How to deal with difficult restaurant guests

Let’s be honest – not all customers are perfect. Far from it. In fact, we’d wager you’ve had several diners enter your restaurant you’d rather never see, ever again.

Having to deal with tricky customer requests or behaviour isn’t particularly enjoyable and it can be especially difficult for inexperienced front of house staff. Ultimately, when such instances occur, the guest will leave and – in a world driven by consumer opinion – go on to tell all and sundry just what they think of your treasured business online.

Frustrating diners will always present a challenge for restaurateurs, but there are ways you can deal with them effectively and avoid any negative consequences for your business.

In this post, we’ve picked out what we believe to be the most frustrating guest habits and give some thought as to how they can be remedied.

“My chips are cold – please take them back”

Sending food back is one of the most common traits of the awkward diner. The golden rule here is to remember that they may be doing so for a very good reason. Perhaps the chips are cold. Maybe the steak has been incorrectly cooked.

Just as you might return a white good for being damaged in transit, your customers are allowed to question the quality of the chef’s cooking.

If, however, they’ve clearly ordered incorrectly (“This gazpacho soup isn’t hot at all!”), politely point out that the meal is cooked as intended and ask them if they’d like to reorder (and delay their party’s food – no one wants to eat on their own).

“We’ll be off soon – we’re just finishing our drinks”

If you operate a strict turnaround policy for tables, waiting staff will start to get itchy feet when table 3 enters its second hour of residency. That begs the question: can restaurant guests outstay their welcome?

There’s one simple way to deal with this, and that is to not deal with it at all. Lingering diners will probably continue to spend money on drinks and any indication that they have stayed longer than the restaurant deems necessary will always end in a poor customer experience as far as they’re concerned.

Empower your waiting staff to be more creative with seating arrangements for pre-booked parties when the previous guests encroach on their arrival time. Seat the new diners elsewhere or pop them in the bar for a complimentary drink. Whatever you do, don’t usher out those long-stayers.

“Thank you – lovely meal” <leaves without tipping>

If there’s one thing that gets the blood of any front of house operative boiling, it’s the absence of tips from diners for whom they’ve waited tirelessly. In a society that recognises tipping as ‘the done thing’, it doesn’t seem fair – rude, almost.

Unfortunately, there’s nothing you can do about those who don’t tip. They turn up, eat your food, pay the nominal fee for doing so and disappear into the night. The key here is to encourage waiting staff not to let such instances get them down. The more it eats away at them, the greater impact it will have on the service they deliver in the future.

There are a number of debates currently underway regarding the fairness of tipping with several big name restaurants deciding to drop the practice altogether. If you find that diners are increasingly failing to tip your staff, you could do worse than implement a no tipping policy and focus instead on incremental wage rises based on regular performance reviews.

“I can’t see it on your menu, but I would like a fresh crab sandwich, please”

Diners who create their own menus can be particularly irritating for front of house staff. Requesting things that clearly aren’t available puts the waiting team in a tricky position and can result in an unhappy customer if the request cannot be fulfilled.

Sometimes, you can’t cater for your diners, as counter intuitive as that may sound. If they’re asking for something your kitchen simply cannot produce, they need informing of the fact. Counteract these instances by giving waiting staff a standard line that gently expresses the non-availability of a request but in turn offers a relatable alternative.


There’s usually a mitigating factor behind every diner’s disgruntlement or bizarre request. If your waiting staff feel empowered to speak honestly with such people and can be robust in their responses to any impossible requests, most diners will eventually come on side. They may even go on to become your best customers.

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