How to connect with guests that are just not your kind

Serving challenging regulars

Although a restaurant can be fully seated, with a winning dinner team operation in full smiling swing, there is always that vigilant eye on the door, that awareness for the regular though always unexpected and uncontrollable energy that will enter your room, swirl and unbalance the collective chord and stop the dance.

I’m talking about regulars, specifically those who cross the invisible line of being served as your guest and start claiming and controlling their part of the restaurant operation. Those for whom best is never good enough, and to whom even the most genuine, warm and extra-mile hospitality isn’t even close to matching their daily dose of attention.

You know the regulars I’m talking about. And I know those regulars can bring up some nasty cunning thoughts you rather wouldn’t share with your mother. At least I don’t.

How to connect with the unconnectables

Of course there are a number of ways to respond to those regulars. Whether you are creating a raving fan or provoking an early and angry leave, it is good to keep your options visible when facing such a challenging guest. I will point out the four responses most obvious to me.

Say no

One is of course to just say no. We’re fully booked. O yes Sir, tomorrow as well. I’m very sorry Sir, there is only a table at 5, I understand your concern Sir, but I’m sorry, I tried the best I could. Bye Sir.

Well, that doesn’t really sound as your true self talking now, does it? As for me, I always try to keep away from those lousy tactics. It only makes the dog bark louder. They will hunt you, and they WILL enter. This time with a heavy loaded review pen.


Another option is to seat the guest, and knowingly underperform, making it a once-and-never-again experience. Just wave, say goodbye, take the loss and digest the negative review. Might be tempting. Pity for the review but that small storm will fade. At least it cleans out a lot of undesired negative energy for the future.

Yet here again, as a rising or acclaimed star in hospitality, ask yourself: is that underperformance, although perhaps with legitimate reason, echoing your true self? If the answer is no, then don’t lower yourself. Keep your honor. You just don’t.

Become a slave

Then a third and also much-favored option is to start the tailored puppet show, over-serving him or her in every inch and second of the restaurant experience, creating the idea of being everywhere every time, and press one of their buttons to make them happily play along in their private show and let them walk away smiling after far too much clock ticking.

Although this is quite a struggle, your team might carry this experience safely to the finish. However, on the long run this is also not a winning strategy. It is eventually just keeping too many balls in the air and running two shows together. It eats and wears out the energy of you and your team and will always be somehow frustrating. It ultimately always unbalances the harmony of the operation and, although perhaps barely noticeable, has a negative influence on your overall performance in the restaurant.

So then what?

Let the music play

Well, to me it’s actually quite simple. Just play their music. Press that one button that will satisfy their dose of attention continuously throughout the whole dining experience. It will lower the weapons of even the most nasty and downcurling lipped Cruella and put her on your side forever. And I am not talking about any metaphor here. I am not even talking about food.

I mean Music.

Music is the key to ultimate harmony between you and any guest in any kind of dining experience.

‘Say what?’

Sounds silly?

Well, of course the primary key to success in creating loyal customers in the fine dining industry is serving great food and great hospitality in it’s widest sense.

Music in hospitality: today’s possibilities

However, what is often overlooked today in that widest sense is how you can integrate today’s endless possibilities of listening to music in your service and hospitality. And as a shared taste for music binds and creates harmony between people ever since humanity’s first drum, it can also bind, uplift and harmonize the energy between you and your guests, creating a vibrating upbeat you would never have imagined before.

And today, with even the simplest software, you are able to tailor and personalize this uplifting bond of music with every possible individual guest. Imagine! All it takes is a little effort and a love for music.

An example.

A regular walks in. A regular that you know will require all you and your team’s energy for the next few hours. Now do your thing, seat the guest, start a comforting chat and set off the dining show. Now put up the music a bit louder. Walk up to the guest and ask if this is maybe a bit disturbing. Tell the guest you love the song, and try to find a music conversation click. If so, try to find some songs and groups the guest indicates he or she likes. Now go to the stereo and make a separate playlist, in which you copy an already stable set of songs that reflect your preferred restaurant house style or atmosphere. Subtly add a few of the guest’s songs or style of songs that closest approach your restaurant’s house style to the list. Walk up to the guest or try to eye contact for silent approval. If affirmative, personalize the list further, perhaps during but definitely after the visit. So with every new visit, you will instantly start playing the list, and the guest will feel more and more at ease with the atmosphere because of the music. And you WILL notice the most rocky guest will melt down because of the subconscious bond created by the waves of music running through both your ears. And as the list evolves, the more personalized the list will become, while not completely moving away from the house style. It might even be possible to give the guest online access to a personal playlist, so the guest will walk in smiling next time he or she added a nice pick to the list. And you will press play.

The Magic of Music

And then, suddenly, you are witnessing the magic of music. Not only does that guest feel more at ease and in a steady comfort zone. The fact that there is a continuous and tailored flow of attention driven towards the guests in the shape of personalized sound waves, results in a constant dosage of the guests overall need for attention.

So what actually happens is this: the guest lowers his or her arms, lowers the voice and suddenly also lowers the impossible and insatiable demands that squeezed and choked your performance with every visit for the last months or even years. Suddenly his or her eyes and body language tell you: it is ok now, I’m happy here, as long as you give me some attention and good food.

So now your team spirit is no longer imploded by the regular’s presence and by meeting impossible demands and standards. You are now serving a regular in your comfortable stealth performance, as you would love to serve any regular.

Just because of music.

Keep on tuning

Of course this all sounds very fancy and straight-forward, but what about those challenging regulars that are just completely not into music, or what if three or four of those challenging regulars have a seat in the same shift? You can’t play four lists?

No you can’t. And no you can’t push love for music through one’s ears. To those circumstances I would say, it will always be your personal and gentle touch and feel that will assess, respond to and win the given situation. But with all the world’s music and endless sharing possibilities in your back pocket, it is clear that the opportunities today of firing the connection between you, your restaurant and your guests through music are better than ever. Now it’s time to grab and use it. The Force is with you and waiting in music.

At least it got me listening to the latest Jason Isbell while sipping Amarone yesterday with a regular with whom I wouldn’t even have dared considering sharing a drink.

Play, Sonny Boy, Play!