Industry Update
Opinion Article13 May 2019

Difficult Guest Your Fault? Really.

By Leslie Kalk, Hospitality Coach at Six Figures Waiter

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So, last Thursday in a hotel restaurant in Phoenix, Aaron was working a busy lunch shift. Two elderly ladies were seated in his section and he swooped in to get a quick drink order:


"Good afternoon, ladies. I'm Aaron. Would you care for a glass of wine, an iced tea or a fresh squeezed juice?"

Elderly lady: "What kind of fish is in the fish & chips?"

Aaron, with a warm smile and good eye contact: "It's fresh haddock today. May I bring you a cocktail while you browse the menu?"

"And what comes with it? Coleslaw?"

"Yes, it does. Home-made coleslaw, it's delicious. It goes great with a glass of white wine!"

"Aaron, you're a kind young man. We'll each have the fish & chips and we'll share a bottle of Pinot Grigio."

Can we agree that Aaron handled his guests with grace and hospitality? He managed a potentially difficult situation and he came out of it with a quick food order, as well! But what if it had gone another way?

"Good afternoon, ladies. I'm Aaron. Would you care for a glass of wine, an iced tea or a fresh squeezed juice?"

"What kind of fish is in the fish & chips?"

"It's haddock today. What would you like to drink?"

"And what comes with it? Coleslaw?"

Aaron, now agitated and in the weeds: "Ladies, I'm just here for the drink order. I'll get to that later."

"But all I want to know is what comes with the fish & chips!"

"And all I want to know is what you'd like to drink. Then I can tell you about the menu. This is how we do things, drinks first." (Aaron rolls his eyes and mutters "What a pain in the ass lady.")

Now, we've been talking about how to handle difficult guests. And we talked about how to identify the different TYPES of difficult guests that we have on our hands. But, whoa! There's another very important part of the equation: Are YOU - or your staff - MAKING the guest into a difficult guest?

Another scenario plucked from real life:

Guest to their waitress, Denise: "Is your hostess pregnant or just fat?"

Denise: "No, she's not pregnant." Then to co-workers, for the rest of the night: "Can you BELIEVE she asked me that? So rude. What a pain. How did she expect me to answer her, anyway? That was soooo offensive. Can you imagine asking someone that? Wow. Just wow!"

What's the similarity? These "difficult" guests weren't really difficult at all, right? The servers perceived them as difficult, responded to them as if they were difficult and complained about them as if they were difficult. Surprise, now they're DIFFICULT! What comes out of your mouth comes into your life.

Now to be fair, the fish & chip ladies didn't follow Aaron's program of ordering drinks first, then discussing the menu after that. But in Scene #1, he didn't let that throw off his game. In Scene #2 he chose to let it be an obstacle to his workflow. And Denise chose - yes CHOSE - to marinate in her guest's comment to really maximize the negative effect. She kept it foremost in her thoughts and became more offended each time she repeated the story. Denise and Aaron #2 both created an obstacle where there didn't need to be one.

The good news? It's possible you don't have a difficult guest after all, you're just choosing to believe they're difficult.

We all get to choose what we believe. We can believe we have the ability to handle any little obstacle that comes our way with grace and hospitality (maybe even a little humor) so it doesn't interrupt our workflow, or we can believe that every little speed bump is actually a big, hairy, snarling problem that rocks our world. Nope, you roll over that little bump and keep going like a boss.


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Leslie Kalk

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    Leslie Kalk
    Hospitality Coach at Six Figures Waiter
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