How To Deal With Bad Restaurant Reviews Effectively

how to deal with bad restaurant reviews

Restaurants need to learn how to deal with bad restaurant reviews effectively. Here is why?

People try out new restaurants all the time. Before trying out a new restaurant, they decide whether or not it is worth eating at. In order to determine whether or not they should eat at a specific restaurant, they go online to check the basic information such as location, hours and menu and next they check out the restaurant reviews on review sites such as Yelp, Tripadvisor, etc. They dig to find out what others are saying about this place.


“What others are saying about your place” called online reviews can range from¬†positive, to neutral to negative in some cases. There is no doubt that online reviews are the key to either attracting or driving away potential customers. Negative online reviews is a big¬†threat to the restaurant’s¬†reputation and ultimately cost the business.

A one-star improvement in Yelp ratings translates to a 5-9 percent revenue increase, according to research conducted by Dr. Michael Luca, assistant professor of business administration at Harvard Business School.

Even though 10 positive reviews can encourage a person to eat at a specific restaurant, just one highly negative review can change their mind completely. Such is the impact of negative reviews. This is the reason why restaurants need to handle and effectively deal with negative reviews.

Many restaurants either do not understand the impact to business or do not know exactly how to deal with negative online reviews. Developing a plan within the digital marketing strategy for managing the online reputation and dealing with negative online reviews is a smart business decision.

However, when faced with negative reviews, restaurants usually react in one of the 3 ways:

Head-in-sand response

Common response to yelp reviewsAlso known as the ostrich response, this is when the restaurant management buries its head in the sand until the storm ‚Äď the negative reviews that it is faced with ‚Äď dissipates.¬†Restaurants that use this approach to deal with negative or bad¬†restaurant reviews¬†online ignore the danger when it comes close to them, hoping that it will not damage them in any way and simply fade¬†away automatically.

It is important to recognize that even though one shoves the head under the ground, there is still a large part left exposed right in line with the impeding danger. In addition to losing out of potential guests, the reviews can potentially affect employment, employee morale and other aspects of the business. The head-in-sand response is not a smart response.

What is worse is it is very difficult to quantify the lost opportunity; to measure how many potential guests decided not to choose your restaurant as a direct influence of negative online reviews.


In-the-face approach

This is a relatively recent trend in the restaurant industry. Some restaurants simply charge head-on to negative reviews from customers and rating platforms. Restaurants that use this response to negative reviews tackle them head-on by attempting to undermining the review system (by promoting 1-star ratings) or taking a strong and sometimes aggressive stand to customer reviews. This approach has caught the news recently and has been used by a number of restaurants to counter negative reviews from customers.

Wrong approach to dealing with negative yelp reviews

It would be interesting to see if this approach has produced positive business results. There is no denying the attention and free publicity some of the restaurants using this approach have benefited from the media in recent times.

But the fact still remains, guests wanting to try a new restaurant to dine are looking for “authentic” reviews and social proof to help them make the decision. And, going aggressive is sort of ignoring the feedback within the reviews, not a smart business strategy long-term.


Level-headed approach

Level headed approach to negative online reviewsThe level-headed approach is the rational approach to dealing with negative reviews that is used by the majority of restaurants when they are faced with dissatisfied customers. Restaurants take an objective approach; they listen carefully to what the customer is saying and genuinely make an effort to understand and address their concerns. Furthermore, such restaurants also use the lessons learned from the negative reviews feedback to improve their business.

The level-headed approach is also considered to be the appropriate response to negative online reviews as taking this approach encourages customers who have had a bad experience with the restaurant to first contact the establishment before they publish a bad review online.


How To Deal With Bad Restaurant Reviews

Here are some of the most effective ways for any restaurant to handle negative online reviews:


1. Instant feedback channels

Customers generally¬†publish negative online reviews when they cannot find a way to voice their concern with the business.¬†If the restaurant provides their customers with “instant”¬†feedback channels, the number of negative reviews ¬†and damage to¬†online reputation¬†will decrease substantially.

