If there’s one thing chefs can’t make, it’s customers leaving positive reviews about their food or the restaurant’s service. This would be a restaurant owner’s dream recipe.
But 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?
The Good, the Bad and the Hungry…
Love it or hate it, today’s hospitality industry is faced with many customers who find thrill in a good meal, and others who find thrill in faulting a good meal.
Some reviewers will laud every element: the décor, the food presentation, the attentive wait staff, the thoughtful maitre’d. the toilet facilities, you name it, while other reviewers are not so complimentary and, justifiably or not, will nit-pick over every detail.
These are the ones who leave ferocious reviews after throwing a tantrum at the 15-year-old waitress for not refilling their water enough or because their steak was medium, not medium-rare (after they polished off the whole plate).
Of course, there are genuine negative reviews too, the ones health inspectors would have a field day at, like seeing rodents running amuck or shoddy service.
Whether restaurant reviews are a reliable source of a restaurant’s reputation or not is arguable, but what’s certain is that online restaurant reviews can leave hospitality owners feeling proud as punch, or ready to punch.
67% of consumers now say they are influenced by online reviews, illustrating that this is no laughing matter. Your hospitality venue could depend on your reviews, and your subsequent reaction and management to said reviews.
5 Tips to Managing Negative Restaurant Reviews
1. Monitor your online reviews
The first step is to find a way to stay on top of your incoming restaurant reviews. One effectively way to monitor your hospitality venue 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.
2. Judge each review individually
Christian Blair, restaurant owner of Annata, Sydney, 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.
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3. 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.
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.
4. 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…
5. 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.
Looking for ways to improve your customer service? One way to minimise bad reviews is to invest in an efficient, speedy POS system or read up on 5 more tips to help your hospitality venue succeed.