The Things Customers Do That Drive Your Wait Staff To Distraction

The Things Customers Do That Drive Your Wait Staff To Distraction

Gossiping about customers is never a good idea.

A distracted member of your wait staff can wreak havoc on your customer service goals. Yet, sometimes customers do things that drive your wait staff crazy!

In this article, we’re going to talk about the things customers do that drive your wait staff to distraction.

Whether that distraction involves staff huddled in the corner whispering, or leaves them running for the back alley for a break, we’ll also discuss some ways to help them overcome the things your customers do that they don’t like.

Customer Directed Counterproductive Work Behavior

First, let’s take a look at a study conducted by some Texas professors who tried to find out more about the distracted work behavior of wait staff.

They wanted to find out what prompted the behavior and analyze it. They found some common stressors for wait staff. They include:

  • Disproportionate customer expectations – people who make special demands
  • Customer verbal aggression
  • Disliked or unpleasant customers
  • Ambiguous customer expectations

The study also looked at ways that wait staff took out their aggression on customers. The findings are quite astonishing:

  • Of the 438 restaurant employees surveyed, 6% admitted to contaminating customers’ food.
  • 79% of the wait staff surveyed had made fun of customers behind their backs.
  • Many wait staff reported ignoring customers, making them wait longer than necessary and being rude.
  • 25% had refused a reasonable customer request.
  • 14% had insulted a customer.
  • 11% had increased a tip without the customer’s permission.

If you find these results disturbing, we’d have to agree. Customer service is one of the most important aspects of your restaurant business. (tweet this)

Yet, humans by their very nature, will lash out if pushed far enough. A nasty customer can certainly push a member of your wait staff over the edge. It’s important to talk about how to handle this with your wait staff as these can be costly problems for your restaurant.

Let’s talk more about the things customers do that drive your wait staff to distraction.

When They Overly Change the Menu

Many restaurants are open to customers changing and substituting. But, your wait staff is often driven crazy by this especially if the customer is trying to remake the menu. Some customers even request things not available.

Customers who micro-manage a restaurant menu definitely drive wait staff to distraction.

To counteract this problem, give your staff a “script” of what to say so they don’t have to come up with an answer on their own.

When They Claim an Allergy

With allergies on the rise, we bet your wait staff has encountered customers with allergies to gluten, peanuts, seafood and certain spices.

What drives your wait staff crazy is when customers claim an allergy when they really don’t have one. Train your staff so they can accommodate these customers whether the allergy is real or not.

It would be a disaster to ignore the request if the allergy is real and could cause extreme danger for the customer and the restaurant.

When They Send Their Food Back

Unless there’s something really wrong with the food, wait staff is known to become impatient with this request.

Empower your staff with ways to handle this situation and encourage their empathy.

When Customers Are Nasty

Wait staff when pushed too far by nasty customers may lash out. This only serves to increase the confrontation.

The best way for you to handle this as the restaurant owner is to create a way for your wait staff to handle the nasty customer. Rehearse a variety of scenarios and give your staff the tools to deal with contrary customers.

Your staff will appreciate your support, and their extra training will empower them to handle nasty customers with empathy and with ease.


While good customer service is important, you also want your staff treated with respect.

When They Stay Too Long

Wait staff is really driven to distraction when customers linger at their table. After all, they are working at your restaurant for the tips.

Your wait staff should never be allowed to whisper in the corner about the lingering guests. Nor should they be allowed to ask the customer to leave. Your diners are guests at your restaurants and should be treated as such.

Some restaurants help their wait staff with this problem by paying them a salary and getting rid of tipping. There are two sides to this coin, and you have to do what’s best for your restaurant and your staff, but eliminating the lingering-guest problem by making your staff dependent on a salary and not tips can help.

When They Don’t Tip Enough

Speaking of tips, most wait staff are definitely driven to distraction by customers who don’t tip enough.

Your staff should also know that it’s inappropriate to write in their own tip or openly solicit more. Good work generally earns the tip, so encourage their extraordinary customer service.

Or, as mentioned above, eliminate tipping altogether.

To Conclude

Your wait staff can be assured that not every customer who walks through your doors will be easy to deal with. Excellent customer service is about more than treating the “nice” customers well. Excellent customer service means dealing with all customers well.

Positive customer service sometimes means taking a deep breath and a step back if necessary. (tweet this)

Your wait staff is bombarded with problems and rude customers all the time. Give them the proper training so they can handle every potential scenario.

To help you prepare your staff for possible problems, we’ve put together a brief list of things your staff can do to avoid distraction and provide better service all the time.

  • Never sigh at a customer when they can’t decide what to order.
  • Don’t be fake or over-friendly. Treat all of your customers with respect.
  • Be polite. Don’t be short even when you have too many tables.
  • Don’t analyze their order. If you disapprove, don’t let on.
  • Stay within sight of your customer. Don’t disappear for long periods.
  • Check on your tables, but don’t overdo it.
  • When asked what dish you like, tell them. Avoid being vague.
  • Don’t rush your table so you can turn it for more tips. They have every right to sit there.
  • Likewise, don’t bring out their main course before they’ve finished their appetizer. It sends a message that you want them to hurry up.
  • Never whisper in the corner. Every one of your customers will think you’re talking about them (even if you aren’t).
  • Don’t make up your own tip or leave negative comments on their bill.

Do you have your own stories of things customers do that drive your wait staff to distraction? How did you deal with the issues? Do you have a favorite training program to help your wait staff deal with customers? Please share your thoughts below.

Images: Alan Hochberg and Arian Zwegers

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