Angry over too many customers

In the October issue, editor Michael Sanson discussed a scenario where his high school class reunion group showed up at a restaurant that, through miscommunication, was not prepared for 100 unexpected customers. The general manager and employees of the restaurant reacted poorly to the scenario and members of the class reunion felt mistreated. Readers shared ways they would have responded to this difficult situation.

Restaurant atmosphere is always a direct reflection of the owner or person in charge. I have an old saying, If you see a bunch of sad, pitiful faces on the staff, find the saddest most pitiful one and that will be the manager. The look on the g.m.’s face and  his demeanor transformed the whole evening into a negative. Employees as well as customers pick up on the mood and attitude coming from the top. In these cases always focus on the customers and lighten up. Customers will respond positively.

Van Sykes
Bob Sykes BBQ
Bessemer, AL

As a restaurant owner, I would have written a contract, stipulating details very valuable to both parties. No contract, no party. Whoever organized your event should have called the restaurant two days prior to the event, confirming the number of guests and details. If I were the g.m., I would have probably handled it with more diplomacy and tact. When 100 people show up without notice on a Friday night, you try at least to make everyone happy.

Claudia Pipolo
New York City

If I was the g.m. on duty that Friday night I would have pushed my staff to turn the tables as quickly as possible without the customers feeling rushed. I also would have made your group wait outside the store while enjoying free drinks and some appetizers. This is the only way to buy enough time to accommodate the group and not have angry customers. As far as nasty workers go, I have no tolerance for that and I would never return to a restaurant with nasty employees. My customers wait up to an hour on weekends and they have fun doing so because we feed them constantly with free samples and drinks.

Vasilios Tourloukis
General Manager
Tom’s Restaurant
Brooklyn, NY

It’s quite incredible that any restaurant professional would be angry over an unexpected reservation. Shocked and concerned, perhaps, but not angry. We are in the business of multitasking and quick thinking. I welcome any and all parties that want to enjoy our establishment and I look forward to a rush of unexpected customers.

David Lynch
General Manager
Ping Pong
London, Washington DC, Dubai, São Paulo

Employees view this type of scenario as an inconvenience and I view it as an opportunity to serve. Each guest will leave with a memory and it’s my job to make sure it’s a good one. That is what separates the amateurs from the pros in any business—being able to handle the pressure, make accurate key decisions and humbly smile and serve.

Arnold West
The Village Station
Lumberton, NC

If the g.m. is angry, then of course servers will think it’s okay to get angry. My approach would have brought humility to the table—admit there was a communication break- down and find a plausible solution. I have found most people are willing to move and adjust, even if you have to buy them a drink to do it. Customers understand busy times, but it doesn’t mean they should get bad or rude service. I am often reminded of that when I go out to eat and servers use being busy as an excuse for poor service.

Mathew Little
Buster’s Sports Bar & Grill
Mankato, MN

If you haven’t exceeded the fire marshal’s occupancy certificate, then how can you have too many customers? We all keep our employees’ numbers in our phones or on a list. Start calling and get more help. We are in the hospitality industry to be the best hosts that we can be. As restaurant employees, we do a magic act every night. It’s all part of the business. It’s in our blood. Shame on that g.m. for not being a good host.

Jeff Coombs
Executive Chef
The Grill Room
Oak Ridge, NJ
First, stop seating! Communicate to the host and slow the flow of new customers by announcing a large wait time. New customers will be disappointed but not upset. Next, find some area for the 100 unexpected guest. Ask the host what tables are leaving? What tables have just sat? Now that we have some info about the flow in the front, lets talk to some guests. If any have just been seated in the area you are trying to clear for the big party, ask them if they would mind moving to another table in the restaurant (naturally for a free drink or appetizer). While you are clearing out the area, politely move the big party into the room. The servers who are losing these tables should be apologizing to the new guests. Don’t forget to check the kitchen!  Push the food out for any remaining tables to clear the room. Table-touch these customers and have some gift cards with you because you’re not going to offer them free dessert. They have to go. Finally, do some rounds shaking hands and kissing babies. All you can do at this point is be honest with guests and ask for their forgiveness. Finally, don’t forget to tell the host to lower your wait time after the problem is solved!

Josh Pair
General Managers
B&D Burgers
Savannah, GA

This is a lose/lose for the restaurant and all guests. Your party is in the aisles, therefore no service. Servers are upset and they will show it somehow. Regulars are bent because the restaurant should have planned better. What to do?  I’d be proactive and find these class reunion people a patio or room somewhere—now! I’d show that we are concerned because it is our business and reputation.

Doug Berry
Berry’s Restaurant
Norwalk, Ohio

As I see it a couple of hundred people were there for the same thing; to relax, party with friends and create a night to remember. It was clearly a situation to make lemonade out of lemons. The key is to get everyone’s attention, toss in a few appetizers, sing the bottles of beer on the wall song and by the time you get to the last beer nobody cares.

Tom Mackinnon
Executive Chef
Hyatt Regency
Lexington, KY

Regardless of the g.m. leaving, there should have been some policy in place to write things down and pass the word along to all involved. The new g.m. was wrong in being angry and mean to the customers. He’s in the wrong business if he can’t handle the situation at hand. I know he had his employees’ interest in mind, but he still could have handled the situation more professionally. They could have made a killing that night and gotten the word out about their excellent customer service.

Leia George
Executive Host
Yakama Legends Casino
Toppenish, WA