…practical know-how handed down from Old-timers, various ideas of how to deal with unhappy clientele…


I make every attempt not to take any complaints personally. Yet, sometimes I do. If I notice that I am part of the problem, part of the complaint, I quickly try to find someone else who can be more objective and is more qualified than myself to listen to the quarreling guest.

While training new people in the hotel and restaurant business, trainees have often asked me how I deal with irate customers. Working the frontdesk I usually use what an old-timer had taught me: I look straight at the angry guest, while his noise bypasses both my wide-open ears. And I jot down on a piece of paper only the facts of the complaint. Looking at the guest, who is letting off steam into my direction, I attempt to visualize what type of underwear he, the angry man or she, the ticked-off woman, might be wearing, right then and there, in front of me. If this is not enough, I use my imagination to twist the thought pattern and envision how this particular man would look in a bikini. If it is a woman, I imagine how she would look in baggy man’s underwear. This way I cannot help it but smile on the inside, while on the outside I might not show much of any kind of reaction.
Busy with my own thoughts and observations, I have little if any space for anger or resentments to grow and multiply within myself. I pass the written note of the complaint on to whoever has to deal with the guest’s problem, usually the manager on duty. Whatever an outraged guest might say, it is strictly between him and the establishment. I just happen to be there to help him ease his pain. My role is much like the role of a “shrink.” My role is to listen and not to judge what the paying guest says.

I make every attempt not to take any complaints personally. Yet, sometimes I do. If I notice that I am part of the problem, part of the complaint, I quickly try to find someone else who can be more objective and is more qualified than myself to listen to the quarreling guest. What I want, is to avoid any two sided argument between myself and a customer. Whatever I might do, I will never win such a confrontation and I am fully aware of my losing situation.

On the floor waiting on tables, I usually cannot pass the problem on to somebody else. Here I have to deal with complicated, unhappy, know-it-all and outright stupid requests face to face on a daily basis. To vent my own temperamental ups and downs as things go wrong, I use the word GREAT to express my emotions. Stumbling onto a problem I say “Great!” and I mean “great” like in great pain in the butt! Facing a difficult customer I might answer with “That’s great!” and I mean that’s great bullshit.
Getting the chef mad at me about some food returned from a guest I say “That’s great food. However the guest cannot eat it due to some great problem which he has. Can you please make me something else?” Hearing the chef cussing, I answer with “Great!” Looking into the check-folder and finding the customer forgot to tip me, I say “Great!”
Saying “good night” to a loudmouthed customer who after many drinks had been hard to deal with, I say “You are the greatest fellow I have seen lately” It doesn’t do any harm to say “Great!” for people interpret it their own way as praise or whatever. I use it, as a pet-word, to vent any negative thoughts. Many people in the restaurant business do the same and use “Good!” “Darn” and other four letter words for the same reason. Seldom is there an intent to hurt or offend anyone present. I have heard cooks cussing in several languages at hot frying pan, after being splashed with oil whereby s.o.b. and mother f….r was just the beginning. I also remember a chef who got outright undignified at any waiter or waitress if they did not pick up the food on time. However I understand all they did was simply trying to vent forms of pain, fear and anger.
The problem often is that the person who hears a certain four-letter word thrown at her or him reads something totally different into it. And how true, some words’ meaning can cause fights or arguments too. The sad part is, almost all the four letter words said during the hectic of a busy night in a restaurant (usually in the kitchen) are not at all intended to start a war. They are solely to let off steam from working under high pressure. I find the word “great” therefor absolutely safe to use. It is not offensive in any situation and allows me to let my own frustration out, without asking for any aggressive reactions.
Saying “great” will not be a sufficient reason to become part of a potential harassment suit. Words like “f_ck, c_nt, sl_t & d_ck” have been much too often in court before, never has “great” seen a judge as far as I know.

They say in the restaurant and hotel business one should never get angry and always be levelheaded, mellow, friendly and charming. I try to be caring, helpful, entertaining and serving the need of the paying customer. But at times, I too reach the moment of emotional flare ups. Take the customer who sends his steak back four times to have it cooked more and then adds the coup de grâce by sending it a fifth time back for it is over-cooked. “Great!”
I listen to the guest who orders a bottle of wine, tries it and sends it back. He does so a number of times. When I get tired opening new bottles of wine, the guest finally decides on beer instead. “Great!”
A customer walks outs, he forgets to pay! “Great.”
The owners hire a new manager. Like most new managers she is causing havoc in the otherwise smooth running of the restaurant operation, until she finally settles into a daily routine. “Great!”
The insurance company who was supposed to pay for my hospital stay went belly up. “Great!”
I don’t cash my small biweekly paychecks. After ninety days they add up to enough to pay one month rent. Proudly and happily I sign them over to my landlord. Ten days later I get a three-day notice saying: Pay rent or vacate the premises. I say “great” on the phone to the landlord, who is holding the bounced checks in his hands and I say “Sorry Sir but that’s not so GREAT” on the phone to my employer, who had issued the checks without sufficient funds. I know I should not have paid the IRS the taxes for last year’s allocations. And I am well aware that I can afford to lose neither the job nor the apartment which I call home. “Great!”
I find out my retirement fund has been used up, my dreams will not come true. “Great!”
Great, in deed there are many more reasons to become unglued and anger needs to be vented somehow. That’s what I think at least. Everybody has to deal with such periods of momentary insanity as good as one can. At times when I cannot say what I want to say I use “great.”

“Take your kids on a leash or get out of here!” is a good example. In the restaurant setting, I cannot say such. But I do not mind telling parents with kids on the loose in the restaurant: “You have great kids. I think it’s great to let em roam around. But for insurance reasons, would you mind keeping them out of the kitchen, the bathrooms, the herb gardens and the rosebushes. Yes, they are great kids.”

If some things go totally wrong, I say “Great!” and if things work out my way, I say “Great” too. Each time the same word will have totally different meanings to me but everybody else thinks that I am always levelheaded.
Every time I quit a job (about half a dozen times in 32 years) I said “GREAT.” I also said “Have a great day to my new x-boss!” Thinking “I hope it hails problems over problems on you!” To myself I said “That’s great!” meaning I am free to choose what to do next. I felt the burden of the past job being lifted off my shoulders. I walked tall like only a happy great feeling self-righteous proud human being can.

Would I have told my past employers “Go f_ck yourself” or “Piss up a slack rope!” I most likely would have felt less good than I did by using great instead. I left as a dignified human being and not some angry cornered animal whose only way out, was hissing and barking out the door.

by helmut schonwalder