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For the summer when I was 16 I decided to work as a lifeguard since the pool was located close to my house and it was very convenient. I eventually got used to denying certain items such as tubes and balls, since they obstruct view and interfere with work, and for the most part this was understood with the patrons. We did have the ability to make rules.

I don't believe it was stated on the rules that food wasn't allowed, but our management did want us to reject it. One day though we allowed a group to bring in food since they had a large amount of home-made dishes and they planned to host a child's party under the gazebo, which seemed perfect for the occasion. We would have felt bad for all the work they put into this day and they even confirmed ahead of time that bringing food wasn't against the rules.

Following this though, more and more people began bringing food and mentioned the above incident when we tried to deny them. This lead to less sanitary conditions we couldn't handle while working and multiple bottles of alcohol being found. The integrity of the lifeguards was subsequently at stake too and it eventually lead to further disagreements between the guards and the rules.

How should we respond to patrons bringing food after the incident?

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    I believe this question to be primarily opinion-based. We can't really tell what to do (or what you should have done), but we could help with how you might respond (or have responded) to inquiries about the rules from people who argued it. If you could edit the question to a more specific scenario, it'd be very helpful. Thanks :) – HugoBDesigner Feb 26 '18 at 17:47
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    Why can't you just change the rules? Say it used to be okay, but now it isn't – Azor Ahai Feb 26 '18 at 17:49
  • We did have the ability to make rules – TheAutomaton Feb 26 '18 at 17:49
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Since you have the ability to make rules: work with management and the other lifeguards to change the policy.

  1. Amend your current rules, and decide when the rule change will take place

Choosing a date in the future, rather than immediately enforcing the changes, gives your patrons time to react and adjust. (This is assuming there was no pressing food-related crisis, in which case an immediate reaction would be more understandable.)

  1. Distribute and post the new rules in the usual places (signage at the pool, mail to members, etc.)

This will make your future requests to not eat by the pool seem more official and legitimate, because after all, it's in the rules!

  1. Before the rule change date, make sure to tell people who are used to bringing in food.

Hey, I see you brought some snacks - that's okay for now, but I wanted to give you a heads-up that as of [date] we won't be allowing food into the pool area.

You can say this in a friendly way, and hopefully they will be glad you're helping them not get in trouble. Again, this helps them get used to the idea.

  1. After the rule changes, enforce it the same way you would enforce other rules, like the prohibited toys.

Sorry, we recently changed the rules and aren't allowing food in now.

If you can suggest an alternative place they could eat their food (like nearby picnic tables or a park?), it could soften the blow.

If patrons get annoyed, you can always explain what you said here:

We tried letting people bring in food, but we've had issues with less sanitary conditions and even bottles of alcohol being brought in, so we had to change the rules.

Ultimately though it's your job to enforce the rules, and you should follow your workplace protocol for that. As JessK noted in a comment, everyone must be on board and consistent with enforcement, otherwise you will continue getting complaints about "but I saw them bring in food...".

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    +1 The last quote "We tried letting people bring in food..." is what I would focus on (assuming making official signage is out of scope for OP's job description). Just make sure you get everybody on board to deny customers entry with food before you start saying this. Consistency is key to fixing this. – Jess K. Feb 26 '18 at 19:34
  • @JessK excellent point about being consistent! I added a note to my answer :) – Em C Feb 26 '18 at 19:51
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    My best customer service response to complaints is "We're enforcing what management has asked us to do. If you're not happy with it, you can get in touch with them here with your comments or suggestions". OR "I'm sorry if another lifeguard was not consistent but I'm not willing to risk health and safety". I always pass these issues up because it's managements job to deal with the complainants who go beyond and argue with the lifeguards or customer rep. It's not just about sanitary conditions but also safety. If alcohol bottles are brought, I assume most are glass. – doctordonna Feb 26 '18 at 21:45

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