How to deal with difficult customers

How to deal with difficult customers

“This is not what I ordered!”

“Your slow service is beyond ridiculous!”

“Let me speak to your supervisor!”

And that’s the dreaded part where your staff hears that imaginary Toccata and Fugue in D minor. But putting the horror tune aside, dealing with difficult customers can be horrific, especially to new staff. In the day-to-day routine of a restaurant, it is always possible to come across these kinds of customers.

But what are difficult customers made of? Why is it that they seem to have no better things to do but to make the lives of hosts, food servers, and even managers, unfortunate? Most employees working on the frontline of restaurants, business establishments, and customer service, define difficult customers as ‘demanding and rude’. They demand a lot, even odd things that can be next to impossible to provide, at times. Sometimes they can be quite aggressive, too. They’ve also been known to blow their top off just to get what they specifically want. These types of customers are considered by most staff, as unfavourable to the restaurant business, since they can easily decrease workforce morale and lose positivity towards their work, leading to stress.

However, looking beyond the characteristics of a difficult customer, their behaviour can be typically considered as ‘dissatisfaction’. Whatever varying reactions they exhibit to the things that dissatisfy them, it is best to remember that they are still, and will always be, an essential part of the business.

Most of the time, customers raise demands and complaints because of legitimate reasons. The top reason: their expectations were not met. Customers unknowingly build their expectation as soon as they enter your restaurant. From the interior of your business to the sight and appearance of your welcoming host, to the photographs on the menu, and even down to the final list of food that they ordered, customers will set all their expectations on all these, in their minds. A single thing under-delivered, and all these expectations will already be considered unsuccessful.

According to a survey made by, 96.7% of dissatisfied customers do not voice out their discontent to have it addressed, but will most likely tell their bad experience to 15 other people. While 70% of these dissatisfied customers who complain about the service, will most likely do repeat business. Putting this in light, it is better to deal with difficult customers because you will have a better chance of turning their negative experiences around on their next visit.

So, don’t let difficult customers stop your business from operating smoothly and don’t leave your staff shaking in fear at the sight of them. Let us help you prepare to face tough customers in challenging situations by building your customer engagement skills. 

Here are 5 smart ways on how to handle difficult customers:


  1. Listen to their complaint

When a customer raises a concern, listen attentively. Give the customer a listening ear and let them explain their dissatisfaction. It’s in our nature to get out of an ugly situation right away, but customers will feel more aggravated if you will rush out of the situation by butting-in and interrupting the customer during their disclosure. Also, being defensive at the first complaint will only worsen the situation. The customer might say a lot of irrelevant things during their complaint, but calmly read between the lines and listen to the key arguments or keywords your customer is saying.

Letting the customer do all the talking first, doesn’t mean that you are letting the situation spiral out of control. Letting your customer vent out and drain their anger not only helps you gather information, but also in gives you enough time to think of the right path to resolving any issues. It helps the customer drain their negative emotions, and once they have expressed their discontent, they will more likely be open to compromise.


  1. Learn to empathise

There are two things to address when a customer is being difficult: the problem itself and their  emotional concern. Yes, that’s right. Their emotions need to be addressed, too. The customer might not be right, or their complaint might be easy to fix, but always maintain a conscious effort to connect to them emotionally. Letting them know that you understand where they are coming from and that you comprehend the situation completely makes them feel that you are an eager audience, then making them more willing to negotiate their concerns with you.

The situation might be unfavourable to you since you’re the one who's dealing with a tough customer, but if you will set your own emotions aside and try putting yourself in your customer's shoes, you will have a better understanding of what their concern is all about. It will help if you will look them straight in the eye and maintain a friendly and understanding stance. Apologise when it is needed. There are a few times that empathy alone can fix the issue. Tough customers will most likely soften down if they feel important and you take their arguments to heart.


  1. Don’t take it personally

There are hundreds of reasons why a customer might be sulky and tough to deal with. They might be having a bad day and unfortunately, that one wrong dish just triggered a barrage of complaints. It just so happened that you are the person that is on the receiving end of their wrath and their rants. Keep in mind that the customer may be angry but may be not exactly at you, but at their own predicament. 

A negative reaction such as shouting and cursing is considered natural when a person is angry. A situation with raised voices, coupled with rude remarks will definitely test your patience, but this is when you can practice your professionalism. Stay calm. Do not let the customer’s demanding attitude brush your confidence away. Instead, keep your professional manner and approach the situation with a huge amount of patience, supported by politeness.

A customer will find it hard to stay angry at you if you exude both, this, along with a projected eagerness in helping them. Once the issue has been addressed, these types of customers would usually apologise and thank you for being kind and patient with them.


  1. Provide a solution to their complaint

After you’re able to get your customer’s trust again, your next step is to offer them a solution to the problem. Some of the customers might demand something you are not capable of providing, like asking for a huge discount on the bill. There are alternate solutions that you can provide to the customer without hurting your business. The key to offering alternate solutions is to avoid using negative words such as "I don't", "I can't" and, "I won't". Negative words can trigger yet another round of negative responses from the customer so avoid using such words when you're offering solutions. Instead, tell the customer what you can do, or offer and promote it in a positive way that it is acceptable for the customer.

Once you and your customer have reached an agreement, ensure that you will fulfil your terms as promised. After all, that is what they are asking for, a solution to their complaint. Promptly address their concern and have a follow-through by asking if there is something else that they need. At the end of their meal, thank them for their patronage and give them a sincere smile.  If a difficult customer walked out of your restaurant happy and contented, you sure did a good job handling them effectively.


  1. Provide a lasting resolution to a complaint

One sure way to avoid dealing with difficult customers is addressing a problem before it happens. If a task inside the kitchen and at the dining hall is done with utmost professionalism, it can minimise any awkward and inconvenient situations with a difficult customer.

A customer can be difficult to deal with but if there is nothing to complain about with your food, your service, and the style of your business approach, customers with this demanding attitude will never get triggered.


Effectively handling difficult customers is a common practice in the Food and Hospitality industry. At the end of the day, an unhappy customer that has switched to being satisfied and contented means more profit and assures you of a thriving business.

Did this blog inspire you in having your own strategy in dealing with difficult customers? Do you need more help in effectively managing your food business? We can surely extend help through our Operations Manual for restaurants.



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