The best way to deal with angry customers

In the foodservice industry we’ve all had to deal with our fair share of rude and angry customers. But justified or not, it’s how you respond that makes the difference between the customer walking out the door happy or walking out the door never to return again.

If you’ve ever felt like you were doing your best to reason with an angry customer only for them to spiral into further rage and accusations, then read on for our top tips on dealing with angry customers (and keeping your sanity in the process).

1. Stay cool as a cucumber

Okay, not so cool they think you don’t care, but try to remain calm. When a customer is yelling or being aggressive, it will only become worse if you respond in kind. More often than not it isn’t a complaint about you personally, so try not to take it as a personal attack.

Set aside any feelings you have about the situation being ‘not your fault’ or that the customer is in the wrong (even if they are). All that matters is that you acknowledge that your customer is upset, and that it's up to you to solve the problem.

2. Ask their name

Using someone’s name is a powerful tool. Rather than resorting to “I’m sorry sir” (which sounds too formal and insincere), ask their name and use it. Often. This helps the customer to feel like a real person with a legitimate grievance.

3. Listen, like really listen

An angry customer usually always wants one thing: to vent all their frustrations to someone who will actually listen to them. Make sure you listen actively, without interrupting, keep eye contact and don’t cross your arms. Resist the urge to plan what you are going to say when they are done or jump to conclusions as they speak.

When they are done, summarise what you’ve heard and ask any questions to make sure you really understand what is wrong. Use unbiased wording to do this, for example “As I understand it, you are quite rightly disappointed because the meal you received didn’t match what you ordered, is this right?”

4. Empathise, sympathise, apologise

Don’t jump straight to the solution! Make sure you express sympathy for their bad customer experience. Whether the customer’s complaint is legitimate or not is really not that important, you will need to apologise (genuinely) if you want them to continue being a customer. This can be simple and you don’t need to overthink it: “I’m so sorry you’re not happy with your meal, let’s see what we can do to make things better for you.”

5. Find a solution

So you understand why your customer is upset, you’ve listened, apologised and treated them like a real human (not a ‘Ma’am’ or a ‘Sir’). If it’s a relatively straightforward problem, and you think you know what will make them happy (a meal on the house for example) then go ahead and offer it. But if it is a bit less clear (or they don’t like your solution), the best way to find a solution that they will be happy with is to ask them! What do they think should be done to solve the problem? Most people will be pretty reasonable when the power is handed to them, and they will feel like they are working with you instead of against you. 

6. Follow up!

The process isn’t finished once the problem is solved. You need to ensure you follow up (both for this customer and future customers). Once it has been resolved, follow up with the customer and whenever you can, go above and beyond their expectations so they feel like a valued customer again.

Then, you need to stop it from happening again. Treat the complaint as a piece of formal feedback and talk to your staff about how you can prevent it in the future.


Dealing with an upset customer will always be one of the hardest parts of the job, but by following these steps you will get to a resolution quickly and (relatively) painlessly.


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