Keep Calm and Carry On: How to Deal with Negative Yelp Reviews
The digitalization of our world has made the sharing of information and personal opinions much easier than ever before. There are a plethora of online platforms where customers can leave feedback on their experience at your dining establishment.
So now the thoughts, opinions, complaints, and possibly horror stories patrons have from your restaurant are magnified exponentially.
In the past, maybe these online reviewers would’ve told a few select friends, neighbors, and families about their experience (good or bad). But now people not connected to this particular reviewer are reading about their personal insights on your business, and it can potentially affect how many more or less people will walk through your doors.
So what do you do?
Bad reviews are bound to happen.
Humans are finicky and can have different experiences (or interpretation of their experiences) from one day to the next. Sometimes someone just had a really bad day at work and they didn’t like the way their baked potato sat on their plate, soaking up the juice from their filet mignon. That’s not to say they’re in the right, but it’s just the way it is and you’ve got to learn to deal with it appropriately.
Good or bad.
Positive online reviews are easy to deal with. Thank your patron for the kind words and let them know you’d love to see them again. Keep it short and sweet and preferably via a private message so others don’t think you’re overbearing or potentially view your well intention-ed response as trying to “buy” their business.
Now onto the bad stuff. Who’s leaving these reviews and why?
1. There are the people who had one bad experience and want to leave an honest review so others (both you, the restaurant, as well as fellow patrons) can be aware. Maybe they didn’t think your food tasted fresh. Maybe their server was rude or too busy to properly attend to them. Or maybe the entire restaurant experience was a bad fit. It happens.
2. There are the people who want to complain for the sake of complaining. They wanted a booth for a two-person party in the middle of your dinner rush, and nothing opened up for over an hour. Their kids threw food at the server as she tried to take their order and they were upset that she returned to the table with food stains all over her shirt. Some people just want to be a pain.
3. Then there are people who interpreted their experience in the most negative of lights and want the whole world to know about it so that you lose business and ultimately close up shop.
The Voltaire story is the most recent example of this and it’s the perfect representation of an entitled person who expected a restaurant (or any business, for that matter) to change their rules just for them. Then when they didn’t get their way, they wrote a nasty review on Yelp. The reason this made the news was because a representative from the restaurant responded with a scathing public takedown.
Let’s say you find yourself in this situation; would I or any other business marketer recommend you go that route? Absolutely not. Sure, it made for great headlines and probably brought Voltaire some extra business when the news broke, but what about people a year or so from now reading through their Yelp page and wondering why they don’t have five stars?
They scan through and find this negative, childish, and wholly inappropriate conversation taking place. Would you want to dine there after reading it?
Those bad reviews (and responses) will live on forever.
The person who wrote the review obviously was in the wrong. They knew Voltaire didn’t offer takeout and yet they still insisted on it. They could’ve gotten their food from somewhere else. But who knows?
Maybe Voltaire has a bunch of short-fused people running the show and they think that humiliating and insulting a potential patron is a good way to do business. This is what users of Yelp and other online review platforms are going to wonder.
So how do you handle a bad online review?
For starters, make sure you own and have full rights to your Yelp (or other review site’s) page.
This way you can stay on top of all good and bad reviews in real time and maintain control of your public image as best you can.
When the bad review comes in, take a deep breath and go for a walk. Seriously, do not respond in the heat of the moment.
You don’t want a negative review to sit online too long without a response, but you also don’t want to do what the Voltaire people did. It’s unprofessional and guarantees a lot of questions in potential diners’ minds.
Simpler is always better.
Thank the customer (if they actually dined at your restaurant) for their patronage, accept responsibility for the situation, and let them know what you plan to do to resolve the issue in the future.
Customers who leave bad comments all want the same thing: to feel like their patronage and their opinions matter. And, obviously, an apology.
Sometimes your restaurant is going to have an off-night. Sometimes your patrons are going to have off-days.
All you can do is be there to moderate and resolve the situation the best you can —s ame as you would do if the complaint came from one your open tables.
Stay positive, be resourceful, and make sure every customer—no matter how combative or irrational they may be — walks away from their table or computer/tablet/phone screen believing that you really care what they think and that their shared opinion made a difference.
Contributor Suzanne Scacca is a FOH veteran of the restaurant industry and who now writes about the joys of cooking and consuming food.