It seems the restaurant industry just can’t catch a break.
If you’ve been out and about this summer, you may have seen signs popping up in storefronts and restaurants saying something along the lines of, “The world is short staffed. Please be kind to those who showed up.”
Well, there’s a reason for it.
Still reeling from the obstacles presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, most restaurant operators are trying to recoup financial losses from lockdowns, overcome food shortages and backed up supply chains, and triumph in the face of a very real labor shortage. To top it off, now we are seeing increasing reports of customers behaving quite badly.
It’s a lot to take on, particularly for front-line staff.
Anyone who’s ever worked in the hospitality industry knows difficult customers are nothing new, but in a post-pandemic world, the intensity of these encounters can feel overwhelming and undeserved.
In a recent article by SFGate called “SF Bay Area Restaurants Are Still Struggling. Returning Customers Don’t See That,” Madeline Wells details some of the unpleasant incidents experienced by restaurant staff throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. The article includes anecdotes of customers yelling and being openly rude or leaving unwarranted negative online reviews and filing fraudulent claims with their banks as retribution. One bakery owner put it in simple terms by saying there’s been “a huge rise in people just forgetting to be human.”
Food shortage, labor shortage, and now a shortage of kindness.
So, how can you help your team avoid burnout from unpleasant customer encounters? Part of the solution is acceptance; the same challenges that existed yesterday will still be here tomorrow. Your customers’ behavior is not likely to change right away, so accepting that these types of encounters may still occur is the key.
Next, create a culture of compassion.
Show your team that you care about them and, at the same time, find meaningful ways to encourage them to pay it forward. If your team can extend compassion and patience to a demanding customer, a positive shift can happen all around.
Keep in mind, your employees and your customers have gone through a lot since the pandemic started. We know that COVID-19 has increased the demand for mental health support and services, and many have struggled in ways that we will never know – isolation from family, loss of employment, sick loved ones, and a very real fear of a future that is still unknown.
Most importantly, remind your team that they are not the actual target of the anger or frustration. Encourage them to do their best in handling the situation, and also empower them to recognize when the issue should be escalated to a manager.
We can’t be expected to know the motivations behind a customer’s angry outburst, but we can rely on compassion, patience, and kindness in handling the encounter.
Remember, a little tenderness can go a long way.