Business owner is using laptop

It’s happened to virtually all chefs and restaurateurs: Service concludes, staff members go home, the kitchen is closed for the night. Just one last glance at social media before bed and there they are—reviews of your restaurant.

In the age of instant opinions, when everyone is an expert and comments go live the moment someone thinks them, a review can help or hurt an establishment in the blink of an eye.

Some choose to ignore reviews while others address them directly. In some cases, users are just in it to vent, and don’t even seem to want a resolution to the problem if management offers. The outcome varies, but what’s certain is that, more often than not, how restaurant management responds to reviewers can reverse a diner’s poor opinion, and a simple “thank you” for a positive review can go a long way in cementing diner relationships.

Daisies
Daisies

Case in point: Daisies, a vegetable-driven and pasta-focused restaurant in Chicago’s Logan Square has everything a diner could want in a seed-to-fork eatery that works in tandem with Frillman Farms, owned by Daisies executive chef/owner Joe Frillman’s brother Tim. The sibling pairing of fresh ingredients with creative preparation has resulted in early success for the yearling restaurant, which won a Jean Banchet Award for Culinary Excellence as the best neighborhood restaurant, and a spot on Chicago magazine’s list of 2018 Best New Restaurants.

Despite mostly glowing feedback, the Daisies general manager, Keith Whitten, knows firsthand how responding to negative reviews can end up being a positive experience.

“I reached out to one reviewer who gave us a bad online write-up because they felt another table near them got more special attention, so I was very precise in my response to their complaints,” Whitten says, explaining to the disgruntled guest that one of their vegan regulars was at the other table, plus it was their wedding anniversary.

The message came through loud and clear, that regulars are more than just customers, but are considered friends at Daisies. Whitten also used the opportunity to query the guest about the rest of their dining experience. The guest removed her negative review and praised Daisies for its passion and caring enough to politely confront the situation.

How should you go about handling negative reviews for your restaurant?

restaurant yelp reviews

Make the Best of a Bad Review

Oscar Wilde once said, “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.”

I bet if Wilde could see society now, he would be surprised by how few people escape being talked about—especially those in the restaurant industry.

We work in hospitality; criticism must be taken with a grain of salt on a daily basis. The reality is, we numb ourselves to the criticism because we know that the majority of the guests are happy. We just don’t hear the good as often as the bad. This can prevent us from using this criticism to improve our craft and our business.

Demonstrate Excellent Guest Service by Responding to Bad Reviews

Social media has provided an open arena for individuals to immediately share their dining experience. This creates a unique situation:

  1. The complaint is instantly public.
  2. Your methods to respond are limited to written communication.

Minimize the potential damage by publicly replying to the guest on the same social platform. Start by thanking the person for taking the time to comment, then write that you are sorry and that the complaint is not representative of your restaurant. From here, offer to resolve the issue with a discount or coupon, if possible.

Many restaurateurs would be tempted to stop after the first message, but following up is crucial to exceeding guest expectations. The point here is to publicly show you are trying as hard as possible to change the situation.

Bad Reviews Highlight Staffing and Operational Challenges

You can’t fix what you don’t know is broken. Even if you are in your restaurant all day every day, it would be unreasonable to think you’re involved in every guest experience. Regularly reading all of your reviews can help reveal which staff members may need additional training, highlight areas of improvement on your menu, or offer suggestions that can evolve your guest experience.

Using bad reviews to improve your business is a balancing act. You shouldn’t fire a staff member if he or she is mentioned in a bad review, but don’t ignore it either. Use this opportunity to improve your guest experience.

What Can We Learn From A Horrible Review?

If you’re a New York Times reader, you likely cringed reading the review of Kappo Masa, the second most expensive restaurant in Manhattan. If you didn’t, well, here’s the summary: Critic Pete Wells gave the high profile restaurant a goose egg, with zero stars.

Although it can be tempting to poke fun at the de-throning of any (arguably) overpriced locale, we all know that this is any restaurant owner’s nightmare, regardless of the price tag on the menu. Masayoshi Takayama, head chef and owner, knows his patrons read the NYT and is likely to feel a pinch to his pride, as well as, perhaps, to his wallet.

There’s always a silver lining when it comes to reviews. The important thing to remember is:

  • A few bad reviews—when most of your customers are happy—shouldn’t affect your bottom line. It’s how you deal with it that matters most.
  • Get over your emotional initial response, and look to see if the consumer makes any constructive criticism you could use to improve your business.
  • Keep tabs on reviews so you understand how decisions you make impact customers and can quickly respond if you need to.

Case in point: Kappo Masa currently has four stars on OpenTable. Furthermore, beneath Wells’ withering criticism of the service, there’s one glaring takeaway: consistency.

Kappo Masa is one of five Takayama-owned locations (though all slightly different) and Wells noted the lack of chef presence as well as the lack of consistency in food quality and dish preparation, something he had come to expect from this world-renowned master.

Business executive working on laptop in restaurant

Learn to Love Online Reviews

Love ’em or hate ’em, online reviews are a necessary part of managing your restaurant and you need to know how to deal with them quickly to maximize the benefits for your restaurant.

Why Reviews Matter

In recent years, discussion about the legitimacy of online review sites like Yelp have sparked heated debate. Even some journalistic reviews, like the one Guy Fieri endured from the New York Times, have raised questions about the unfair bias of overly-critical reviews and the negative effects they can have on a business.

Your customers are online and they’re eager to share their positive (and negative) experiences whether it be on Yelp, OpenTable, Trip Advisor, or a local community board. It’s important to interact with customers online the same way you would treat them in your restaurant, keeping hospitality at the core of all you do.

Just because customers write [bad reviews], doesn’t mean you have to let them distract you from running your business.

With a little effort to interact more with your customers online—saying thank you for a mention in a tweet or Facebook post, for example—you can create online buzz for your restaurant that equates to real-world sales.

Waste Less Time on the Haters

Man on phone wiht instagram

You need a strategy (and the best tools) to spot negative reviews quickly and the skills to turn them into positive opportunities, fast. That’s why we’ve put together the best thinking on the subject in one place.

Restaurant management solution Upserve has created Learn to Love Online Reviews to help manage the good bad and the ugly of online restaurant reviews in less time and with greater results for your business. This collection of articles, best practices, and case studies from around the web that will help manage your online reputation in less time so you can get back to running your business.

Get the skills and tools, plus some great ideas for dealing with even the most cringe-worthy reviews online. Find out how to:

  • Get more reviews for your business
  • Attract new customers from the reviews you have  
  • Turn negative reviews into positive promotions that drive sales

Save time and grow your business with this downloadable resource.  

It’s critical to keep up with your reputation online. While it can seem overwhelming, all it takes is a well-crafted strategy to make your customers feel valued.

Written by   |  
Kelly Merritt has been specializing in freelance culinary travel writing since 1999. Her work has appeared in Southern Living, Forbes Travel, Plate Magazine, OpenTable, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, South Magazine and Florida Weekly. She is the author of "The Everything Family Guide to Budget Travel" (Simon and Schuster) and the novel "FLIGHT" about the adventures of fictitious travel writer Kate Carrington. In her career Kelly has written about many famous faces including Oscar de la Renta, Larry King, Tim Tebow, Kenny Chesney, Titanic discoverer Robert Ballard, design superstar Colin Cowie, celebrity chefs Jamie Oliver, Thomas Keller, Daniel Boulud, and bestselling authors Heather Graham, Kathy Reichs and Sandra Brown, among numerous others. Kelly curates a partial collection of her articles which number in the thousands at PotluckLife.com along with her author website, KellyMerrittBooks.com.