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5 Handy Tips to Help Bartenders Deal with a Pissed Off Guest

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(illustration: Glenn Hilario)

No matter how long you’ve worked behind the stick, there are certain situations where preparation can only go so far. People are unpredictable, especially when they’ve been consuming alcohol. Whether a guest is upset about the quality of a drink or poor customer service, it’s up to you to deal with the situation in a professional manner, ideally with the good reputation of your bar intact.

“I don’t think you’re ever prepared for someone to be angry, but when they are, I always listen,” says Madison Ackerman, a bartender at 40 Love in Los Angeles. “Let the guest vent, and always try to remain calm.” Here, we talk to Ackerman and other bar pros to get tips for dealing with an angry customer.

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1. Stay Calm

When you encounter an upset patron, it’s a natural reaction to be defensive or get angry right back at them. But the more emotional you get, the worse their reaction could become. Instead, it’s best to take a deep breath and remember that you can take care of this.

“Stay calm,” says Ryan Andrews, the beverage director of GBOD Hospitality Group and lead bartender at San Diego’s Prohibition. “Getting angry does absolutely nothing to fix the issue at hand and usually only escalates the problem. When that happens, you’ve likely lost a customer.”

2. Listen

When a guest starts ranting, it’s best to let them get it all out. Don’t cut them off and don’t be afraid to let an awkward pause go a little longer than you’re comfortable with. This gives them some time to offer a suggestion of how to fix the situation. “Most of the time, angry guests just want to be heard,” says Andrews. “If you give them a couple of minutes to vent, then a solution usually presents itself.”

“You can’t offer a solution to a problem if you don’t know what the problem is,” says Ben May, a bartender at Raised, the rooftop bar at the Renaissance hotel in Chicago. “Even if you’re two or three deep at the bar and don’t have time to talk, you can keep an open ear and listen to the situation or problem the person is having. If they’re not telling you directly, they’re probably telling someone about it.” 

3. Don’t Take It Personally

When a customer gets angry, it’s easy to think they’re mad at you. While this might sometimes be true, it’s usually not the case. “I’ve seen so many bartenders lose their cool (and jobs) because they yelled back at an upset guest,” says Ackerman. “Nobody ever got fired for being calm and nice, and I always try to remind myself that whatever is happening has little to do with me.”

If you can’t help but take it personally and don’t think you can emotionally respond to the situation, then it’s best to remove yourself from the interaction altogether. 

4. Notify a Manager

Let the guest know you’re going to find a manager to help resolve the issue. “If it becomes too much, grab a manager and remove yourself from the situation,” says Jacob Shure, the vice president of operations of The h.wood group in West Hollywood, Calif. “We always try to listen patiently and offer the guest as many solutions as possible.”

Sometimes, it may be as simple as asking your manager if you can give the person a free drink or snack. “We try to be as accommodating as possible,” says Royce Chen, the beverage director of Casa Bocado in New York City. “If it’s something as simple as not enough alcohol in their drink or they feel like they’ve been overcharged, we offer to buy them a round. There’s nothing like a free drink to soothe the soul.”

5. Remove if Necessary

When you’ve done all of the above and nothing is working, there’s usually only one answer. “If a customer is being rude, aggressive or mean and refuses to stop after your attempts to defuse the situation, go get management or a bouncer and have them removed,” says May. “Make them close out any tab they have immediately and escort them out.” 

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