What to Do When You Get a Bad Review

On no, the unthinkable happened! You were checking your Yelp, Google+, and Urbanspoon reviews… and you came across one review that was so mean, so untrue, so vindictive that your jaw dropped open and you started sobbing, right there in front of your computer screen. Now that you’ve washed your face and blown your nose, you’re starting to feel angry and righteous. You’re wondering how that person had the nerve to talk about your restaurant, your heart and soul, in such a horrible and dismissive way. You want to fight back. Now.

Woah, woah, woah, buddy. It’s time to simmer down. Here’s what you should do when your restaurant gets a bad review.

Determine if there’s any truth to what the review says

I know, you hate that this mean, evil goblin of a person said anything bad about the place that you’ve sacrificed so much for—but step back for a second and think if maybe their reported experience is something that really did happen. Did they want a refund and were refused? Check out when they posted the review and think about who was on staff that night. Was it that one hostess who never smiles when she’s talking on the phone? Was the food burnt? Maybe that was the day that your dishwasher neglected to show up, and everyone had to share the burden of reallocating duties for the night.

Respond immediately

Don’t sit there and wallow in your misery, respond to the customer who had a complaint. While you’re at it, respond to a few of your positive reviews, too. All too often, I see Yelp pages on which the owners have responded quickly and kindly to complainers, but never say a word to the people who love the restaurant. Your happy customers are just as important to your business as your haters are, so talk to them all.

When you do respond, no matter if the reviewer said something good or bad, always make sure to be extremely professional and polite. Tone can be so easily misunderstood in the online world, and you do not want to create more damage by sounding like a jerk on Yelp. Before you publish your response, read it over a few times and maybe get some feedback from your significant other. You’ll be glad you did.

Fix the problem—or prevent it from ever happening

Whether or not the complaint was legitimate, you want to make sure no one ever says anything online about it again. When problems are mentioned repeatedly online, your prospective customers will get the impression that the repeated offense really does happen at your restaurant. Going back to our earlier example, if the reviewer was complaining about a refused refund, create a protocol for dealing with refund requests and nicely suggest to your hostess that she smile while talking on the phone.

Move on and keep rocking your restaurant

Once you’ve fixed the problem or prevented it from ever happening, you can rest easy. As a review-reader myself, I find that when reviewers publish restaurant horror stories, I feel much less troubled by their bad experiences when the restaurant owner or manager responds quickly and reasonably to their comments.  Of course, if there are multiple reports of the same problem happening, it doesn’t matter how often the restaurant apologizes—I know that the issue is obviously not being addressed on-site.

In truth, I find that when people have complaints, they really just want to be heard and acknowledged. When I see proof that a restaurant is hearing and acknowledging their customers, I trust that the reviewer’s complaint-inducing experience was a fluke… and I don’t worry that the same problem will happen to me. Instead, I just go out and enjoy my dinner.

Have you gotten a bad review (or read one?) tell me all about it in the comments.

Photo licensed by Seth Woodworth