So you chased your dream and started a restaurant, despite warnings from your friends and family that 26% of independent restaurants fail within their first year. And right as you’re struggling to make your restaurant a success in the context of a recovering economy, suddenly the worst happens: you get a devastating review on Yelp that could break your already struggling business.
There are several ways you can respond:
You can just ignore the negative reviews you get on Yelp. Actually, this isn’t all that bad of an option, and I would actually recommend it if your business is getting decent reviews overall. Even though you might be tempted to reply, if your average rating on Yelp is 4 or more stars, it’s better to leave it alone and trust that your potential customers will respect the majority opinion despite a few bad marks.
Yelp is a digital space created for and by consumers- your presence as a restaurant owner may not be welcomed if you reply to every negative review you see. So if you’re batting average is okay overall, I recommend ignoring the few bad apples you may encounter.
Turn the tables
Like in the example above of the meatball sandwich review turned advertisement, you could choose to get creative and reappropriate a negative review into a talking point. The photo quickly went viral and has been seen by literally millions of people. I would assume that Joe Dough has improved his meatball recipe before having the- ahem- balls to pull a publicity stunt like this, and if so, he’ll have created a great opportunity to change the public’s opinion about his sandwich.
Sometimes, something goes wrong and it really was the restaurant’s fault. Maybe the cooler broke that day and food was served at a warmer temperature than it should have been. Maybe the kitchen was short staffed and the service was slow. You’re only human. If you come across a negative review and can recall what the problem was that day, send them a private message and explain the situation that day. Apologize, and offer to have them come back and give you a second chance free of charge.
Even if they don’t take you up on the offer, they’ll probably hold a more favorable view of you and be less likely to spread more negative word-of-mouth on and offline.
If you feel that a review is truly unfair, contains erroneous information, or may actually be an attempt by a competitor to sabotage you, the best course of action is to reply publicly and defend yourself.
I’ve seen negative reviews where a customer mentions having visited a restaurant on a day the restaurant isn’t even open, and reviews where a customer has complaints about a menu item that doesn’t actually exist. If this is the case, speak up, and ask for clarification. It is entirely possible they wrote a review about a completely different restaurant by mistake.
Respond publicly like a crazy person
Look, I get it. It can feel like a personal attack when someone leaves a bad review about the business you risked everything for and worked hard to build. But if your ultimate goal is to improve your reputation and make your business succeed, you’re going to have to reel in the crazy and not tell negative reviewers off. In addition to scaring away new customers, you provide fodder for journalists who go on to spread the word about your terrible customer service.