Guide to barring aggresive restaurant customers

By BigHospitality Writer

- Last updated on GMT

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Nobody wants to bar a customer, but if you feel there really isn't any choice, here are some ways of doing it right. Barring customers is an uncomfortable thing for most restaurateurs, and getting anyone to acknowledge that it happens is very ...

Nobody wants to bar a customer, but if you feel there really isn't any choice, here are some ways of doing it right.

Barring customers is an uncomfortable thing for most restaurateurs, and getting anyone to acknowledge that it happens is very hard. Most seem to be afraid of coming across as some sort of dining room-dictator, ruling their restaurants with a rod of iron.

"It's something none of us like to do," says Don Matheson, owner of the Boath House Hotel in Nairn. "But it is something that every restaurateur has to face."

There are very few offences that warrant a diner being barred, but there is a point beyond which behaviour becomes unacceptable. And when people step over that fine line between awkward customer and potential menace, action must be taken.

"The biggest thing is abusing staff," says Joe Lambert, owner of Lambert's in London. "You have to be seen to be protecting them to maintain the morale of the team."

Mark Nash, director of One Ten in Birmingham emphasises that abusive behaviour towards another customer is not just bad manners – it can damage your reputation. "If they are abusive towards another customer then that other customer won't come back," he explains.

The root of this sort of behaviour, as with many things, is usually an excess of alcohol. Some people, when heading out for a meal, have ‘one or two' drinks just to get in the mood. They then turn up, a slurring, drooling wreck and expect to be pandered to.

"We've only had to ask people to leave on three occasions in 10 years, and on each occasion it's been inappropriate behaviour caused by alcohol," confirms Matheson. Ejecting someone who is tanked up requires careful handling. It's no good wading in and trying to bodily throw them out like some macho celebrity chef. You'll just create a scene, make other diners uncomfortable and probably get done for assault.

"Never deal with the whole table in one go because you're never going to win," agrees Nash. "You can negotiate with one person but you can't with a mob."

The trick is to get them somewhere quiet, away from other diners, and talk to them. Most people find this mortifying enough and will leave quietly. If they refuse to come quietly, then appealing to another, more sober member of their party is usually the most effective method.

They will often be able to calm the situation down and get the person out of there.

The key is not to get caught up in a spiralling round of threats and insults, unless you fancy a spot of manly wrestling on the floor. Instead, pretend you're like Clint Eastwood, speak softly, and put a bit of ice into your eyes. Above all be calm, stick to the facts and most anger will fizzle out like a match in the rain.

You don't even have to tell them they're barred straight away.

Lambert says that if you have their phone number on a database then you can always ring them up later and tell them not to come back to the restaurant. Or, if you want be really subtle, just make a note of their name and number and if they ever try to reserve a table just tell them you're booked out for the next few years, they'll soon get the message.

Few people will try to get back in after being thrown out of a restaurant and, as it's not a common problem, there are no schemes like pub watch (where local pubs circulate the names and pictures of trouble makers among themselves). Most places rely on the memory of their staff, so it's probably an idea to make a note of the name of the person you ejected.

Barring customers is a very rare occurrence and should always be the last resort. But, if like Nash, you have had customers unapologetically urinating in their seats, or the odd sixty year old, flush from a golfing triumph and one too many single malts, making lewd comments about the female staff, it's time to act. If you don't, it's your reputation, and the reputation of your restaurant on the line.

Tips Looking for trouble ? The best way of dealing with troublesome diners is to get to them before any trouble starts. And when it comes to sussing out potential troublemakers, there's no substitute for experience.

So, during busy times, and late at night, when people have been eating and drinking for a few hours, always have an experienced member of staff on duty. You shouldn't expect junior staff to be able to deal with bad behaviour, they could find themselves inflaming the situation.

"Training is important, talking to your staff about these situations and making sure that there is somebody on hand to deal with incidents,"

says Matheson. Use the experienced staff to train the rest in what to look out for and how to deal with it.

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