How to Handle that Difficult Taproom Guest

Apr 11, 2022

The customer is always right....well, not exactly.

That is the age-old motto the hospitality industry has preached for as long as I can remember. But does it stand true?

Whether you're reading this in 2022 or 10 years in the future, the odds are you are reading this because you're employed in a brewery where your primary focus is maximizing your guests' experience. While I did state guests' experience, it is also your job to maximize the experience for those on your team (unhappy staff don't stick around as long as happy staff). 

My wife always says "happy wife, happy life." I believe the same premise can be applied to you and your staff. If you have a happy team of brewery employees, your life will be much easier. The transitive property pretty much tells us happy guests = happy staff = happy you.

So, how can we achieve this? While we could dive deep into all sorts of customer personas, my goal is to keep this simple. Let's start by breaking it down into 2 basic types of customers.

  1. Happy customers
  2. Unhappy customers

Happy customers are those who come to your taproom, buy a few drinks, have a good time, and go home. Your beertenders typically prefer these guests. They tip okay, maybe even great, and don't cause your staff happiness level to dip.

Unhappy customers are those guests who have an experience when something doesn't go to their liking, causing a gap in their expectations and the actual outcome. It is typically these unhappy customers that make for a difficult encounter.

Let's use the example of a guest who comes in and you can tell from the get go that they're having a bad day. They're snappy with you, they don't appreciate your help, they get upset at the customer who's sitting a tad too close at the bar, don't like that their favorite IPA just kicked - you get the picture. This guest appears to be difficult to please.

First, that guest is absolutely not right to treat you and your team with inappropriate behavior. Second, no workplace should be a space where anyone feels unwelcomed or unsafe. In situations where safety is threatened, additional action outside of what follows is needed. The strategies below are intended to deal with the stereotypical unhappy customer.

Will you be able to make them have a complete 180 and leave with a huge grin? Probably not, but you can take steps to make a bad situation a slightly better one. You can be kind.

Killing them with kindness will help the encounter be a tad more tolerable. Ultimately, everyone likes to be valued and as someone who has chosen a position in this industry, it is all of our missions to maximize that guests' experience.

Here are 3 simple tactics for dealing with that difficult customer.

  1. Smile - no further explanation needed. 
  2. Say nice things ("Hope this helps make your day a little bit better," "We appreciate you coming in today," "Let me know if there's anything I can do to help"). Find ways to add positivity to the encounter.
  3. Don't incite greater negativity. When that guest responds with rudeness, offer solutions ("Perhaps you'd like to sit at a table with a bit more room," "We are really sorry that IPA is no longer on tap, but would you like to try a sample of our brewer's newest recipe?").

Now to go back to the original statement of "the customer is always right." The customer has the right to be upset, be frustrated, or displeased with a situation. The customer does not have the right to treat you or your staff disrespectfully This customer is in the wrong.

Don't waste your efforts going back and forth with the unhappy customer. Take the "agree to disagree approach," cover them in honey, and make it through their visit. Do not make it worse. I repeat, do not make it worse.

I don't know the exact data point, nor does it necessarily matter, but bad news travels a bit quicker than a good experience.

You have to acknowledge that every guest that enters your brewery's taproom may not be your perfect customer. However, they're there and you should try to make the most of it. 

The perfect customer is going to be the one that aligns with your brand's values, offers respect, and enjoys your beer. Pouring a little honey on that difficult customer instead of into the boil kettle may not solve all differences, but it'll make that experience a tad sweeter for everyone involved.

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