How to Respond to Negative Restaurant Reviews
Your customers will read online reviews of your restaurant before they visit. Moz suggests almost 70% of all consumers, regardless of industry, depend upon reviews like these to make a decision.
For restaurant owners, reviews are nothing new. Before the advent of social media and the internet, elite food journalists printed restaurant reviews in Newspapers and focused their attention on the high-end eateries and world-famous chefs in big cities. These journalists, esteemed in their field, could “make or break” an upcoming restaurant with a review, enticing or discouraging patrons in their descriptions of the establishment. As such, restaurant owners fought hard to appease these reviewers, knowing that lousy press could cripple their business.
Modernity has leveled the playing field, allowing anyone with an internet connection, not just seasoned journalists, to review a business online. Nowadays, we review restaurants of every shape and scope, not only the black-tie establishments. Web connectivity means this information spreads, instantly, becoming privy to a worldwide audience who’ll use these reviews to make their own buying decisions.
Frankly, customers have more opportunities to vent their frustrations than ever before, and negative reviews aren’t a small issue. Some studies suggest that the addition or subtraction of a restaurant’s star rating will impact their revenue 5 to 9%. And what about the quality of the reviews themselves? Prospective customers see these negative reviews and change their minds based on them. Anyone can write an intense criticism in the heat of the moment. What about those posted complaints that are combative? Needlessly personal? Riddled with misinformation? As a restaurant owner, it can be difficult to decide if you should respond to online reviews. Follow our list to learn about the different types of online reviews, how to respond to negative restaurant reviews and how you can establish a stable protocol for generally interpreting criticism of your restaurant.
Proactive Online Presence (The Fair & Balanced Foodie)
A nice ambiance and great food. I can’t wait to see how they develop their menu and hope to see more Seafood options in the future because the coconut shrimp was to die for! Four stars!
These reviews are of the “fair and balanced” variety. They tend to focus on the positives of your restaurant, with criticisms being minor, constructive and general. These reviews often give you, the restaurant owner, a chance to exhibit some customer service, while responding to a “soft critique.” When you respond to these reviews, thank the customer first and foremost. Address their question or soft criticism (ex: “We’re testing out new entrees as we speak”) and if applicable, promote any specials that relate! Responding to these comments shows you’re willing to engage with your customers.
Consider also setting up a Google Alert to notify you when a new review has posted of your restaurant. These alerts save you time continually searching out reviews. Focus your efforts on favorite review sites like Yelp, TripAdvisor, and AngiesList, but don’t forget about social media as well.
Have an online review policy already in place. While you probably won’t train every employee on this, you’re far less likely to be impulsive when you’ve got a plan. Remember that often, unpleasant experiences motivate customers to post negative reviews. You can encourage customers to post about their positive experiences through coupons or special promotions.
Never Eating Here Again! (The Hot Take Artist)
What an atrocious hellhole. After the night I had there this past weekend, I wouldn’t wish this place on anyone. Not even my ex-wife. Was promised 15-minute wait, was there for 55 minutes before they seated me. The staff couldn’t have cared less, even when they could see my screaming kids. AVOID! 1 Star (But I’d put 0 if this site would let me!)
These are the reviews that come in a little “hot,” i.e., the ones you don’t want to read, but for which you need to prepare. An acutely negative experience usually prompts these reviews, and their tone ranges from slightly miffed to full on livid. Profanity comes with the territory (though some review sites have policies about this), and occasionally, personal critiques as well.
The first thing to remember when these reviews come in is that it’s OK to let it sit for a day or two. Don’t get flustered and respond from an emotional place; Take honest stock of your feelings before proceeding. If you feel compelled to contend with the reviewer, wait a day or two until you can approach the situation more calmly. Also keep in mind that when a hot review comes from “out of nowhere,” that 80% of customer complaints happen online rather than in-store because the internet gives them a more accessible soapbox. Don’t dismiss a negative online review because a patron failed to bring it up in-store.
Finally, take a hot review “for what they are.” Understand that the customer had a negative experience, and empathize with that. When you respond, don’t make excuses or significant efforts to defend yourself. It can appear disingenuous. Instead, make a sincere apology for the experience, owning that, and try to move the conversation to email so you can offer them a solution.
Character Count? (The Serial Yelp Novelist)
I’ve been reviewing restaurants in this neighborhood forever. This spot used to be called Cafe Shambala, then I think it was The Shack? Lord. My Mom used to take my brother and me for a slice of pie back when it was Irma’s. Anyway, I think the new decor is great, love the lighting, but given how much this neighborhood has developed, they should reconsider how they’ve got that old parking lot situated. Sidenote: these people catered one of our work parties. I think. All I remember is my manager got sick from the wings. Real sick. Had to take off like three months or something. The doctor said it could have also been mono though, so who knows. XD! IDK. Just my 2 cents on this place. Hope that helps! 3 Stars.
