Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Cool as a Cucumber: Creating Harmony Between Servers and Customers (Restaurant) Week In and Week Out

January is Be Kind to Food Servers Month. Photo courtesy of Baylor University, Hankamer School of Business.

NO customer wants his tip increased without his permission. Thankfully, not many bump it up: 11 percent. That would be insult to injury, particularly if said customer is actually insulted by those (14 percent) tasked with providing service.

These findings from a first-of-its-kind study co-authored by Emily M. Hunter are a bit of good news anytime, but especially now as Restaurant Week 2015 is underway around the country.

In duration anywhere from a few days to several weeks, “restaurant week” is a period during which restaurants see an increase in business because of special deals on meals. This can create an environment ripe for an increase in conflicts and tension.

Hopefully, customers in the vicinity of Howard County (MD) Restaurant Week (through 2 Feb.) won't find themselves in such dicey situations. Ditto for those dining at Cocotte. It is one of the restaurants participating in SF (San Francisco) Restaurant Week, starting today (21 Jan.) through 30 Jan. (http://

“The Waiter Spit in My Soup! Antecedents of Customer-Directed Counterproductive Work Behavior,” published in the journal, “Human” (Volume 27, Issue 3), examines various reasons (antecedents) why employee Counterproductive Work Behavior (CWB) may be directed toward customers.

The study also suggests prescriptions, such as management giving employees more latitude in diffusing difficult situations and providing better training for their workers.

At Cocotte, duck foie gras and duck rillette co-exist in seeming harmony. Photo form Cocotte Facebook page.

“It is well-known in the research literature that providing employees with greater job control helps employees cope with stressful demands at work,” said EH, a workplace deviance expert and assistant professor of management at the Baylor University Hankamer School of Business.

“Providing servers with more control, flexibility and empowerment to handle customer issues can buffer buildup of stress and prevent employees from retaliating at their customers.”

In other words, lying to customers (72 percent in the study admitted as much), intentionally making customers wait longer than necessary (66 percent) and ignoring customers (61).

Surely, protocols are in place to prevent such behavior at a destination like The Carlyle Club. It is participating in the Alexandria (VA) Restaurant Week from 23. Jan. to 1 Feb. (

EH and Lisa M. Penney surveyed an ethnically diverse group of 438 employees from a variety of restaurants and bars located in a large city in the southwest. Their average age was 24 and they were employed at their place of business for at least two years, working 31 hours a week. Nearly three-quarters were servers, hosts/hostesses, bartenders and cashiers. Twenty-seven percent were supervisors.

In analyzing conditions and situations that might trigger customer-directed CWB, researchers asked employees to indicate to what extent (1 [almost never] to 5 [almost always] / from 1 [not at all true] to 5 [absolutely true]) various statements applied to them. Statements such as “I am quick-tempered” and “Customers often shout at us.”

The analysis of responses helped inform the list of the most cited customer-directed CWB and the percentage of study participants that indicated they exhibited the corresponding behavior at least once or twice. Seventy-nine percent disclosed that they'd made fun of a customer.

Bar Terra was handed lemonades and it grilled them. Photo from Bar Terra Facebook page.
Of course, as the study has found and as casual observation can reveal, customers can be demanding, rude, verbally abusive and grossly indecisive.

Incidentally, January is Be Kind to Food Servers Month.

It is hoped that counterproductive customer behavior is virtually nonexistent at The Spot, one of the restaurants signed up for Discover Bethel (CT) Restaurant Week (22 Feb. – 28 Feb.).

Ideally, customers will proclaim to all who have ears how good are the service and food – particularly the seasonal pies – at the Knife&Tine during Chicago Restaurant Week (30. Jan. – 12 Feb.),

“If the server can focus on improving the customer’s experience and satisfaction, that is a win-win-win for the server, customer and company, ” EH said.

To that end she offers some tips (to use a word) for dealing with difficult customers:
*Train employees to use healthy coping strategies such as emotional detachment from customer interactions;
*Institute an open-door policy that will make employees feel comfortable turning to management for help with a customer;
*Provide frequent rest breaks to help servers reduce stress, refresh and re-energize;
*Empower employees to provide small discounts or reparations as needed.

Sage advice, because the way forward is surely not threatening a customer (5 percent) or contaminating a customer’s food (6 percent)!

Restaurant Week (CURRENT and/or COMING)

Miami Spice 1 Aug – 30 Sept
Orlando (FL) Magical Dining Month, 24 Aug – 30 Sept
Silver Spring (MD) Restaurant Week, 8 Sept – 13 Sept
Flagler (FL) Restaurant Week, 11 Sept – 18 Sept
Binghamton (NY Restaurant Week, 15 Sept – 24 Sept
Arizona Restaurant Week, 18 Sept – 27 Sept
We Live to Eat (NEW ORLEANS) Restaurant Week, 20 Sept – 27 Sept

Visit to read an abtract or to read “The Waiter Spit in My Soup! Antecedents of Customer-Directed Counterproductive Work Behavior” in its entirety.

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