How Your Restaurant Should Handle Negative Reviews


Americans eat 1 out of every 5 meals away from home, yet many restaurants fail to stay in business. Why? Because not every restaurant delivers on service. Sure, to a customer, having delicious food is important, but he or she is still 4 times more likely to switch to a competitor if there’s a service-related problem (as opposed to a product-related problem), in which case, it can get costly. Customer acquisition—getting new customers—costs 6 to 7 times more than customer retention, or keeping existing customers.

Negative ReviewsThis is why restaurateurs are beginning to realize the importance of online reviews. Commonly found on sites like Yelp, OpenTable, TripAdvisor, and Google+ Local, these reviews are expressions of how much diners loved or loathed the experience of eating at a given restaurant. Research by Cone Online Influence Tracker found that 80 percent of individuals will reverse a purchase decision based on negative reviews online. Meanwhile, University of California-Berkeley economists found that a half-star improvement in online ratings makes a restaurant 30 to 49 percent more likely to be fully booked during peak dining times.


Of course, everyone is entitled to their own individual opinion, but it’s extremely crucial that restaurants make a structured response to these reviews—a response that instills confidence in future customers. Let’s see how business owners can respond to different types of restaurant reviews.


The slanderous review


A slanderous review attacks a restaurant instead of gives a fair opinion of it. Many such reviews contain poor spelling, profanity, and personal attacks. It’s important to note that most review websites do not tolerate slanderous, abusive, or profane reviews. If you happen to be at the receiving end of this, don’t lose your cool. Don’t fight back. Instead, report it. There’s a good chance that the review will be removed, saving you star ratings and business.


The tough critic


Your new BBQ joint has quickly become a fan favorite, but a tough new customer isn’t satisfied, leaving you a poor review. Though the review may praise aspects of your business, the tough critic’s experience was worth only 1 or 2 stars. Every business will come across such a customer at some point, and it’s important not to respond too emotionally, even if the review can feel like a punch in the gut.


A better (and more fun) way to respond is to challenge the critic to give your business a second shot. This can help secure a repeat customer (customer retention) as well as help portray your business as being backed by proactive and confident management.


The unfortunate incident


Not all bad reviewers denounce an entire business; sometimes they just highlight an incident that they felt the public should know about. The incidents can be anything from slow service, a missed reservation, or a fly in the soup—all fair enough—but keep in mind that the low rating can hurt your business.


The most effective way to respond is to thank the reviewer for the feedback, politely apologize for the unfortunate incident, and—if necessary—explain your side of the story. Why? Because the review can potentially damage your reputation. If the incident is really bad, your goal should be to kill its legitimacy with your kindness. By thoroughly explaining the circumstances that led up to the incident, you can demonstrate a genuine desire to fix the problem and win over the upset customer (as well as other potential customers reading the response).


The competitive review


This review tells the Internet that there are better restaurants around the neighborhood and that people should steer clear of your spot. The words could come directly from a competitor, but sometimes they’re simply the voice of the competitor’s loyal customers, at which point you can’t really report it. But what can you do? One way to respond is to reach out to your own loyal customers and encourage them to leave you a review. Do this in a subtle and ethical (instead of pushy and aggressive) manner, and you’ll be able to drive awareness of your restaurant’s best points and generate good reviews to counter the impact of the bad.


About the author: Jay Binstein is a business fellow at Elon University. He’s currently interning at Review Trackers, an online review monitoring and management platform for local businesses looking to track online reviews from sites like Yelp, Google, and TripAdvisor.

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