How to deal with negative guest comments?

Mar 30, 2023

One of crew members' most challenging tasks while working on cruise ships is keeping all guests happy. Different guest requirements, needs, and expectations are always hard to please. Crew members on board the ship are trained and experienced to anticipate customer expectations. Yet, no matter how hard we try- some people will always be unhappy. Regardless of the crew member's efforts, some guests are just focused on finding mistakes and something to complain about. "The drink is not strong enough," "the drink is too strong," "There is too much ice here," and "The ice is melted. "It takes too long to get seated in this dining room." 

You can't please everyone. Keep that always in your mind, and prepare yourself in advance for some unpleasant customers.

The biggest problem for the crew members is the need for more support and protection from the management. It's just a weird management system on cruise ships that always sides with the guests and never protects its crew members. For the people who have spent many years in the restaurant, hospitality, or dining room team, you know what I am talking about.

Luckily, most of the guests at the company I worked for were nice, genuine people who made a tremendous difference for my colleagues and me. The other part of the story is bitter; some people like to complain. For those passengers, being a guest on board means the opportunity to wing and complain about everything, food, service, and even the weather on the sea and rocky ship. You have to be professional at your job and on top of your game to avoid getting many complaints with your name on them. The company protects its own interests, but at the same time, it makes many protocols and procedures to ensure proper guest behavior on the cruise ship. However, I have witnessed thousands of situations when the crew member who followed the company procedure did not get protection from the management team. In fact, there were many situations when crew members were fired and terminated just for doing their job. 

During one of my contracts, I remember a family of 4 approached the busy bar counter on the sea day. During the sea day, it always gets hectic in the bars at lunchtime. I was working in one of the busy bars on the open deck. There were four bartenders, including myself and the bar counter was small. At the regular bar meetings during that contract, we were always reminded to strictly follow company policies, including serving only one drink at a time for the customers who purchased the drink package. The family of those four guests approached the bar counter. Without asking my fellow colleagues or me, they just brought the two large plates with the burger and french fries and sat on the small bar counter. The bar counter had eight chairs in total, and those four guests occupied half of our bar operational area. I saw the facial expression of the other customers who were waiting to order the drinks, but they could not approach the bar counter because of those people who placed their plates all over the place. They were just soo disrespectful, not only to our working area but to our fellow passengers as well. One of those 4 guests took the drink package card from his pocket and threw it on the bar counter in front of us. Without making even eye contact with us, he just said, "Four coca cola cans!" I just approached that guest politely and told him," Sir, please kindly take a seat at one of the tables nearby, I pointed to around 20 available dining tables that were located just next to our bar. As per company procedure, food is prohibited at the bar counter, Sir. Besides, I can only give you one drink at a time; you can only get one for yourself; the company does not allow sharing drink cards, Sir. 

He just stood up from his seat while chewing the burger. A few unpleasant moments of silence, finally broken by his complaint:

"We pay your salary. Without us, you will not have a job, you understand!?" he shouted at me. 

I was already an experienced bartender and calmly, I repeat myself." Sir, with all respect, we don't have a policy; we are here only doing our jobs and following the company procedure. I do understand your frustration, but with only one drink at a time, I can offer you only one coke. And please kindly take the plates with food away from the bar counter so other guests can also order the drinks. Thank you kindly for your cooperation"- I concluded my firm but polity approach. 

He looked at my name tag, wrote down my name on the napkin, and they all left the bar. 

The same evening, the bar manager called me into the bar office. "Listen, the guest complains about you. It's a big drama; this guest is VIP, for your information. What do you want me to tell the shoreside office"? -the manager attacked me right away.

"Sir, I was just doing my job. I don't really differentiate the guest in terms of the levels of customer service; all guests are VIPs to me. I am trying to make a consistent, quality service to all our guests, but there are some policies to be followed, and someone else made those policies—no food at the bar counter, especially during busy hours. Also, the guest cannot share the drink card, as per company policy; you even reminded us of that at the recent bar meeting. If I gave four coca cola cans to that customer, then we don't respect another guest who purchased the drink package individually. I don't understand; what did I do wrong here, I was only following the procedure?" 

"I don't care for your excuses. There is a negative comment with your name on it. I need to give you disciplinary correction, the negative performance in your file."

"Sir, that is just not right. I don't understand. I will not sign that negative performance; I want to speak with the Hotel director," I replied to him.

The story ended with my appointment to the HD. The HD also took the guest side and told me that I was supposed to give four cans of coca cola and to let them eat at the bar counter because it came down"to my inability to adjust to different situations with different customers." I ended up getting a written warning just for doing my job.

The management on board will never back you up, regardless of your sincere and genuine actions, even if you follow company protocols. Make the guest happy, and give them what they want, forget about the protocols and service policies. 

Enjoy your contract!