This is the header image for the BPS Security article titled, “How to Handle Unruly Guests”.

How to Handle Unruly Guests

We recently published an article shining some light on how restaurants, stores, hotels, and really any business under the “hospitality” umbrella, are having to beef up their security in order to handle unruly guests. Why? Well, COVID-19 mask and/or vaccination mandates, whether the mandates are required by the city or just personal company policy, have been infuriating customers when they do not feel they should have to do anything they don’t want to do but still deserve top-notch service. Additionally, since the world has been a bit chaotic over the past few years, people in general are beginning to get very stressed out, and we are seeing patterns where patrons are taking their stress out on various staff members of restaurants, hotels, stores, etc. Therefore, hospitality-based businesses are starting to hire security to help disarm the heated situations.

Now, regardless of whether a security guard or a staff member is in charge of de-escalating the situation, there is a fine line between sticking up for themselves and setting up the perfect lawsuit. Even when the guest makes the “first jab” (both verbally and/or physically) the business might still be held responsible if the situation escalates into a full-blown fight due to the fact that our country makes a concerted effort to not discriminate on grounds of race, gender, ethnicity or religion. Now this is incredible, and part of what makes our country so great! However, this can backfire especially in situations where a staff member or security guard has to handle unruly guests!

If the person in charge of de-escalating the situation makes any mistakes, and the situation lands in court, any good lawyer will use those mistakes to their advantage, and oftentimes the aggressor gets off scott free! How? It is easy for a lawyer to accuse an individual of making choices based on the customer’s race, gender, ethnicity or religion, which, as stated above, is illegal!

So below, we provide two fictitious examples of how a security guard and/or a staff member is stuck dealing with an unruly guest!

How to Handle Unruly Guests

This image shows an individual speaking to very angry customers. This image is used in the BPS Security article titled, “How to Handle Unruly Guests”.
Ultimately, there are many different ways in which a guard or staff can de-escalate a tense situation. But as mentioned above, if the situation lands in court, the verdict will often favor the side with the best lawyer. Therefore, it’s best to try and avoid adding fuel to the fire and not make mistakes.

What to Do — Avoid Saying “Calm Down” and Acknowledge their Frustration

Think about a simple argument that you may have with a significant other, friend, or colleague, and how you react when they say, “Calm down!” How do you respond? In reality people often hear, “you’re out of control and not being rational,” anytime they are told to “calm down”.

Let the patron know that their feelings are seen and heard, and try showing a little bit of compassion. This will help them stay out of defense mode! Then, try to move them to the side, providing them a little bit of privacy. (If possible, try to move them outside of the building!) Many people will be inclined to fight back if they feel that they are getting mocked, especially when others are watching.

Once they are pulled aside, try to speak with them (calmly), and try to find a good compromise. Use phrases like, “I understand why you feel this way”, and avoid agreeing with them! If necessary, get the police involved.

According to the Wall Street Journal, “It’s a paradoxical fact: When someone is getting stressed out, one of the least effective (and perhaps most annoying) things to say is ‘Relax.’ The directive has exactly the opposite effect on most people. People who instruct a colleague, subordinate or loved one to relax may have good intentions. But it is usually better to resist ordering people to change their emotional state and try a different strategy.”

What not to Do — Don’t Be the “Superhero”

This image shows an individual screaming at another individual who is covering his ears trying to avoid the confrontation. This image is used in the BPS Security article titled, “How to Handle Unruly Guests”.
Oftentimes, our egos can fuel a situation and cause us, when aggravated, to act out. In situations when a staff member is being accused of something by an unruly patron, they often want to prove a point. This can result in shoving, saying things that they don’t mean, and/or use various tools to intimidate the person.

Whatever you do, do NOT do that! These can often be the reason why an unruly guest wins a court case! Plus, though it is never okay for a guest to act out and make false accusations, there is no way to know what their day/week/month/year was like prior to that moment. Perhaps they were just fired from their job, or their significant other walked out on them! Treating them with kindness can really help the situation, no matter how badly they have upset you!

Final Thoughts

All in all, whether you work in the hospitality industry or as a security guard, you will find yourself having to handle unruly guests. Do your best to stay cool, acknowledge their feelings and frustrations (even if they are “wrong”) and try to speak to them in a private area.

Additionally, if the unruly patron is already physically acting out, it may not be best to move them to a private area unless you are a highly trained security guard. Again any action you take or words you say during a heated situation might backfire on you!

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