set the stage for negotiation.

Do what you can to solve the customer’s problem on the spot.

This is your chance to offer a solution. For example, in the problem above when you ran out of daily specials, you might offer the customer a complimentary meal or a come-back coupon for a future special.

You can also ask the customer how they’d like you to resolve the situation.

Additionally, you can follow up with a handwritten apology note.

As a last note: If an out-of-line customer steps over the line and is threatening, verbally or physically abusive, you are under no obligation to continue your negotiations.

Make sure your café has a policy on when to call the police. You’ll also want to initiate documentation so you have everything on file in case there are any repercussions.

To Conclude

Your customer is, after all, your customer. He has the ability to spread your name far and wide. Your goal?

It’s to make sure that the words he broadcasts are positive and encouraging about your café.

While your customers can get out-of-line, it’s up to you to defuse the problem. Practice effective communications skills with your staff and make sure everyone is well-prepared to handle an unruly customer.

Psychology Today says customers most often get angry and out-of-line because they don’t feel they are respected.

Do what you can to make sure your customer feels respected. Listen well and empathize with his problem. Offer solutions and remain calm and friendly.

Using the five tips for handling out-of-line customer we’ve talked about here may mean the difference between a loyal customer and one you never see again.

How do you deal with out-of-line customers at your café? We’d love to hear what works for you and even what hasn’t. Please comment below to share your tips with others.