It is the biggest auto show of the year -- the NY Auto Show. Over 500 new car and truck dealerships occupy a million square feet of New York City's Jacob Javits Convention Center to thrill over a million attendees. For the car enthusiast, this show is the Super Bowl of auto events with over a thousand vehicles on display. But for those managing the gigantic event -- employees, contract workers and vendors -- it can be bedlam, madness and angst. Think of a beer vendor in Fort Lauderdale during spring break.
Most small businesses have their version of rowdy customers. The restaurant that becomes the post-game watering hole for hockey fans after a big game, the stores along a popular parade route, or kiosks in a shopping mall that becomes the preferred hangout for bored teens. But learning to deal with the equivalent of “spring breakers” can turn mayhem-in-the-making into a blessing in disguise.
Rowdiness can add to the appeal of some businesses, making it the “in” place to be. For certain bars it would be slow night without at least one barroom brawl, and that adds to the appeal. However, most small businesses, in the wake of rowdy patrons gone extreme, worry about added revenue being offset by the expense of breakage, shrinkage, and the disappearance of regular customers. But, it does not have to have an unhappy ending. Here are a few tips for how to pacify rowdy customers.
1. Demonstrate hosting at its very best.
Assume your business is the site of a great party and your customers are your valued guests. Start with a welcoming attitude, aim your best smile at your guests as they enter your establishment. Accommodate unique requests just like you would good friends in your home with a happy disposition and optimistic attitude. Embrace individuality and seemingly strange tastes. Provide a wider than normal berth for boisterous behavior and coach your staff to be kind, helpful and responsive. Rowdy can be merely a customer’s attempt to impress those around them not a malicious intent to destroy or chastise. Assume the very best in your customers.
2. Make getting great service a top priority.
All customers enjoy service that is easy and comfortable. When you make great service a priority you communicate respect and caring. Ensure easy access, friendly servers, and accommodating service processes. What would free Wi-Fi do to your business? If you gate your Wi-Fi, what if the daily password was clever and memorable like, “Our password today is Adele.” What if signage was funny? What if you flipped all negative messaging: “We do NOT take personal checks” or “We card everyone” to language that was positive and clever? What if you decorated your bathroom? Be creative in making your establishment a destination location.
3. Be noticeably respectful not obviously disgusted.
It is hard to misbehave when someone is treating you like you are valued. Refer to customers as “ladies and gentlemen” instead of “boys and girls,” with plenty of “mam’s and sir’s.” Initiate kind, personal conversations. Request your customers’ feedback and suggestions. “What music would you like to hear?” Make statements that signal you are appreciative of their business and eager for their return. Offer discounts and rewards that matter to your customers, especially those redeemable on a return visit. Again, their ideas can give you guidance on their interests and tastes.
Related: How to Start a Bar/Club
4. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Be humble, courageous and confident and check your parental tendencies at the front door. Peer pressure can be your friend. Instead of trying to discipline an unruly or misbehaving customer, get one of their peers to assist you. When a unique request requires time and effort to accommodate, suggest they assist. “We want to put three tables together for you all; would you gentlemen mind helping my staff move a few chairs?” Customers will care if they share the work. Most are willing if asked and putting skin in the game can elevate their loyalty.
5. Always take the high ground.
When customers cross a line -- they shoplift, damage property, insult other customers -- always take the high ground with firm allegiance to your core values of integrity and fairness. You have rights and you must protect others in your establishment. Exercising discipline when that line is crossed will earn you respect, not disdain, from customers. All customers, regardless of their age or state of intoxication, understand right and wrong.
Rowdy customers can try the patience of the most calm and tolerant business owner. When a bad call costs the local team a playoff game, your establishment can quickly turn into the place for venting fury. Follow the lead of business owners in beach side locations popular with spring breakers: alter expectations during this unique time of escape from control and order. To quote an electrician at the Jacob Javits Center, “Show your auto show guests the best service you can provide and they will usually return the favor.”