Sometimes you’ll get a review, well-meaning as it might be, that’s a little hard to follow. First things first, try to understand the intention of the online restaurant review in the best way that you can. Sometimes, you may not even be able to. Before responding to these reviews, gather some details.
Try to determine:
- The date of their visit
- The tone of their review (hint: read it aloud. Sometimes reviews deceptively sound more critical than they are)
- If they reference a specific incident (they may not)
- The name (if applicable) of any staff who were involved.
Do a little research on the customer:
- Are they a regular patron, or was this their first time?
- Are they a “habitual” reviewer? Do they review every new business that opens in their city?
- Do they tend only to post negative reviews? Positive?
Research the issue (if possible):
- Get information from the staff who were working if there was an incident, their side of the story.
- Determine the actual severity of the claim, from a legal standpoint.
Understand that sometimes, a client may post a review, claiming to have had an experience that didn’t happen. They may not have even visited your restaurant, and just enjoy reviewing businesses online. It happens. That’s why research is important!
Only respond to these reviews once you’ve gathered all your pertinent facts. In some cases, a general “thanks for visiting” will do. In other cases, given you’ve corroborated an incident with your staff, you’ll need to respond to a claim directly. If the event didn’t happen, and you can prove it (ex: if your restaurant doesn’t serve wings), then gently acknowledge it. When responding to these negative reviews, remember to always do so in a way that facilitates solutions. Acknowledge their criticism, and if applicable and try to move the conversation to Email or direct message.
Fix It, Friend! (The Justifiably Upset)
Honestly, if not for the fiasco with my steak, the night would’ve been superb. Great ambiance, and attentive staff. I’d hope that they’d figure out how to course something like that a little bit better in the future. I think there’s great promise here, but they need to tighten the screws in the kitchen. Disappointed! 3 Stars.
These reviews are those of the justifiably angry. These are the customers who, save for an unsavory experience, would have nothing negative to say about your restaurant. If you play your cards right, you can win them back.
When responding to negative online reviews here, the idea is to neutralize the damage. Having done the appropriate research outlined in the section above, you want the reviewer to know that you take full responsibility for the claim and want to resolve the concern. Remember, you’re not only responding to this upset customer but literally to every other potential customer who may be researching you. Be sincere in your apology, using personal pronouns like “I” or “We” rather than the business name. Reiterate the issue, but be brief. The idea is to get them thinking about solving the problem, not dwelling on it.
Finally, do whatever you can to make it right. Offer any applicable discounts or coupons to cover their experience, and thank them for bringing the incident to your attention.
A Grain of Salt (The Opinionated Snob)
I love most of the ideas here. NOT crazy about that bull-rider mural they have in the lobby though. Like, I thought this was Appalachian Tapas? The decor feels sort of ‘TEXMEX’ to me? Not into the whole ‘drinking from jelly jars’ thing either. I guess it’s supposed to match the aesthetic, but in my opinion, this gimmick’s been hammered to death by every slackjawed, goateed foodie wannabe this side of your favorite bleach haired celebrity chef. It’s good for what it is, I suppose. Maybe I’m not “in the demographic.” 2 Stars.
Finally, the creme de la creme of food reviewers, the outright snob. These critics probably don’t have a specific gripe with your staff, the preparation of their food or the promptness of your customer service. They’re those who comment and evaluate your restaurant, good or bad, to posit their opinion. They take their role as a reviewer seriously, have highly informed opinions and well-developed arguments on the superiority of these opinions and will break things down to a very granular level to show how deeply they appreciate “the craft.”
Take these reviews with the proverbial grain of salt. Sometimes, their criticisms will be opinion-based takedowns of things like your aesthetic choices or decor. Sure, it’s important to open yourself up to feedback, but take note of which criticisms relate to actual experiences and which to subjective tastes. On the flip-side, don’t be too dismissive of these reviews either. If you find a lot of reviews commenting on the ambiance, noise level or lighting, it may be more than just an isolated preference. Look for trends here. Respond to these reviews where applicable, but remember not to get too out in the weeds over one aesthetic opinion.
Though negative online restaurant reviews can be painful, they’re often the first step towards improvement or positive development. You can use reviews as a sort of “market research” to look for trends and inconsistencies in your operations, whether it’s in food quality, wait times or customer service. Additionally, automated solutions like a Kitchen Display System can utilize your kitchen data to prep and quote orders more efficiently, creating a streamlined kitchen and happier guests.
Generally, guests don’t want perfection. They just want someone to acknowledge their issue and provide an honest response. When you respond to an online review, positive or negative, you’re showing there’s an open door. Online criticism, and how to respond to negative restaurant reviews, isn’t an exact science, but there’s a lot of universal principles. Follow our list to make the most out of your online responses.
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About the Author
Dylan Chadwick is a Content Marketing Specialist at QSR Automations. He graduated from Brigham Young University with an English degree and journalism focus and loves to write about technology. When left to his own devices, he enjoys loud music, adorable dogs and documentaries about the aforementioned.