DOMINIC COSTABIR’s suggestions on handling potentially explosive situations between staff and guests.
Often enough, incidents of violence in a restaurant or hotel make headlines. A recent article in ‘Mumbai Mirror’ put a posh Mumbai eatery on the front page. Waiters had done a Mike Tyson on a guest… The guest and waiter argue over alcohol billing for his group. Waiter calls the guest a liar, guest slaps waiter and other waiters do a ‘Chak de India’! The guest is in hospital, the waiters are in the police station and the owner; he's in a soup.
I'm from the old hospitality school – “The guest is always right. Even when he's wrong.”
Staff must know how to handle situations as they can cause damage to life, limb, property, ego and brand. Staff often mishandle situations and make it worse.
Tips on defusing potentially explosive situations:
Body Language - Restaurants are noisy, so be especially alert to aggressive body language directed at wait staff or other tables. If it's directed at a server, change the server immediately and if it is towards another table, you may request (tactfully) one of the tables to move.
Alcohol - Keep an eye open for the ones that are inebriated, depressed or disturbed. Tactfully alert the ones in the group that are sober to caution/ control them. Slow down alcohol service and even dilute drinks served to them.
Information - Keep guests informed about timelines and/ or delays in service. Clarify discounts, schemes, happy hour rules... Inform in advance about the last food and drink order.
Group Bookings - Check in advance with the host on the type of alcohol and food to offer or withhold. Check on the payment mode to ensure acceptability of the credit card. Suggest that you alert him/ her hourly about the bar consumption. Keep the host and one pre-decided associate posted on consumptions.
Wait Staff - They should maintain distance from guests’ belongings, women and children. Never touch a guest or their belongings, even when assisting, without permission. Staff should be friendly but know they are not friends with the guest.
Wine, Women & Song - This makes for a bad cocktail. Man is an animal and instinctively primed to attack when angry or aroused. The presence of young pretty women increases the need to prove manliness. Dancing makes women look more seductive and men, energetic. Keep bouncers visible on and around the dance floor, especially during closing hours. It has a soothing effect on boisterous guests.
Defusing Tension - Unless he/ she feels that their presence will worsen the situation, the senior-most person should handle the situation. Involving a uniformed female staffer with a pleasant voice helps.
Prepare 'standard phrases' that will be used for all situations by all staff to reduce the chances of miscommunication and misunderstanding.