Waitress open to feedback

Restaurants should train their servers on the basics of asking customers about their experience. When asked sincerely, customers will give their honest feedback on what they liked and what they did not like. Listen to their suggestions and do not argue. Going further, the staff should be trained to identify concerns and direct them to submit a detailed feedback for management.

Restaurant should provide guests an easy ways to contact the restaurant management. One of the most effective feedback channel is the website contact form. The contact form should be personalized to invite guests to provides more details than the standard name, email, message input fields found in most contact forms. Additionally, email address and phone numbers of the restaurant should be provided on the website, which guests can use to provide feedback.

Some restaurants use the paper feedback forms. Unfortunately, they have been effective. Another innovative approach is to use restaurant tablets to capture customer feedback instantly, before they go online to post feedback and reviews.


Want to know how you can engage with dining guests to get instant feedback, capture their email address and engage with loyalty program? Click to learn more about our Restaurant Tablets¬†¬Ľ


2. Have a fast response time for complaints

When a guest feedback is received through one of the channels (in person, a feedback card, website contact form, email, phone) it is important to respond to complaints extremely quickly.

Responding to guests concern quickly gives the impression to the guests that they have being heard and the business is sincerely addressing their issues. A good rule of thumb is to respond to the guest complaints within 24-48 hours.

In the case of website contact us form and emails, an auto-responder can be setup to automatically respond with an acknowledgement to received messages.

If a restaurant does not respond quickly to a customer’s complaint and start addressing the issues they have expressed, the complaint will turn into a bad online review.


3. Respond to online reviews

So, what do you do when a negative review appears online for your restaurant. Review platforms such as Facebook, Foursquare, Yelp and Google Review, provide a mechanism to contact reviewers. Restaurants should take advantage of this feature and respond to as many online reviews, both bad and good, as they possibly can.

Respond to online reviews

Restaurants should thank customers who publish good reviews and tend to the issues placed forth by customers who publish bad reviews. Many times, once you have addressed their concern, they will actually update their review to a more favorable review and rating.

Consumer research points to the fact¬†that people tend to share a “bad¬†experience¬†handled well afterwards” much more than a “good experience” or¬†a “bad experience that is not handled”. That is interesting, but not surprising. It is inevitable, despite the restaurant’s best efforts there will be complaints and bad reviews, the key is how quickly and effectively they are handled. In fact, bad reviews can be used to even create a positive PR opportunity, when¬†handled well.


4. Offer incentives to customers with negative reviews

A good digital marketing strategy is one that retargets all customers, including those who have published bad reviews. In order to retarget customers who have had a bad experience, encourage them to visit the restaurant again. Make a sincere offer to welcome back to your restaurant and give you a chance to make things right.

A restaurant should consider offering an incentive such as a 10% discount or free appetizer. One way is to create a special coupon code to be able to identify them as those customers with concerns.  Accordingly, the staff can be trained to handle their concern accordingly.

It is important to keep in mind NOT to offer incentives to change their review or rating. We ideally want them to visit the restaurant again and have a positive experience which will prompt them to revise their review and rating of the restaurant, but never a direct exchange of incentive for good review.


5. Accept the fact that there will be some negative reviews

Last, but certainly not the least, accept the fact that there will be negative reviews. A restaurant cannot stop its customers from publishing bad reviews; all it can do is deal with them efficiently.

You cannot make everyone happy. As humans, there will be miscommunication and expectations will not be met 100% of the time.

In fact, a restaurant having only good reviews arouses the suspicion of guests. All perfect reviews for a restaurant is not very credible. People tend to think that they are fake reviews and  assume that the restaurant paid to have those reviews put in.

When dealing with negative reviews, there are also some things that restaurants absolutely must do. Restaurants should have a person responsible for managing the business reputation, managing customer feedback and online reviews. Restaurants should use the feedback from customers and online reviews to identify opportunities to improve their operations.

Lastly, it should be a longer term marketing strategy for the restaurant to have enough good reviews balance out the few negative reviews and provide a balanced net positive reputation that guests feel good about your place, food and service. Then they can trust your restaurant to provide them the dining experience they are looking for their family, friends and business associates.


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Now your turn!

How do you respond to negative online reviews? Let us hear all about the ways you have managed your reputation online and offline.