Choose Your Words WISEly – No One Wants to Hear “No” 

In the world of hospitality, providing exceptional service and creating memorable experiences for guests is paramount. However, there are situations where it becomes necessary to say “no” to a guest’s request or demand. It’s crucial to handle these moments with finesse and professionalism to ensure guest satisfaction and maintain the winery’s reputation.

What we say is as important as how we say it. Every word and phrase we choose conveys mood, tone and meaning. Remember, customers and colleagues come in every possible stage of enthusiasm, anxiety, understanding and confusion.

Consider these phrases and the potential impact of each:

  • “No problem.” or “My pleasure.”
  • “Customer” or “Guests”
  • “Your server” or “Your host”
  • “That’s not our policy” or “what I can do for you is…”
  • “It’s in the brochure.” or “Let me answer that for you.”
  • “We don’t have any more.” or “I believe we are sold out.”
  • What do you want?” or “How may I help you?”
  • “I didn’t mean it.” or “Please accept my apology.”

Also think about actions with words…

  • “The bathroom is over there” or “Let me show you the way.”
  • “You can pick your wine up over there” or “We will have your wine ready for you at the front desk.”

So, as the First Rule of Hospitality, let’s change that ‘no’ to:

  • “Let me see what I can do for you” or “here’s is what we can do for you…”
  • Take it from a negative place and give it a positive spin.
  • Guests appreciate it when we are polite, making them feel special, and confidently answering questions.

But not all “No’s” are created equal. How do we figure out where to draw the line? Consider these six different decision criteria:

1. Safety / Compliance Issues

The safety and compliance of both guests and staff should always be the top priority in the hospitality industry. Here’s how to handle situations when safety or compliance is at stake:

Example Scenario: A guest requests a private tour of the winemaking facilities, which are off-limits due to safety regulations. (It’s a working winery and we’re making some wine!)

How to Say No Gracefully:

  • Apologize for any inconvenience.
  • Explain the safety or compliance issue.
  • Offer alternative experiences like a guided vineyard tour or a special tasting.

“You chose the most exciting time to be here – harvest! We are not doing tours right now with all the forklifts moving and trip hazard like hoses going from presses to tanks but let me see if I can get a tank sample for you!” Be sure to collect their data so we can market those vintage wines when they are released, to commemorate their visit.

2. Company Policies

Every winery has specific policies in place to maintain order and uphold its standards. When a guest’s request contradicts these policies, it’s essential to communicate clearly and professionally. Understand the winery’s big picture and what are the guard rails when it comes to guest experience design.

Example Scenario: A guest asks for a refund on a non-refundable wine tasting reservation.

How to Say No Gracefully:

  • Express regret for the situation.
  • Clearly state the company’s policy regarding refunds.
  • Offer solutions like rescheduling, transferring the reservation to another date or towards a future wine purchase.

Ensure your policy is included in all communications, and that conformation calls or texts are sent a day or two prior to the scheduled visit. Brainstorm solutions for every time this type of situation comes up, so the team is prepared to answer with solutions confidently.

3. Bothering Other Guests

Maintaining a harmonious atmosphere for all guests is crucial. When a guest’s request could disrupt the experience of others, addressing the issue tactfully is key.

Example Scenario: A group of guests come in with unruly children.

How to Say No Gracefully (especially if there isn’t a policy for under 21):

  • Acknowledge that parenting can be challenging and empathize with their situation: “We understand many of our guests are looking for quieter experience. Children need to be quiet, or we can reschedule for an adults only visit.”
  • If the guests have pre-purchased a tasting package, consider offering them a refund or the option to reschedule their visit for a more appropriate time.
  • Be Prepared for Different Reactions: Understand that guests may react differently to your request but maintain your professionalism and patience throughout the conversation.
  • Have entertainment on hand for children – coloring books and crayons or other activities.

4. Desired Brand / Guest Experience

Every hospitality establishment has a brand image and a specific guest experience it aims to deliver. Sometimes, saying no is necessary to maintain the desired image and experience.

Example Scenario: A group of guests come in for a bachelorette party and are wearing inappropriate adornments at a family winery.

How to Say No Gracefully:

  • Thank the guests for choosing your winery to celebrate.
  • Explain that the winery is family-friendly, and we want everyone to feel comfortable. Explain your winery’s commitment to maintaining a family-friendly atmosphere.
  • Offer alternatives like another area of the winery for tasting as a private group and/or ask them to remove the inappropriate adornments while on property.

5. Pleasing Them

Guests often make requests with high expectations, but it’s not always possible to fulfill every wish. It’s important to manage guest expectations and provide alternatives when necessary. We can try to accommodate whenever possible as long it doesn’t violate point 1, 2 or 3 from above.

Example Scenario: A guest requests a rare wine that is not currently in stock.

How to Say No Gracefully (if we truly cannot accommodate the request):

  • Thank the guests for their interest in the wine.
  • Explain that the requested wine is currently unavailable.
  • Offer a selection of other wines that may be of interest/comparable or provide information on upcoming releases.
  • Collect their contact data for library releases and for future releases

6. Inconvenient to Staff

While guest satisfaction is crucial, it’s also essential to consider the convenience and well-being of your staff. Here’s how to handle requests that could be overly burdensome to your team.

Example Scenario: A guest requests a last-minute, extensive wine and cheese pairing for a large group during peak hours.

How to Say No Gracefully (if we truly cannot accommodate the request):

  • Express gratitude for their interest in your offerings.
  • Explain the limitations due to staff availability and peak hours.
  • Offer alternatives like a pre-arranged package or suggest off-peak hours for a more personalized experience.

Tips for Saying No Gracefully

1. Choose Your Words WISEly: Use polite and empathetic language to convey your message. Instead of saying “We can’t do that,” or “I’m afraid that won’t be possible…” try “Here’s what we can do…” Whenever you have to say no, provide alternative options or solutions to meet the guest’s needs.

2. Offer Alternatives: “While we can’t accommodate your request for a private tour of the winery, we can offer you a guided vineyard tour.” Express regret for any inconvenience and gratitude for the guest’s interest.

3. Be Apologetic and Thankful: “We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause, and we appreciate your understanding.”

4. Maintain a Positive Tone: Keep a positive and friendly tone throughout the conversation. “I’m sorry, but we have a policy in place to ensure the safety and comfort of all our guests. We’d be happy to assist you with an alternative arrangement.”

Saying no to guests gracefully is an essential skill in the hospitality industry. By prioritizing safety, adhering to company policies, considering the experience of all guests, and using empathetic language, you can handle challenging situations with professionalism and maintain the reputation of your winery. Remember, it’s not just about saying no; it’s about providing alternatives and ensuring that every guest feels valued and appreciated, even when their requests cannot be fulfilled.