June 6

De-Escalation Techniques for Your Restaurant Team 


Foundational De-Escalation Techniques Every Restaurant Manager Should Share With Their Team

For the most part, working in hospitality is a very uplifting career. What’s not to love about bringing people together and facilitating a good time?

Unfortunately, people are complex, and while we want to avoid conflict on the clock, it does happen more often than anyone would like. 

According to Linda Addy, Training and Development Consultant at HR Annie Consulting, de-escalation training is in every employer’s best interest. 

“In moments that are escalating, or escalated, employees will react in ways you share—or with their best guess,” Addy said. “Many times best guesses, or knee-jerk reactions actually contribute to situations that escalate or become unsafe.”

Since HR Annie Consulting offers a training program covering de-escalation techniques, we sought their advice to help you get started. 

Helpful De-escalation Techniques To Know

1. Be observant of body language and vocal tone.
“Body language and observed behaviors can be incredibly revealing,” Addy shared. “Is the person of concern panting, flushed, sweating, or pacing? Do they have their fists balled up? Did their demeanor change suddenly, or are there more obvious signals like yelling or threatening?” 

Identifying signs of aggravation will help your team know when to start implementing techniques to calm the situation. 

But don’t stop there—it’s essential to teach your team to be aware of their own body language and vocal tone to avoid unintentionally adding fuel to the fire. 

Addy suggests keeping your body language open and humanizing the experience. Introduce yourself by name to the person of concern, ask for their name, and give them physical space.  

2. Communicate calmly and compassionately.
As always, staying calm and compassionate can go a long way in defusing a heated situation. It might not make the person less angry, but it can keep them from escalating. 

“Much like the situation of having to cut off a guest from alcohol service, we can communicate through a lens of compassion,” Addy said, offering suggested examples. “I’m sorry, I can’t serve you another round; I care about your safety and have an obligation to keep you safe.” 

Rewording phrases to be less combative but still straightforward during difficult conversations takes practice. 

Employers can run scenarios with their teammates to discuss responses, giving them experience and feedback on what works, what doesn’t work, and why. 

3. Find some common ground.
Another de-escalation technique that Addy gave us for a different article on managing an intoxicated employee is to try and find common ground with the upset person(s). 

“A pro tip is to try and get the escalated person to agree with you,” Addy said. “It’s hard to argue with someone on your side and in agreement.” 

A significant part of this technique is listening. Your team members should hear out the escalated individual to try and understand what is happening. Then, find a way to reach common ground if possible.  

You can use phrases like, “Can we all agree that…” or “I understand that you feel upset by….” 

4. Walk and talk.
If you’re trying to safely and casually move someone toward an exit or move the conversation away from others, Addy suggests the “walk and talk” method. 

You can ask the person to walk with you or openly use your body language to kindly suggest moving. Likely, the person will follow. 

Taking the conversation to a more private location can help control the situation and avoid others getting involved. 

Of course, this should only be done if you or your employee feel confident you have the situation in hand. 

Addy said that while we might want other people to avoid getting involved, bystanders can serve as witnesses or even help in emergencies by calling for help or informing others to evacuate if things become unsafe. 

5. Know when to implement safety procedures.
“As soon as there is a concern that someone could possibly be hurt or when your inner voice is telling you that harm is likely to happen, de-escalation techniques should stop, and safety procedures should begin,” Addy explained. 

Training your team to de-escalate involves creating and providing them with a thorough safety plan so they can confidently take action in questionable situations. 
As mentioned above, having a plan and providing steps for your employees removes the possibility of knee-jerk reactions—which can cause more harm than good. 

While de-escalation training isn’t a requirement, keeping your staff safe is. If you’d like to learn more about de-escalation training or get help creating a company-wide safety plan—our friends at HR Annie Consulting can help! 

Their de-escalation training only takes an hour and will set you up with everything from internal policies to easing team anxiety and affirming value in your employees.

HR Annie Consulting is also hosting their signature 2-day Virtual HR and Management Crash Course on August 15th and 16th. The course is for anyone who has HR or management functions built into their role. 

They will cover topics that can help you with hiring, performance, coaching, employee retention, culture, and communication—so it can be an excellent opportunity to develop your leadership skills. 

To learn more, check out their site here. If you’re ready to register for this event, enter the promo code POACHED at checkout. HR Annie Consulting is offering Poached customers a $100 discount when registering—so register today! 

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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