De-escalation class helps workers at Lakeland business deal with customers who don't follow mask rules

Employees at a business in downtown Lakeland are now trained in de-escalation tactics so they can deal with customers who refuse to wear a mask.

In the past, a sign reading "no shirt, no shoes, no service" would do the trick. But Black & Brew owner Chris McArthur decided the training was needed to help workers deal with those who refuse to accept the rules.

“The idea was to help our staff understand how to handle a situation before it explodes into something potentially dangerous,” McArthur told FOX 13.

Lakeland, like many other areas, requires people to wear a mask inside public spaces to reduce the spread of COVID-19. That has not gone over very well with many people around the country. Videos on social media show verbal confrontations quickly turning violent.

Several notable instances show customers reacting abusively when an employee requests they put on a mask.

Employees say having to police customers puts them in a very uncomfortable position.

"I don’t make the rules and the regulations, but I am here to enforce them,” said Chasity Sorrell, a manager at Black & Brew.

The de-escalation class gave the Black & Brew team some perspective on customer behavior. Emphasis was placed on the concept that customers could just be having a bad day, so approach them with kindness, rather than frustration.

The class also underscored the fact that employees should always be thinking one step ahead.

“How do I approach this person?” Sorrell asked. “Am I going to get a reaction? What am I going to say? How am I going to make this as discrete as possible?”

When someone comes into Black & Brew without a face covering, the employee is supposed to offer them a free mask or politely ask them if they would prefer to be served outside.

So far, they haven’t encountered any big problems.

“Our employees have done a really great job at de-escalating,” said McArthur. “Not arguing, listening to the customer, not getting loud, not sending the wrong communication through their body language, and generally those situations blow over very quickly.”