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Difficult Diners in the Restaurant

© iStockPhoto
© iStockPhoto

Here at Tundra Restaurant Supply, many of us have worked in the restaurant industry before: as hosts, servers, chefs, managers and more. When you serve the masses you’re bound to face conflict; it could be a simple miscommunication, or maybe the diner or your server is just having a bad day. Regardless, many people assume that your restaurant should have not only the best option, but every option available to them (No coconut milk?).

Over the course of our careers we’ve come upon several kinds of difficult diners, most of which you can find by searching #Serverproblems on Twitter.

We’ve outlined 5 difficult diners you may have faced in your career, as well as some ways to help mediate the situation:

1. Ice Water

Some diners hate ice water, and they’ll communicate that to the first person they see (regardless if that person actually has the water pitcher in their hand). Problem is, sometimes the message isn’t communicated quickly enough, and some poor busser is doling out chunks of ice water into their beverage glass before you can blink an eye.

Meal. Ruined.

It’s sad that a simple ice misstep can ruin an entire service, but it’s true—this first world problem isn’t messing around.

If this scenario sounds familiar, immediately bring your guest a new glass and pour ice-free water in it tableside. Communicate with your busser that you’ll handle the water refills for this particular table. Seems silly, but your diner will acknowledge your confidence and know that you have their best interests.


2. The Great Egg Debate

If there was ever a time for miscommunication to occur, it’s with eggs. There are easily 10 different ways guests order eggs:

  1. Hard boiled
  2. Soft boiled
  3. Hard scrambled
  4. Soft scrambled
  5. Omelet style (if not ordering a filled omelet, they might desire a plain-style omelet)
  6. Sunny Side Up
  7. Over Easy
  8. Over Medium
  9. Over Hard
  10. Poached

You may find your guests order their eggs one way but fully expected a different preparation. Under these circumstances, it’ll be up to you to take the hit and bring out a new set of eggs—you’re out the additional food cost, and there’s no guarantee your diner will leave with only positive reviews.

The best thing to do here is to train servers to repeat the egg style back to customers to ensure they understand what they are ordering. For example, “Over easy, with a runny yolk correct?” Sure, your servers might get strange “Why don’t you know this?” looks, but at least you’re avoiding a potential incident. Just make sure your kitchen is on task with their egg preparation as well.


3. Vegetarian Modifications

Now that we have gluten-free, dairy free, paleo and other dietary restrictions, a vegetarian diet almost seems ridiculously easy to accommodate now (versus just a few decades ago). While most vegetarian options are priced appropriately for the lack of protein, some diners will push you for more.

For example, a vegetarian scramble that is the same portion size as a regular one featuring meat:

“Do you realize that I’m not getting as much protein in this scramble because it lacks meat? How can you expect me to get enough protein in my vegetarian diet with this portion?”

I’m paraphrasing the dialogue here, but the sentiment is true. And while you are accommodating a diner’s dietary restrictions, some go so far as to expect you’ll fulfill their nutritional requirements as well. Problem is, where do you draw the line?

When faced with a particularly challenging diner, the best thing to do is listen….and then listen some more. There’s little benefit to you from picking an argument, particularly when there’s little you can do to change the opinion. Instead, listen and apologize for the miscommunication on portion size, and that you’ll take their comments into consideration. Remember to always pick your battles.


4. Pets in the restaurant

You’ve probably seen it before: dogs sitting on an outdoor patio, or some even sitting inside on a chair or in the booth beside its owner. Here at Tundra, we love our furry friends—but we also understand that not everyone wants a furry friend when they’re dining out. Restaurants must be cognoscente of all of their diners, some of whom could be severely allergic to dogs. Plus, most states have barred dogs (except service animals) from being inside. So what do you do when you have a customer who insists on bringing their furbaby inside?

First, review these commonly asked questions about service animals in places of business.

Second, you can recognize most service animals by the special collars and harnesses they wear.  For those animals who are clearly not service animals, instruct guests that animals are not permitted inside or on the patio. Some service animals are licensed or certified and will have identification papers, but guests may not be carrying documentation of their medical condition or disability.

Unfortunately this type of situation requires discretion and so must be handled on a case-by-case basis. Be sure to communicate the proper way to tackle these situations regularly with your staff.


5. Patio Woes

In Colorado our famous saying is, “Don’t like the weather? Wait 5 minutes.” All too common we’ve seen guests enjoying the start of their meal on the patio, only to slowly bake in the hot sun or get unexpectedly caught in a downpour. The weather is unpredictable, and you know that, but sometimes your guests seem to forget.

Or they forget about the outside critters:

“Is there something you can do about the bees/flies?”

Whatever the issue, you need to be ready to accommodate guests who second-guess their outdoor decision. Try investing in a few large umbrellas to make your patio more enjoyable. As far as flies go, consider these discreet fruit fly traps from Bar Maid. And as far as the bees go, lay on the guilt about the rapidly declining honeybee population.

Just kidding.

Guests know you can’t control the weather or the insect population, but they will appreciate any efforts to make them more comfortable.

What kinds of difficult diners have you faced? Any tips for making your guests (and staff) more comfortable?

About Natalie Fauble

Natalie Fauble is the Online Marketing Manager - Content & SEO for Tundra Restaurant Supply. As a digital marketer with a passion for the restaurant industry, Natalie helps companies shape their brand through thoughtful, fun and innovative content strategies. When she isn't blogging for Tundra Restaurant Supply you can find her in her vegetable garden or in the kitchen whipping up one of her favorite dishes.

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