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5 Tips to Manage Negative Restaurant Reviews

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Now more than ever a hospitality venue lives or dies by their digital footprint. The first thing the majority of people do now when a new venue is suggested to them is to look at their website, social media channels, and of course online reviews. In 2021, a whopping 93% of people are influenced by online reviews.

If there’s one thing chefs can’t make happen, it’s customers leaving positive reviews about their food or the restaurant’s service. This would be a restaurant owner’s dream recipe. The harsh truth is that the abundance of restaurant reviews found on sites like Zomato, Trip Advisor and Yelp, as well as public forums and social media pages usually conveys a mixture of positive and negative perceptions, leaving a bittersweet taste for restaurant owners. The question is, how can you best combat the negative reviews?

Monitor your online reviews

The first step is to find a way to stay on top of your incoming restaurant reviews. One effective way to monitor your hospitality venue is by setting up a Google Alert. This sends you a daily or weekly email whenever someone mentions your restaurant name on their website.

You should also set aside some time to trawl through the reviews and read what people are saying. No matter how inaccurate you find them, these reviews can still provide valuable feedback – both negative and positive – that can help your business thrive.

Judge each review individually

Christian Blair, restaurant owner of Annata, Sydney, powered by Impos, maintains that it’s about judging the online review on a case-by-case basis:

“I’m more than happy to admit fault, offer complimentary dishes, drinks etc. to people who we’ve failed to serve to our own standards. But in the cases where people have ruined their own experiences by being rude, or not holding up their end of the deal for a positive service experience, I’m more than happy to clarify exactly what happened, in no uncertain terms, in whatever public forum they have tried to smear our reputation on. I think the fact that this way of handling things is becoming more commonplace is a very good thing.”

Respond right

As Christian states, it’s about knowing when and how to respond, but undoubtedly interaction is key!

For positive reviews, restaurant owners can praise the love by writing short and sweet replies. This can boost a restaurant’s reputation and customer retention and allow others to see your exceptional level of customer service.

Responding to the hate mail in a mirror image tone is a recipe for disaster. Avoid such confrontational responses. Replying in an aggressive manner causes more damage to your name than anything else, especially as everyone can see it. Having said that, there have been some venue owners that take joy in responding comedically to petty reviews which can actually gain cred among customers.

Instead do your research. Work out if this customer has a point or if they’re a serial hater. If they’re prone to rants, it’s probably best not to respond. However, if the customer is sentient and valid in their criticism, use this opportunity to apologise and empathise and, importantly, to solve their issue.

This method allows owners to turn their negative reviews into positives by explaining to other readers your version of events, before damage to their name is really caused. This also allows others to gauge how you handle situations, thus a reflection on how you manage your business.

Don’t let ‘troll’ reviews get to you

Restaurant owners are regularly faced with negative reviews typed from the hands of haters, who do so out of spite or the hope of a free meal or simply because they’ve had a bad day. They’ll pick on crummy things, over exaggerate and smear hate on your public reviews…

These reviews can leave restaurant owners frustrated because they’re uncontrollable, irrespective of whether they received the best possible service or not.

But it’s important to accept that these will occur and to try to find positives. For example, restaurant owners could take pride in their timely, friendly responses to criticism, or by understanding that the odd negative review is not necessarily all that bad…

Create incentives for positive reviews

There’s a theory that too many positive reviews can look dodgy. Think about it. No hospitality venue can say that they’ve met the same high standards for every single person who walks through the door. Mistakes happen.

With this in mind, an effective way to counter bad reviews is to get your good customers to write positive reviews to drown out the bad ones. You can do this by adding a feedback section to your website, even to your menu or the bill or the front door of your venue.

You can also incentivise customers to write reviews by offering discounts or deals to anyone who writes a review. Even the promise that you’ll listen to their candid, honest feedback should be enough to motivate some of your customers to write reviews. It’s also acceptable nowadays when receiving positive feedback to simply ask a customer to fill out a quick Google review.