February 23

The Fundamentals of De-escalation Anyone in Hospitality Needs to Know

Here is a list of important de-escalation tips you and your team should know to quickly defuse a difficult customer situation. 

Unfortunately, knowing how to prepare your team to de-escalate a potentially heated situation is a must in this day and age. Since the pandemic, we all know that hospitality establishments have had to deal with undesirable and unwarranted customer scenarios. Still, as more and more states lift mask mandates — you and your team must be prepared, especially if you’re a business that will continue to ask guests to wear masks or provide proof of vaccination for indoor dining. 

If you’re looking for some extra help in training yourself and your staff on preventative measures, here are five key tips you and your staff should know to prevent and de-escalate undesirable customer situations. 

Display your policy.

The first step to de-escalation should be preparing yourself and your staff at preventing a heated situation in the first place. The best way to do this is to make your COVID-19 policy visible and known. Share your policy on your social media, place a printed copy on your front door or a host stand and train your staff to inform guests upon arrival of management’s policy. 

If you’re straightforward with your policy — then your staff is better equipped to back up any statements they make about what is and is not permitted in your establishment, and more likely than not, the guests already know what to expect. 

Check Body Language.

Train your staff to recognize body language that might indicate someone is losing it. Some signs are clenched fists, sweat, expressively aggressive arm movements, a red face, or a puffed-out chest. 

Knowing when a customer is getting heated is an important part of knowing when to step into de-escalation mode. This will increase your employee’s safety and hopefully allow them to calm the situation before it escalates. 

Stay Calm. 

Once you and your staff can recognize the signs that a situation has turned sour — make sure to stay calm. Never add gasoline to the fire and try to stay neutral. If possible, keep the interaction as private as possible — embarrassment can escalate the situation. 

Staying calm can be testing, especially if a guest makes it personal, but it’s important to maintain composure and focus on the goal of de-escalating the situation. Give the customer the opportunity to explain why they are upset and show that you understand their perspective, repeat back what you heard. 

Find solutions. 

In addition to keeping a difficult interaction from escalating — you want to seek solutions. After giving the customer a chance to explain themselves, and after sharing your establishment’s policy, try finding an alternative option for them. 

If they don’t have a mask, offer to let them use a spare one, if you have any on hand. If they don’t have their vaccination card or refuse to wear a mask, offer an opportunity for them to order their food to go, or see about outdoor seating if it’s available. 

Trust your instinct. 

No matter what, the safety of yourself and your staff is paramount. If you or your staff feel a situation has become threatening — create space, or remove yourself and call for backup. 

Make sure your staff understands your policy regarding situations where they feel threatened, and that they have your back when deciding to remove themselves from a situation or request that a customer leave the premises. Many restaurants and bars implement a log so that when difficult customer interactions arise, they can report it immediately and keep track of the outcomes. 

To learn about all these tips in more detail, and to easily share with your team so they can better prepare themselves, sign up to watch ServSafe’s quick 10-minute training video “Conflict De-escalation: COVID-19 Precautions.” The training videos are free and are available in both English and Spanish. There are no certifications upon completion, but the video is a great and easy way to begin training your employees on de-escalating.


About the author

Ashley McNally likes to cook, loves to bake, and is always dreaming of her next meal. With over 13 years of experience working in various roles within a restaurant — McNally has made a home in hospitality.

About the author

Ashley McNally likes to cook, loves to bake, and is always dreaming of her next meal. With over 13 years of experience working in various roles within a restaurant — McNally has made a home in hospitality.


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