THE THRILLS AND STORIES OF WORKING IN HOSPITALITY
Hospitality can be very amusing and rich in stories about people. Here are some of the stories I have experienced, hope that they can help you in some way.
The angriest customer ever
Framing: A customer angry at life is appeased (True story)
Here is a little true story that shows the importance of listening, while at the same time not letting the customers rattle you (some will do it for sport or natural inclination), and framing the interaction in a positive way.
About 12 years ago, a gentleman came to the restaurant where I worked for brunch. He was probably in his mid-forties but looked much older. He had the demeanor and the kind of face that has seen many screaming matches and tough times.
As soon as I approached, this is what he said:
“So you think I’m a wanker?” [Very tense and angry, ready to snap body language.]
Me: (Thinking: WTF?) “Good morning sir, would you like some coffee?” (Smile, reframe, Neo’s ‘Matrix bullet avoidance’ deployed).
Him: “Yeah, you think I am a puffer eh? what’s your problem? you are a wanker!”
Me: (Okay, It’s gonna be one of those days…) “I’ll bring you a coffee. Cream or milk?” (Reframing, agree and amplify, charisma).
Him: “Ah…ok… But you are a wanker!”
(Me: (Okay… Someone is cranky, smile) “cream or milk?” (Defusing by refusing to engage, charisma).
Him: “Mmmmf…. cream please.”
Me: (Internally patting myself on the back) “sure thing sir. I’ll be right back.” (RUN to get his coffee).
The rest of the interaction was a fine balance between him trying to get angry and me just being the convivial and jolly type that couldn’t be phased.
At the end of the meal he said, “You know, you are alright. You have great attitude for service.”
Me: (Okay dude, now you are weirding me out, but thanks. I’ll take the compliment)
“thank you sir. Can I quote you on that? My boss would love to hear it, ha haha,” (we both had a chuckle).
His companion was a little horrified and she explained that he was a chef in London.
His name? Gordon Ramsay.
He walked out of the restaurant smiling. Good vibes.
The lesson here: Don’t let customers bring your good energy and positive vibes down. Give ’em more love. Can’t make your day any worse, and with a little luck and good attitude you can make their day better.
I still think that he was pretty hungover that day, lol.
DEALING WITH ANGRY BIRDS (AKA Anti-zombie defenses)
Now and then you’ll get people that are just generally miserable or who have had a rough day / week / year / life. Or people who just like attention and complaining is how they get it. Their faces are long, they are tired or frustrated, had a long day or they look at you with contempt (this will happen too).
Your best defense against this? Listen, empathize, and smile. Give them extra love.
Smile. It’s so simple, it’s stupid, and almost sounds too simple and easy to be effective, doesn’t it? People cannot stay angry at you if you smile. It doesn’t have to be a full on grin ( that might make things worse), but a friendly smile will go a very long way.
Well, people develop their own techniques. I like to think of amusing newspaper stories.
Try thinking of something funny that you remember, something someone said earlier on (Resto people are great for witticisms and snappy lines). The point is to keep your spirits up. Have a perma-smile and people will flock to you. In some contexts, this silly trick might be referred to as ”charisma.”
Smiling works like magic —even the angriest patron will see a smile and might even start reconsidering their own anger. Try it with family or friends, you’ll see it’s true. A smile helps set the tone, you are unflappable; and don’t forget: things always work out in the restaurant. Remember the importance of the kayfabe element here.
KILL THEM WITH KINDNESS
Related to the above, someone I worked with once told me, “the best thing to do with mean people is to be extra nice to them. It drives them insane.” There is a lot of wisdom here.
If you do everything you can, if you are extra nice to them and they are still unhappy, there is the remote chance that they may look at themselves and reconsider their feelings. Nobody can stay angry forever in the face of kindness and an honest disposition.
Every waiter and bartender (and everyone in customer service) should have a repertoire of classic, snappy, and witty lines that charm. It’s basic wisdom for those who interact with people everyday.
Why are they important? Because they make people smile, feel special, and maybe even chuckle a little. It means that someone cares. At least in North America it seems to have become a standard and expected part of the kayfabe of most interaction in restaurants and bars. It also makes the repetitiveness of the job more bearable (by making it more enjoyable for yourself).
Tame the caveman instincts that people have and you will have much more rewarding social interactions.
By this I mean that people, instinctively and unknowingly, may react against certain behaviors and gestures, like proximity of someone unknown, removal of food, casual physical touch or eye contact and other situations that may put people on edge or make them uneasy or uncomfortable. This is very culturally determined. That is why charm comes very handy.
I suggest having lines for all of the occasions I have mentioned, from the greet to the farewell. Ask old timers, or pay attention next time you go out.
Ideally you will develop your standard lines, like every comedian. What matters is that your lines make sense coming from you and that they are appropriate to where you work. They can’t come as too stiff or canned, they should be honest reflections of your personality. So if you are chirpy, be yourself. Just say something that matches you and the kayfabe of the place.
Think about them as something nice you would want to say to someone you know, like an older uncle or grandparent.
Puns are great —though people will groan, I don’t know why! White jokes are good. Avoid any blue humor or toilet jokes…. Unless it’s that kind of a place.
Dad jokes are my bread and butter. Pun intended.
Like every good comedian knows: ALWAYS TRY NEW MATERIAL FIRST WITH COWORKERS, AMIABLE GUESTS, FRIENDS AND FAMILY. Not on a Saturday night with a grumpy couple.
The best part of this? Charm and humour will always go a very long way in life. Use it, learn to apply it and life will be a little easier to deal with, people included.