Hospitality Jobs: How to Handle Difficult Customers, Complaints, and Conflicts in a Professional Manner

By  //  August 16, 2023

Encountering difficult customers in hospitality is bound to happen. And it’s always a tight squeeze, like trying to fit an elephant through a mouse hole.

There could be various reasons behind a guest’s discomfort—perhaps they had a bad day, experienced travel woes, or maybe something went awry during their stay. 

Regardless of the cause, the golden rule is to treat them with empathy and patience.

Want to gather more ideas on how to handle difficult customers professionally? Then keep on reading.

Tip #1: Listen with an Attentive Ear

If you’ve ever dealt with a disgruntled guest, you likely know that the best way to get on their good side is to actively listen and address their concerns. 

When you think about it, it makes sense that such a simple act of making people feel heard does wonders for calming them down. 

So, try resisting that temptation to go full-on Gordon Ramsay on your guests and call them an idiot sandwich, and give reflective listening a go. 

Maybe you could even repeat their grievances back to them to show you understand their frustrations. 

You might be surprised at how far this technique can take you.

Tip #2: Put Yourself in Their Shoes

Empathy, compassion, and understanding are your secret weapons here. 

Try to imagine yourself in their position, facing similar issues. How would you want to be treated under similar circumstances?

This perspective shift could help you respond with compassion and understanding.

Tip #3: Stay Calm and Composed

Hospitality staff are the ambassadors of their establishment. 

This means that even in the face of a difficult customer, it is expected of them to maintain their composure. 

If this is something you struggle with in the heat of the moment, perhaps you can take a cue from the late Queen Elizabeth II. 

Rumor has it that at formal events, she employed a discreet yet powerful technique to navigate unwanted conversations. Namely, when faced with an arduous dialogue, she subtly shifted her handbag from one arm to the other to call her staff to the rescue.

So, don’t hesitate to use the support of your restaurant staff in challenging situations, if that’s what you need to stay calm and composed amid a conflict.

Tip #4: Address the Issue Promptly

Research suggests that customers who have their complaints satisfactorily resolved become even more loyal to the company than those who had no complaints at all.

So, what is the best way to resolve a guest’s complaint?

The best way to resolve a guest’s complaint is to remember that, in hospitality, time is like a delicate soufflé—it’s best served promptly, or it might fall flat!

The truth is: the longer your guests wait, the more likely it is that their dissatisfaction levels will escalate. 

So, try addressing the matter promptly and assuring your guest that their concerns will be taken seriously.

Tip #5: Apologize Sincerely

An apology can work wonders, as long as it is a genuine one. 

You’ve caused your guest an inconvenience? Start by acknowledging that. 

You had an off day at work and ended up serving a guest a cold cup of coffee and mixing up his order? Try giving “I’m sorry” a go. 

A heartfelt apology can diffuse tension and lay the foundation for resolving the issue.

Tip #6: Offer Solutions, Not Excuses

Excuses won’t mend broken expectations, but offering solutions will. 

When trying to rectify the situation, aim to propose concrete solutions.

Anything less than that, and you might make your guest feel like their concerns aren’t being genuinely taken into account.

Tip #7: Act as a Mediator

Mediators aren’t only useful in legal cases. 

They’re amazing at handling any sort of conflict that may arise between different parties, including restaurant staff and guests.

If you do decide to mediate a conflict between guests, it would do you well to remember that your job is to remain neutral and unbiased. Remember, prep cooks make more than just their wages; they contribute to a seamless dining experience.

This means listening to both sides of the story attentively before intervening. 

Often, conflicts arise from misunderstandings, and your intervention can help clear the air.

Tip #8: Find Common Ground

As with every conflict, a solid step towards its resolution is looking for common points of agreement between the conflicting parties. 

By encouraging them to focus on areas of agreement rather than differences, you might just succeed at diffusing tension and promoting reconciliation.

Tip #9: Take it Private

Public confrontations can be embarrassing and uncomfortable for all parties involved, and you don’t want your guests to feel this way, do you?

Even if you end up in conflict with a guest in your establishment, you can still turn them into returning customers by simply moving the conflict resolution to a private setting.

A guest who feels like they can express themselves without feeling judged is often a grateful one. 

Tip #10: Offer Compensation Thoughtfully

Sometimes, compensating guests for their inconvenience is a necessary evil that can leave a lasting impression on them. 

The compensation doesn’t have to be monetary. You can offer them a complimentary meal, a room upgrade, or a voucher for future use, as long as your offer is thoughtful and genuine. 

With that in mind, avoid making offers of compensation that may appear as a bribe, as this sort of behavior could easily backfire.

Tip #11: Go the Extra Mile

Exceeding expectations. That is the cornerstone of exceptional hospitality. 

Once you’ve successfully resolved a complaint or conflict, go the extra mile to ensure your guest has a memorable experience. 

Now, this doesn’t have to be anything big. Small gestures, like personalized notes or surprise treats, will do just fine and make all the difference.


In the hospitality industry, difficult customers can sometimes end up being the best teachers.

While they’re certainly not always right, their feedback can be an opportunity for personal and professional growth, if that’s what you decide to make of it.

Hopefully, these tips will help you navigate difficult customers and their complaints – but remember: never at the expense of your well-being!